By Nadia Fazlulhaq
Whether it’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa, First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa or MP Namal Rajapaksa, the Rajapaksa name is a goldmine for inventive rogues who scam the public by pretending to be anything from the President’s elephant supplier to the First Lady’s chauffeur.
A staggering 143 arrests have been made by a Police Special Investigations Unit (SIU), set up to investigate complaints of cheats posing as close associates of the President, his family and close relatives and the President’s Secretary, Lalith Weeratunga.
A total of 373 such complaints have been lodged with the SIU.
The most recent incident was on Monday, when a man from Deniyaya was arrested by the SIU for cheating a man from Kuliyapitiya of Rs.190,000 to supposedly secure a job at the Bank of Ceylon.
The suspect had posed as Shiranthi Rajapaksa’s driver. He was produced before the Kuliyapitiya Magistrate and is in remand.
This was just a few days after a woman was arrested in Warakapola, who passed herself off as an advisor to the First Lady, taking Rs.1.6 million from individuals by promising them jobs. She had also been posing as a secretary at the Ministry of Education.
This year saw numerous instances of such frauds. In July, the Colombo Fort Magistrate gave permission for the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to proceed with an investigation involving a deal between a local who posed as a relative of President Rajapaksa and a Russian businessman.
The suspect had allegedly obtained $US690,000 from the Russian to purchase land in Colombo andMaharagama on a favoured basis.
A man posing as President Rajapaksa’s official elephant supplier bilked a businessman from Minuwangoda Rs. 3.3m as an advance payment to allegedly bring in a baby elephant from Myanmar.
In another case, a businessman in Maradagamula fell victim to two tricksters, including a woman, who took from him Rs. 2m in cash and a vehicle worth Rs. 3.5m on the false assurance that he would be able to buy vehicles used in the Hambantota port cheaply with the help of an uncle of President Rajapaksa.
Earlier in the year, a 45-year-old woman claiming to be an officer of First Lady’s media unit was arrested by Wennappuwa police for defrauding a couple of Rs. 200,000 on the pretext that she would get their child enrolled into the Sacred Heart Convent in Wennappuwa.
The President’s eldest son MP Namal Rajapaksa’s name too is used regularly by cheats.
The SIU, on the orders of the Nugegoda Chief Magistrate is preparing a report into an incident where a man claiming to be an organiser of Namal Rajapaksa’s Thaarunyata Hetak organisation had issued a dud cheque for Rs.9, 20,825 to a garment manufacturer in Nugegoda to buy 3,000 T-shirts.
Another arrested man posing as a secretary to Namal Rajapaksa had tricked three people going on a visit to Buddhagaya of more than Rs.180,000 by telling them that they could travel through Mattala airport at a low cost because of his connection with Mr. Rajapaksa.
The SIU arrested a man who had swindled a number of people by passing himself off as a co-ordinating secretary of Thaarunayata Hetak and its Maharagama organiser.
The suspect, a resident of Pannipitiya, had cheated one man of Rs.1.5m by promising him a contract in the Northern development project, taken Rs. 300,000 from another on the pretext of getting him a grama niladhari job and robbed Rs. 300,000 from another by promising him a job in Canada.
Con artists gain complete trust and confidence by giving a sense of security, and using well-known names adds to the trust, said senior lecturer in criminology and criminal justice M.W. Jayasundara.
“Most of these fraudsters will dress up like secretaries, act like one and are always in touch with the relevant VIP’s movement and programmes as well as attend their public meetings. They will even build connections with close supporters of these VIPs,” he said.
It is not only the President’s family name that is surrounded by fraudsters – ministers too are on the list.
A woman who had deceived a number of people in Ratnapura, Rakwana and Godakawela by promising jobs overseas was arrested this year after collecting Rs. 1.3m from her victims. She had told them she was a secretary to the Minister of Foreign Employment and Welfare, Dilan Perera.
A 43-year-old man from Pannipitiya was arrested for stealing more than Rs. 2.1m from people by promising them government jobs and contracts, stating that he is a close friend of many ministers.
Another man was arrested by Nochchiyagama police in Anuradhapura, for using the name of Special Projects Minister S.M. Chandrasena to claim he could secure people a job at a state bank for Rs.2, 50,000.
A resident of Anuradhapura arrested in Nuwara Eliya over a scam involving lightning protection equipment in tea factories and bungalows, had said he and his accomplices were from Public Management Reforms Minister Navin Dissanyake’s office.
Over the past two years similar fraud cases have included a man using forgeries of the letterhead and seal of President Rajapaksa and another man who, posing as a close friend of Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, collected more than Rs.1.2m from people by promising them jobs overseas.
Police spokesman Senior Superintendent of Police, Ajith Rohana said the Police Inspector-General N.K. Illangakoon had instructed all police stations to be on the lookout for such fraudsters.
The penalty for fraud is generally three years’ rigorous imprisonment and a fine. There can be a three-year sentence in an impersonation prosecution.