SPECIAL REPORT : Part 281July 30, 2019, 8:50 pm
Parliament on Friday, July 26: Attorney General Dappula de Livera listening to Additional Solictor General Nerin Pulle. Additional Solicitor General Sumathi Dharmawardena, PC sits between them. State Counsel Malik Aziz looks on. This was taken before de Livera left the PSC having declined to particptate in the process.
by Shamindra Ferdinando
The Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) made quite a revelation on Friday, July 26, 2019, before the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) probing the Easter Sunday attacks.
The CBSL team comprised the Governor of the Central Bank, Indrajit Coomaraswamy, Director of Financial Intelligence Unit, D.M. Rupasinghe, and Director of Department of Supervision of Non-Bank Financial Institutions R.R. Jayaratne. Rupasinghe testified in-camera on a request made by Dr. Coomaraswamy.
Dr. Coomaraswamy succeeded disgraced Singaporean, Arjuna Mahendran, in early July, 2016.
Jayaratne and Dr. Coomaraswamy set the record straight as regards the Finance Act of 2017, after Power, Energy and Business Development Minister, Ravi Karunanayake, challenged CBSL condemnation of the Finance Act. Having stated that the Batticaloa Campus Limited and the Heera Foundation had received funds from Saudi Arabia on seven and 15 occasions, respectively, Jayaratne didn’t mince his words when he declared the new Act weakened the CBSL regulatory role, vis-a-vis illegal transactions.
M.L.A.M. Hizbullah is under investigation over clandestine money transactions, amidst accusations that both Batticaloa Campus Limited and the Heera Foundation were involved with the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ), responsible for the Easter Sunday attacks. At the time of the Easter Sunday attacks, Hizbullah functioned as the Governor of the Eastern Province, having served the current parliament as a UPFA National List member. Hizbullah moved to the East, in early January, 2019.
M.A. Sumanthiran, head of the Public Finance Committee, was present on the panel of lawmakers at the time CBSL made the shocking revelation. The PSC consists of its Chairman, Ananda Kumarasiri (UNP/Moneragala District), Ravi Karunanayake (UNP/Colombo), Dr. Rajitha Senaratne (UNP/Kalutara), Ashu Marasinghe (UNP National List), Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka (UNP National List), LSSPer Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne (UNP National List), M.A.Sumanthiran (TNA/Jaffna District) and Rauff Hakeem (UNP/Mahanuwara District).
When Jayaratne explained as to how the Exchange Control Act, introduced by the incumbent government, had impeded CBSL and was weaker than the one previously in operation, an irate Ravi Karunanayake, one-time Finance Minister, challenged the CBSL.
Ex-Finance Minister Karunanayake switched ministries with Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, in May 2017. President Maithripala Sirisena removed Karunanayake from the cabinet of ministers, in early August 2017, in the wake of shocking revelations, in the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) on CBSL bond scams involving the disgraced Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL). Karunanayake was again accommodated in the cabinet of ministers, in Dec 2018, in the wake of the failed constitution coup.
RK vs CBSL
Karunanayake: Where does it say such transactions cannot be inquired into in terms of the new Act?
Jayaratne: In accordance with 2017 Exchange Control Act, Section 30, action cannot be taken.
Karunanayake: You prepared that Act. Why are you pretending as if you don’t know anything, about it?
CBSL amended it several times and sent it back.
Perhaps Jayaratne could have faced a ministerial onslaught if not for Dr. Commissary’s swift intervention. Had Dr. Coomaraswamy opted to remain silent, Jayaratne, probably would have had to suffer in silence unable to talk back to a powerful Minister
Dr. Coomaraswamy: No Sir. The Act actually was not drafted by us.
Karunanayake: Why not?
Dr. Coomaraswamy: No Sir. It was done outside. We were actually very upset about it.We were not included. That was drafted without the CBSL being involved. We were asked to comment on it
JVP MP Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa: If Batticaloa Campus last received money in 2017, Hizbullah was aware of the new Act being drafted.
Nalinda Jayatissa: It could have had happened.
Jayaratne: Present Act does not at least interpret what it meant by wrong.
Jayaratne: Unauthorized money transactions were taking place all over the country. Foreign currencies are kept illegally. Transactions do not come into official banking system, not even one USD.
The exchange between Karunanayake and the CBSL erupted when lawmaker Ashu Marasinghe, sought a clarification as regards the difference in the current and the previous Exchange Control Acts.
Chief of the Public Finance Committee Sumanthiran remained silent during the exchange between Karunanayake and the CBSL.
Surprisingly, the PSC refrained from questioning Hizbullah over widely reported clandestine meetings he had with several Saudi nationals, at a Pasikudah hotel, soon after the Easter attacks.
The circumstances in which the Finance Act had been introduced have been disputed by no less a person than the CBSL Governor. It would be pertinent to recall the advice given by Dr. Coomaraswamy to the electorate late last year. Dr. Coomaraswamy issued the advice before President Maithripala Sirisena dissolved parliament at midnight on Nov 09, 2018 following the sacking of Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Crucial advice to electorate
Dr. Coomaraswamy’s statement, made before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCol) on irregularities at SriLankan Airlines, SriLankan Catering and Mihin Lanka, couldn’t have been made at a better time for those who expected a genuine change in the political environment. Unfortunately, the media, pathetically, failed to provide sufficient coverage to, undoubtedly, the most important statement made by a respected public official, in the recent past, on any issue.
Dr. Coomaraswamy told the P Col that the country was facing a non-virtuous cycle of debt and it was a very fragile situation which could even lead to a debt crisis.
"Of course my colleagues in the debt department have plans and capability to manage it. But it’s the duty of every citizen to act responsibly as regards the government policy," he told the PCol.
Dr. Coomaraswamy emphasized that people should elect MPs who were prudent enough to handle fiscal and monetary matters of the country. "I am not referring to any government, but it’s been the case ever since independence."
The shocking CBSL revelation, before the PSC, certainly justified Dr. Coomaraswamy’s statement, before the P CoI late last year. Jayaratne deserves to be publicly applauded for his forthright stand before the PSC. If Jayaratne hesitated, Dr. Coomaraswamy, probably, wouldn’t have had an opportunity to expose an utterly corrupt procedure adopted through the enactment of the new Exchange Control Act. Parliament should inquire into the circumstances under which the said Act was brought in.
With the 2019 presidential election, scheduled for Nov-Dec, followed by the general election, Dr. Coomaraswamy’s advice is of crucial importance.
The CBSL stand before the PSC didn’t receive the coverage it really deserved. The media, both print and electronic, should review their coverage, pertaining to vital developments. Perhaps, the July 26 proceedings, in the PSC, were the most important, since the sittings began in early June 2019 - about eight weeks after the Easter Sunday attacks.
In spite of the PSC being accused of being a Temple Trees project, meant to save the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader Rishad Bathiudeen, MP, alleged to have been involved with the NTJ, some members of Deputy Speaker Kumarasiri’s outfit proved their mettle.
The UPFA obviously failed to take advantage of the PSC. The UPFA, comprising the JO and the SLFP, missed a golden opportunity to question those summoned by the PSC. They probably felt comfortable in boycotting the PSC. Gampaha District Catholic MP Dr. Kavinda Jayawardena, too, squandered a chance to grill those summoned by the PSC.
Thanks to the PSC, it has been proved beyond doubt the negligence on the part of the Attorney General’s Department led to the Easter Sunday attacks. It has been established that local security authorities quite correctly recognized the growing threat posed by Zahran Hashim, in early 2017. Having inquired into Zahran’s activities, and that of the NTJ, the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID), in June 2017 sought the AG’s approval to neutralize the threat. The AG didn’t respond to the TID request till the NTJ squad carried out near simultaneous attacks, on three churches, in Colombo, Battcaloa and Negombo, and three luxury hotels in Colombo.
The PSC was told as to how the AG summoned the police, for a meeting on March 12, 2019, to discuss Zahran’s matter, in response to the TID’s request, made in June 2017.
Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, served as the AG at that time. Jayasuriya now functions as the Chief Justice. It was also revealed, before the PSC, as to how Senior State Counsel, Malik Aziz, handling Zahran’s file, delegated the responsibility for watching video clips of Zahran to another person. Perhaps, the PSC should summon that unidentified person and ascertain how he felt when Zahran’s gang struck devastating attacks.
The following question and answer session, involving lawmaker M.A. Sumanthiran, Prof. Ashu Marasinghe, Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne, Senior Deputy Solicitor General Sumathi Dharmawardena as well as Malik Aziz, is revealing:
M.A. Sumanthiran: The police sent you CDs containing video clips of Zahran, did you receive them?
SDSG Dharmawardena: Yes
Prof Marasinghe: Did you watch them?
SDSG Dharmawardena: You cannot ask me whether I watched them.
Prof Marasinghe: I am not asking from you as a person but I am asking from the Department.
SDSG Dharmawardena: Senior State Counsel Malik Aziz had instructed another official to watch them and, as per the minute we have here, they have compiled a report on May 12, 2019.
Dr Wickremaratne: So you commenced the inquiry, in June 2017, and compiled the report only one month after the bombs went off?
Sumanthiran: Did the Department ask for reports on updated situation from the police?
SDSG Dharmawardena: No
Sumanthiran: Isn’t it the usual practice to rely on contemporaneous evidence?
SDSG Dharmawardena: I need to refer back to the file to respond to that question.
At the onset of the proceedings, lawmaker Kumarasiri raised serious lapses on the part of the AG’s Department, from Dappula de Livera. Livera succeeded Jayasuriya, in early May this year.
On the part of Kumarasiri, there was absolutely no hesitation to seek an explanation as to why the AG’s Department neglected its responsibilities, thereby paving the way for Zahran’s murderous endeavour.
Dappula declined to answer on the basis his statement before the PSC could undermine his role as the AG. Livera asserted that if he testified before this commission, rather this committee, as a witness, that would compromise his functions as AG in the discharge of his duties in cases in respect of the Easter Sunday attacks. President’s Counsel on behalf of the PSC accepted Livera’s position following consultations among the members.
What transpired after Livera left the PSC, bared the criminal negligence on the part of a department. Ashu Marasinghe exposed the irresponsible conduct of Senior State Counsel Malik Aziz who sat on the file for nearly two years while Zahran made meticulous preparations for the operation.
Ashu Marasinghe a posed contentious query to Aziz as to how he felt after the Easter Sunday carnage? Aziz, obviously, struggled to cope up with Marasinghe’s line of questioning. Marasinghe reminded Aziz as to how he ignored a note dated May 31, 2018, that reminded him of Zahran’s matter.
Proceedings on July 26, 2019 proved beyond doubt that Sri Lanka could have thwarted the attack on its own. Proceedings also underscored that though some attributed Zahran’s success to the arrest of DIG Nalaka de Silva in charge of the TID, in late Oct 2018. Before him being given bail, in early May 2019 pending investigations, the police headquarters named DIG Waruna Jayasundera as DIG, TID. Nalaka de Silva is under investigation for conspiracy to assassinate President Sirisena and former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
The police, too, appeared to have not done enough to secure the required approval especially after Zahran carried out an attack on Kattankudy - based opponents.
Contrary to claims that arrest of intelligence personnel by the yahapalana government weakened the intelligence apparatus so much that Zahran was able to launch attacks, the police had sufficient evidence to zero in on Zahran, though the AG felt otherwise.
Marasinghe sought an explanation from Aziz whether he was conversant with the ICCPR (The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) and could Zahran be dealt with that law. Aziz, reluctantly acknowledged that Zahran could have been dealt with the ICCPR. It was nothing but admission of guilt on the part of the Senior State Counsel.
Marasinghe pointed out as to how those who neglected their responsibilities in Zahran’s case pounced on award-winning writer, Shakthika Sathkumara, allegedly for a story on a gay monk. Marasinghe explained the utilization of ICCPR to remand Sathkumara pending investigations. Sathkumara is still in prison.
Role of the CNI
Indian Intelligence services obviously had followed Zahran, and his cohorts, much more closely than our own law enforcement authorities. The PSC should definitely inquire into as to why the police immediately didn’t get in touch with the AG after the Chief of National Intelligence (CNI) retired DIG Sisira Mendis - a member of the National Security Council (NSC) - the received the Indian alert on April 04, 2019. The country knows all about how the NSC neglected its responsibility. Police headquarters owed an explanation as to why an immediate threat assessment wasn’t done as regards Zahran and the NTJ in the wake of the Indian warning. Strangely, the PSC so far made no attempt to establish as to why Army’s Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), Sri Lanka’s premier intelligence agency, was deprived of the Indian warning. The previous Rajapaksa administration created the post of CNI to accommodate top intelligence veteran Maj. Gen. Kapila Hendavitharana. As the CNI, Hendavitharana oversaw the entire intelligence apparatus, since 2007 till January 2015. However, soon after the presidential poll, Hendavitharana was replaced by retired DIG Sisira Mendis, a very experienced investigator. Unfortunately, he lacked experience in running an intelligence service. It would be interesting to know as to who decided that the CNI shouldn’t share vital information with the DMI.
Mendis retired amidst a media furor. President Sirisena again entrusted the duties of the CNI with the military. Maj. Gen. Ruwan Kulatunga now functions as the CNI.
Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake is on record as having said that DMI was deprived of the Indian warning. Senanayake said so in response to a query from Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith when he visited the Catholic leader at the Bishop’s House, Borella, immediately after the Easter attacks and at the President’s House, in response to the writer’s query at a meeting chaired by President Sirisena.
The PSC never bothered to ask DIG Mendis whether he received instructions to stop sharing information with the DMI or who issued such instructions, if any. The PSC should have asked Lt. Gen. Senanayake when DMI realized the halt in intelligence sharing process.
The AG’s failure and the enactment of the Exchange Control Act, detrimental to the national economy underscored the urgent need to overhaul the current system. Have you ever heard of a parliament bringing in a law that impeded existing regulatory systems, especially those run by the CBSL. The pivotal importance of CBSL cannot be ignored. The current opposition in parliament should take up CBSL revelation as well as the pathetic AG’s Department. The AG’s Department cannot absolve itself of the responsibility for the Easter Sunday attacks. The Department allowed the time and space for Zahran to go ahead with his operation.
Close on the heels of revelations in parliament as regards the dismal performance of the AG’s Department, the Buddhist clergy lodged complaints with police headquarters, demanding the immediate arrest of Senior State Counsel Aziz. Law enforcement authorities cannot, under any circumstances, afford not to investigate whether the Senior State Counsel was subject to any sort of pressure by interested group/groups not to authorize police action.
Zahran had access to many, including politicians. In response to a query posed by the writer, National Front for Good Governance (NFGG) leader and entrepreneur Abdul Rahuman, in late May, 2019, admitted as to how Zahran summoned those contesting the Batticaloa district for a meeting in Kattankudy, in the run up to the 2015 August 17 parliamentary election. The Island raised the issue at a special media briefing, called by NFGG, at Mandarina Hotel, on the Galle road.
When The Island sought an explanation from Rahuman as to how he had contested the August 2015 parliamentary polls as his NFGG received recognition only in 2017, he said that he contested on the SLMC ticket. Rahuman disclosed how he secured nomination as a result of what he described as a tripartite agreement involving the UNP, the SLMC and the NFGG. "The SLMC contested in Batticaloa on its own though in Trincomalee all contested under the UNP ticket. The NFGG fielded a medical doctor in the Trincomalee District." Rahuman alleged that photographs taken at the meeting arranged by the NTJ, in Kattankudy, way back in 2015, had been used to link the NFGG to those involved in the Easter Sunday carnage.
With the father of two of Zahran’s suicide bombers on the JVP National List (was arrested soon after the blasts), a hardcore NTJ operative infiltrating the parliament staff (was taken into custody) in addition to Dr. Seigu Siyabdeen Mohammed Safi of the Kurunegala making an abortive bid to enter parliament on the UNP ticket at the last general election (Safi received nomination due to Rishard Bathiudeen’s intervention - given bail pending investigations into alleged sterilization project) the threat faced by Sri Lanka is not yet over. Anyone trying to dispel fears of fresh NTJ attacks for political reasons will only invite trouble.