[Sajin Vass, a family friend of Rajapksas]
A number of Ministers of the previous regime are facing allegations of corruption today. Such allegations were often levelled at certain government politicians at the Opposition election propaganda rallies held ahead of the last Presidential poll. Sajin de Vass Gunawardena was one of the government politicians who became the butt of the sleaze accusations.
Sajin never held a Ministerial portfolio. He started his Parliamentary career as an ordinary MP and was later appointed as the Monitoring MP of the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
He soon became so powerful in the Ministry it became quite evident he was wielding greater authority and influence than the Cabinet Minister in charge. He held such sway over the affairs of the Ministry, it was no secret that the officials sought his sanction even in respect of matters which carried the approval of the Minister. In the course of time, Sajin de Vass took the full control of the Ministry, reducing the Minister to a mere figure-head whose functions were restricted to the issuance of media communiques and holding of media briefings.
Lady Luck began smiling on young Sajin de Vass from the time former President Mahinda Rajapaksa met him in Dubai several years ago. Rajapaksa who was the Opposition leader at the time was on a visit to Dubai and Sajin had the godsend opportunity of escorting Rajapaksa around the city. Sajin was a wharf clerk at TRICO International in Dubai at that time. Highly taken up with the smooth talking suave young man, Rajapaksa invited him to return to Sri Lanka to work for him. Thus he got the biggest break in life.
Sajin’s father Abeydeera de Vass Gunawardena had served both as the Director General and the Chairman of the BOI during the Chandrika Kumaratunga administration. The positions held by his father had enabled Sajin to make important business contacts and cultivate the friendship of influential and wealthy persons thanks to whose help he could launch certain business ventures.
Ever since becoming a close confidant and a point man of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sajin has been an oft-mentioned name in political circles besides being a leading headline news maker. Soon the investigative journalists began digging into his chequered career and came out with juicy details of his track record.
Both the CID and the sleuths of the Bribery and Corruption Commission are now investigating the allegations of corruption made against Sajin de Vass. The first complaint against Sajin was made by Vasantha Samarasinghe of the Anti-corruption Voice (Dooshana Virodhi Handa), an affiliate of the JVP.
The CID began interrogating Sajin de Vass on February 25. Media reports said that the CID questioned him for four hours on that day.
The Bribery and Corruption Commission sleuths recorded a statement from Sajin on Tuesday.
A flying school run by an Aviation Company owned by Sajin and the alleged irregularities in the running of this school are among the matters relating to Sajin now being investigated by the CID.
Sajin de Vass functioned as the Chief Executive Officer of the Mihin Lanka and the Coordinating Secretary on Trade and Foreign Affairs to the President.
While functioning as the CEO of Mihin Lanka Sajin had launched a company called Cosmos Aviation Services (Pvt) Ltd. He had stated that this company was floated with the objective of serving as a flying training facility. He had purchased helicopters and other aircraft for this aviation company. It has transpired since then that he had failed to reveal how he had accumulated enormous wealth for the purchase of these assets.
Sajin’s Aviation Company had entered into an agreement with an American company to purchase 1979 Cessna model: 152 H aircraft for the Flying school at a price of US $ 46,900 (Rs. 6 million in SL currency) and had later made this payment through the Bank of Ceylon. Soon afterwards his company had purchased a Cessna 172 RG aircraft.
According to the complaint lodged with the Bribery and Corruption Commission Sajin’s Aviation company had purchased a 4R TDA Cessna 152 for US $ 38,000, 4R AVG Cessna 172 for US $ 60,000, 4R SAV RA 34.200 T for US $ 80,000, 4R SAK Robinson 66 for US $ 100,00 and a 4R RVG Cessna 152 for US $ 46,900.
There were several state-owned undertakings running at huge losses under the previous regime. One of them was the state-sponsored budget airline Mihin Lanka. Sajin de Vass was the CEO of this airline. He had once boasted that his uncanny business acumen was the reason for his great success as a businessman. Alas! He had forgotten to apply his business acumen when it came to running the Mihin Lanka airline. In fact, this writer tried to contact Sajin de Vass to inquire as to why he failed to apply his business acumen in running Mihin Lanka, but he found Sajin’s mobile phone switched off every time he tried to contact him. Later one of his secretaries told this writer that his boss had switched off his phone as he was indisposed.
Sajin has been running his aviation company at the Ratmalana airport premises. He had undertaken to conduct a six month training course for the prospective trainees. The company launched in 2009 had enrolled 13 batches at the rate of two intakes a year. The training fee for a trainee is Rs.1.3 million. All these trainees had wanted to obtain an ordinary flying licence. Meanwhile, Sajin had charged an enhanced fee of Rs.6 million from some prospective trainees for the issuance of a Commercial Flying Licence. The company had conducted the flying training programme at a facility located at the Ratmalana airport grounds obtained on lease. The company had been required to pay a monthly rental of Rs. 115,000 under the lease agreement. But it has come to light now that the rental for even a single month in respect of this facility had not been paid. An outbuilding on the Katunayake airport grounds also has been obtained on rent, but the company has failed to make any rent payment for its use either. It has now been established that Sajin has committed a plethora of malpractices and resorted to various irregularities for self-aggrandizement by the abuse of political power with immunity for years.
A controversial character, from his youth Sajin had been involved in numerous cases where he was accused of fraud and breach of trust. His involvement in a certain fraud case led him to languish in remand jail for 10 days.
In 1994 Sajin launched a company called Tapes International Pvt (Ltd) in the Free Trade Zone in Biyagama with money borrowed from a couple. When he defaulted on interest payment, the couple filed a case against him at the District Court in Colombo for the recovery of damages in Rs. 3.5 million. It was in this connection that Sajin had to spend 10 days in remand jail. He later skipped the country and worked as a wharf clerk at the TRICO International in Dubai.
By Prasad Abeywikrama
Courtesy Deshaya / DM