(Excerpted From the “Sunday Times” Political Column)
The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has started investigations into allegations in The New York Times report that China’s state owned China Harbour Engineering Company paid at least US$ 7.6 million from its account at the Standard Chartered Bank to affiliates of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidential election campaign. The focus, it is learnt, is on the funding of the former President’s campaign.
The NYT report cited a document from an active internal government investigation. “The document details China Harbour’s bank account number — ownership of which, it said, was verified — and intelligence gleaned from questioning of the people to whom the cheques were made out. The report added: “With 10 days to go before polls opened, around US$ 3.7 million was distributed in cheques: $678,000 to print campaign T-shirts and other promotional material and $297,000 to buy supporters gifts, including women’s saris. Another $38,000 was paid to a popular Buddhist monk who was supporting Mr. Rajapaksa’s electoral bid, while two checks totalling $1.7 million were delivered by volunteers to Temple Trees, his official residence. Most of the payments were from a sub-account controlled by China Harbour, named “HPDP Phase 2,” shorthand for Hambantota Port Development Project.”
The Sunday Times (Political Commentary) revealed last week that Chinese funding to different political parties was the subject of investigation in early 2015 by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) which functions directly under the Inspector General of Police. This unit took over the probe after the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) functioning under the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) first discovered the induction of funds.
The New York Times report prompted the Chinese Ambassador Cheng Xueyuan to hold a news conference in Colombo on July 6. He denied any funding by the state owned China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) for Rajapaksa’s presidential election campaign. China Harbour Engineering Company Joint Managing Director An Xin, who was at the news conference, said claims his company funded Rajapaksa were “completely inconsistent with the facts.” Noting that his company would co-operate with any investigation, Joint MD An said they were “holding discussions on pursuing legal action against The New York Times for publishing defamatory and damaging allegations.” Are these claims by the Chinese Ambassador and the CHEC factually correct, grossly misleading or a cover-up?
The Sunday Times is able to reveal today that the funding for major political parties did come from the China Harbour Engineering Company, a firm owned by the Chinese government. As reported earlier in these columns exclusively, this formed the subject of an investigation by the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) in early 2015 after evidence was first discovered by the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL).
A former top official of the CBSL, it has now been confirmed, had sought the investigations to be halted though the reasons are not clear.
The Sunday Times is also able to reveal today that the file which contained material about the China Harbour Engineering Company funding is 312–2015 CB. This CBSL file has been closed in June 2016. Whether the file is still available with the Central Bank with its contents intact or it was taken over by the SIU is not clear. Four cash cheques totalling Rs 100 million were issued by China Harbour Engineering Company as part of payments for political parties. Three cheques are dated January 7, 2015, a day before the presidential election whilst the fourth is dated January 6, 2015.
At that time, the SIU investigation had identified those who cashed these cheques and obtained copies of their National Identity Cards. One high ranking source said some persons including a former government official were among those questioned before the probe was halted unceremoniously by the onetime top CBSL official. See montage of the cheques on this page. They are drawn from the China Harbour Engineering Company’s own account at the Standard Chartered Bank in Colombo. It is not immediately clear whether CID detectives will also probe this aspect during their investigation or concentrate only on the moneys received for the Rajapaksa campaign.
With only some 14 months to go for the scheduled presidential election, followed by parliamentary elections, whether the results of the high profile investigations into bribery and corruption will ever be known, remains a huge question. So is the probe into whether Mahinda Rajapaksa received funds for the 2015 presidential polls from a Chinese firm. After all, the pledges to probe other major cases were made months before 2015 and remain unfulfilled. The only thing the people appear certain is the price hike — this time fuel.