By Ahimsa Wickrematunge
I first came to know of the MiG Deal in August 2007. I was living in Canada with family when my father called me from Colombo. He told me that The Sunday Leader had reported on a shady military contract involving Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Air Force. My father had just watched a television interview in which Rajapaksa had denied having any involvement in this “MiG deal”. My father rambled on with details about tender procedure, inter-Governmental contracts and credit letters, all of which flew well over my innocent little 16-year-old head, as I tried without success to move our conversation towards a more father-daughter wavelength. His eye was on the prize, however. All he could talk about was the follow up article he was planning.
A few days later, on Sunday, 2 September 2007, I logged on to The Sunday Leader website, as I often did, to see my father’s banner headline that the “MiG deal crash lands on Defence Ministry”. According to this reporting, the “MiG Deal” in which Gotabaya Rajapaksa had claimed to be uninvolved in on television, was orchestrated by his cousin, Udayanga Weeratunga, and began with a meeting between Rajapaksa, Weeratunga, the Air Force Commander and one of the Ukrainian masterminds of the deal.
That meeting with Rajapaksa, the Leader reported, took place on 6 February. It was only the next day, they said, that the Air Force suddenly developed a longing for MiGs and the Air Force Commander wrote a letter to the Ukrainian conspirator to ask for a proposal. I have seen this letter from the Air Force Commander Donald Perera to Ukrainian national Dimitri Peregudov, dated 7 February 2006. It was not even written on a letterhead. Typed in the same ‘Comic Sans MS’ scribble font with which kindergarten teachers printed posters for infants, it was little more than a childish cover-up.
This letter was supposed to belatedly transform the ‘unsolicited’ proposal that his boss’ cousin had shoved down the throat of the Air Force Commander the previous day in the Defence Secretary’s office into a ‘solicited’ one, so it could be considered under procurement rules. As far as I know, no one has to date asked Donald Perera why he suddenly asked for a proposal for MiGs, having written to the Defence Secretary barely two weeks prior that the Air Force needed to consider a broad number of options, not just MiGs, in choosing its new bomber aircraft.
My father’s reporting poked several more holes in the legitimacy of the MiG deal, from the circumvention of several standard procurement procedures, to exposing the ghost company through which the profits had been laundered, to shining a spotlight on the meddling of Udayanga Weeratunga, at every stage of the transaction.
The following month, on 18 October 2007, a lawyer for Gotabaya Rajapaksa wrote to my father threatening to sue him for defamation for causing Rs. 1 billion in damage to his character. I can’t imagine that there is any way that poor Gotabaya Rajapaksa could have realised at that time that he was walking into a carefully-baited trap set by the wily Editor of The Sunday Leader. In Rajapaksa’s letter of demand, he said that thanks to my father’s intrepid reporting, his “role of Defence Secretary,” “had been adversely affected thus creating adverse consequences to the war against terror in the battlefield”.
My father responded bluntly that if that were so, Rajapaksa “should forthwith resign from the post of Defence Secretary” in the interests of national security. My father threatened to counter-sue Rajapaksa for Rs. 2 billion if he were sued, on the grounds that he “has always remained in this country and worked for its betterment,” while Rajapaksa “has voluntarily left this country and migrated to the United States of America and taken citizenship in that country by swearing allegiance to that country”.
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