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Monday, July 15, 2024

Rohith Rajapaksa & CSN Case: How it All Began

Investigations into case no B 9823/2015 before the Kaduwela Magistrate’s Court began on March 15 last year. This was after Police Chief N.K. Illangakoon directed to SDIG Waidyalankara a complaint received from an organisation styling itself the Citizens for a Just Society against Carlton Sports Network (CSN). In the past eleven and half months, FCID had submitted 20 reports to court and obtained orders at different stages to probe specific matters.

The licence to operate CSN has been obtained with the forwarding address 260/12 Torrington Avenue, Colombo 7. It was a house originally owned by Prabath Nanayakkara, a wealthy businessman who represented major Chinese commercial interests in Sri Lanka. He had reportedly sold it to Shiranthi Rajapaksa, the FCID has found. The CSN had earlier used the SEMA building at Janadipathi Mawatha where Namal Rajapaksa’s Tharuniyata Hetak (A Tomorrow for the Youth) youth movement was located and also from the Presidential Secretariat in the Fort. A Cabinet Memorandum prepared by the Media Ministry for approval for a television broadcasting station and obtaining frequencies had been sent first to Lt. Yoshitha Rajapaksa by a senior official. It was only after he agreed that it had been presented before the Cabinet of Ministers and approved.

A six storied building has been constructed at a cost of over Rs. 200 million (excluding interior fittings) as the broadcast station for CSN at 236/1 Denzil Kobbekaduwa Mawatha, Battaramulla. The construction work, FCID found, had been carried out by a leading firm of contractors closely associated with the previous administration. They have been paid Rs. 103 million so far and FCID detectives are yet to establish who made the payment and why the balance amount had not been settled.

The land where the CSN broadcast station has been built belongs to the D.A. Rajapaksa Foundation. This Foundation has been given legal status by an Act of Parliament in 2003. In terms of the Act, the land in question, belonging to the State and given on a 99-year lease has to be used in keeping with provisions in the Act for the sole purpose of the aims and objectives of the foundation. It was leased upon a request made by the then Opposition Leader, Mahinda Rajapaksa to M.H. Mohamed who as a Minister of Western Province Development in the UNP Government had the Urban Development Authority (UDA) under his charge. No approval had been obtained for the six storeyed building from anyone in the foundation.

Dr. Lalith Chandradasa, Secretary of the D.A. Rajapaksa Foundation and a brother-in-law of the former President had told FCID that no approval was given for the six storeyed building. Nor were funds available in their organisation, he has said. This fact has been further confirmed in a statement to the FCID by the Foundation’s Chairman Chamal Rajapaksa, former Speaker. He has said that no one obtained permission for the construction of the building.

One of the main areas focused by the FCID has been money laundering. In terms of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act No 5 of 2006 (which was given more teeth through amendments in November 2011), the offence of money laundering is defined as:

“Any person, who –

(a) Engages directly or indirectly in any transaction in relation to any property which is derived or realised, directly or indirectly, from any unlawful activity or from the proceeds of any unlawful activity;
(b) Receives, possesses, conceals, disposes of, or brings into Sri Lanka, transfers out of Sri Lanka, or invests in Sri Lanka, any property which is derived or realised, directly or indirectly, from any unlawful activity or from the proceeds of any unlawful activity,

“Knowing or having reason to believe that such property is derived or realised, directly or indirectly from any unlawful activity or from the proceeds of any unlawful activity, shall be guilty of the offence of money laundering and shall on conviction after trial before the High Court be liable to a fine not less than the value of the property in respect of which the offence is committed and not more than three times the value of the property in respect of which the offence is committed or to rigorous imprisonment for a period of not less than five years and not exceeding twenty years, or to both such fine and imprisonment. The assets of any person found guilty of the offence of money laundering under this section shall be liable to forfeiture ……”

According to FCID, some of the CSN books which have recorded receipt of funds, reportedly from Singapore, have turned out to be fictitious. They say they have uncovered “strong evidence” to confirm that such transactions have not taken place. Lt Yoshitha Rajapaksa is accused of allegedly engaging in money laundering, violation of the Public Property Act, the Customs Ordinance, misappropriation and forgery. Four others arrested together with him – Rohan Welivita, Kaushan Dissanayake, Ravinath Fernando, and Nishantha Ranatunga are alleged to have, among other matters, aided and abetted in the act of money laundering. FCID now wants to arrest Yasara Abeynaike, who had worked as Channel Manager at CSN and is currently abroad. She is described as a one time girlfriend of Lt Yoshitha Rajapaksa and served a stint at the Sri Lanka High Commission in Sydney. She had previously been employed at Independent Television Network (ITN).

A bigger puzzle is the contradictions surfacing from the FCID investigations over the initial capital raised by CSN. The amount is Rs. 234,275,000. According to statements obtained from Lt. Yoshitha Rajapaksa, two different companies associated with Sajin de Vass Gunawardena, until recently a close confidant of Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Monitoring MP for Ministry of Foreign Affairs in his government, made contributions. Together these two – Cosmos Printing (Pvt.) Limited and Cosmos Technology (Pvt.) Limited had paid Rs. 100 million (Rs. 50 million each). However, de Vass Gunawardena has said in his statement to the FCID that he made no such financial contributions and is unaware of any transactions. He has also made clear he is not a shareholder of CSN. Another is the claim that W.D.N.H. Perera made a contribution of Rs. 52 million. In a statement to the FCID, Perera has said he made no such contribution and is unaware of the transaction.

Two confirmed contributions had come from Chesmi Consolidated Limited, dealer for Dialog for the North and East making a payment of Rs. 25,275,000. The other is Lanka Orient Leasing Company (LOLC) making a payment of Rs. 50 million though it is not clear whether this is a loan or a donation.

Relatives of three others now in custody have also claimed they made contributions. Kavishan Dissanayake has said that he contributed Rs. 10 million, money that his mother and two uncles had given. They had neither wanted interest nor a return of these funds. A person named Shadiya Karunajeeva has said in a statement that she handed over Rs. 10 ten million to Nishantha Ranatunga. Ravinath Fernando has said that his lawyer father had given him Rs. 50 million which he made as a “contribution”.

Over 12,000 e-mails

FCID has seized more than 12,750 e-mails and SMS messages, including accounts used by Lt Yoshitha Rajapaksa and all forms of correspondence. They say he violated the Companies Act by not registering his name as Chairman or a Director. However, a large number of e-mails have confirmed that he signed as Chairman. In terms of the Electronic Transactions Act (No 19 0f 2006), “No data message, electronic document, electronic record or other communications shall be denied legal recognition, effect, validity or enforceability on the ground that it is in electronic form.” The FCID has already issued a freezing order in accordance with the Money Laundering Act on the bank account of CSN where there is a balance of Rs. 167 million. The FCID is trying to determine how this balance had been accumulated. Investigations into some other aspects which FCID sources say are “startling” are now under way. But they declined to give details.



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