By Dharman Wickremaratne
The Police Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) on March 25 informed the Kaduwela Magistrate’s Court that it wanted to record a statement from former Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa on the Divi Neguma Department’s financial dealings. Accordingly, Kaduwela Additional District Judge Dhammika Hemapala gave permission to obtain a statement from the former minister.
On the same day, when the police went to Basil Rajapaksa’s office at Oruthota, Gampaha, taking the Kaduwela Magistrate Court’s order, a staffer at the office accepted it with the former minister’s knowledge.
By that time Basil Rajapaksa, Gampaha District MP, was away from the country, having left the island on January 11. On January 15 he resigned from the post of SLFP National Organiser having accepted full responsibility for the defeat of the UPFA Presidential Candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Presidential Election held on January 8, since it was Basil who spearheaded the Mahinda Rajapaksa’s election campaign.
Following the receipt of the Kaduwela Magistrate’s Court order, he informed court through his Snr lawyer Udaya Rohan De Silva that he was away from the country. Attorney De Silva informed court that his client would make a statement to the FCID and assist the investigations soon after returning to the country before April 24 from the USA where he was undergoing medical treatment.
By that time the FCID had recorded statements from (1) former Economic Development Ministry Secretary Dr. Nihal Jayatilleke (2), Divi Neguma Department’s former Director-General R.A.A.K. Ranawaka who is the present Additional Secretary of the Housing and Samurdhi Ministry and former Local Government and Provincial Council Ministry Secretary and (3) former Divi Neguma Department Additional Director-General Bandula Tilakasiri, who is the present Assistant General Manager (Legal) of the Sahadhipathya Management Authority under the Housing and Samurdhi Ministry among many other officials.
The charges against former Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa, former Ministry Secretary Dr. Nihal Jayatilleke and former Divi Neguma Director-General Ranawaka were that they misappropriated State funds.
The charges were –
(1) providing 14 Samurdhi beneficiary families each with 2,500 (a total of Rs.2,900 million) under the first stage of providing Rs.10,000 for repairing their houses under the Isurumath Niwasa programme
(2) paying Rs.1,700 from Divi Neguma funds as compensation to 1,067 Samurdhi Officers who voluntarily retired when establishing the Divi Neguma Department by combining five institutions including the Samurdhi Authority, until the Treasury took over the responsibility of the payments
(3) spending Rs. 23 million on printing five million almanacs for the year 2015.
Basil Rajapaksa returned to Sri Lanka on Tuesday April 21 by Emirates Flight EK 348 via Dubai to make a statement. Although the flight was due at 1.35 p.m. it was delayed by 15 minutes. Over 5,000 people were waiting outside the airport to welcome Basil. Among them were former Economic Development Deputy Ministers Susantha Punchinilame and MLAN Hisbullah, Parliamentarians Arundika Fernando, Dulip Wijesekera, Ruwan Ranatunga, Provincial Miniister Nimal Lansa and 21 Provincial Councilors of the Gampaha District.
Before heading for Colombo the former minister was received at the entrance to the Expressway by Western Province Chief Minister Prasanna Ranatunga. In the meantime Basil Rapaksa received a phone call from a UNP powerfull Minister of the present Government, inviting him to his birthday party that night. The former minister wished him a happy birthday on the phone.
Thereafter Basil went to see his elder brother Chamal Rajapaksa at the Speaker’s official residence at Battaramulla. Although Basil had wanted to attend Parliamentary sessions they had been postponed until April 27th. At the Speaker’s residence a number of Parliamentarians were ewaiting to welcome Basil. One of them showed a Samurdhi Almanac printed in 2004, showing photos of the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Samurdhi, Agricultural and Livestock Minister S.B. Dissanayake and Samurdhi State Minister RAD Sirisena
Leaving the Speaker’s residence Basil Rajapaksa went to his office at Oruthota and have a look at a number of letters requesting his assistance on different issues. He promptly attended to the revenant matters. The letters had been selected by the office staff for his perusal.
On Wednesday April 22 at 10.50 a.m. he arrived at the FCID office at Kollupitiya to make a statement on the Divi Neguma. This special unit is housed at the residence of former senior ministers.
The Basil Rajapaksa’s statement were recorded from 11.00 a.m.to 7.30 p.m. on the same day. Although he was very tired after recording of evidence continuously, he confirmed that was provided with lunch at the request of officers there. From morning police riot squads and water cannons were seen outside the FCID. Three TV channels telecast it while Basil substantiated his statement with evidence.
Commenting one of the three charges (providing 1.4 million Samurdhi beneficiary families with Rs.10,000 for repairing their houses under the Isurumath Niwasa programme) the former minister said that this was given to the beneficiaries to be spent on repairing toilets and other such matters. Regarding the printing of almanacs he said that such almanacs had been printed even in 2004.
About the payment of Rs.1,700 million from Divi Neguma funds as compensation to 1,067 Samurdhi Officers who voluntarily retired when establishing the Divi Neguma Department by combining five institutions including the Samurdhi Authority, until the Treasury took over the responsibility of the payments, he stated this was done to avoid having to pay nearly Rs.5 million as fines under government Labour Regulations if the payment of compensation was delayed.
At 5.04 on April 22 Reuters Colombo Correspondent reported in a twitter message that the FCID had arrested Basil Rajapaksa after recording his statement. But unofficial reports said that he was further questioned until 7.00 p.m. By 6.00 p.m. provincial and staff reporters both from the print and electronic media, foreign correspondents and photographers had arrived at the Kaduwela Court complex. The first to come at 5.25 p.m. were Kaduwela correspondents Piyadasa Ranasinghe and Ilangakoon Menike.
Around the same time a group of Samurdhi Ministry officials had come to the courts complex on behalf of the ministry’s Additional Secretary and former Divi Neguma Director-General Ranawaka. A group of lawyers appeared for Basil Rajapaksa. Among them werea large number of the Kaduwela Courts SLFP Lawyers Association members. UPFA Secretary Susil Premajayantha and SLFP General Secretary Anura Priyadarshana Yapa were also there. All of them arrived at 8.30 p.m. At 8.10 p.m. Kadyuwela Magistrate and Additional District Judge Dhammika Hemapala was seen walking toewards his chambers after arriving at the courts complex.
Economic Development Ministry’s former Secretary’s wife, commnuity medical Health Specialist Dr.Anoma Jayatilleke and former Divi Neguma Director-General’s wife Sandamali Aluvihare had arrived at the court complex at 7.30 p.m. Around 2,000 supporters of Basil Rajapaksa had also gathered. The acting OIC of the Nawagamuwa Police directed the media personnel out of the court premises. But reporters continued to be inside the premises. By 7.00 p.m. a large number of police personnel and riots squads were seen at the courts complex.
Around 8.00 p.m. former Economic Development Deputy Ministers SM Chandrasena, Susantha Punchinilame, MLAN Hisbullah, 31 Opposition MPs including Dinesh Gunawardena, Western Province Chief Minister Prasanna Ranatunga, Provincial Ministers Nimal Lansa and Provincial Councilors, Pradeshiya Sabha Chairpersons and mayors among the large crowd that had gathered at the courts complex premises.
Coalition Goernment’s SLFP Ministers Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena and C.B. Ratnayake, Deputy Ministers Lasantha Alagiyawanna and Lalith Dissanayake were also seen. Kaduwela Mayor GH Buddhadasa’s son Provincial Councilor Manjula Buddhadhasa was playing an active role in the crowd.
It was at 9.07 p.m. the three persons taken into custody, including former Minister Basil Rajapaksa were brought by van to be produced before rthe Kaduwela Magistrate. Basil received a warm welcome from the crowd that had gathered at the premises.
Addressing the media Basil Rajapaksahe said that instead of a yaha palananaya (good governance) what has emerged in the country today is a regime of hatred. He said that if spending Divi Neguma on people’s welfare was wrong then he was ready to face any challenge on the people’s behalf.
The investigatig officers carrying the relevant reports climbed upstairs to go to the magistrate’s chambers at 9.10 p.m. while former Minister Basil Rajapaksa and the other two persons were compelled to wait with their lawyers in a section only two feet-wide of 15 feet-long garage in which the magistrate’s official car was parked. After they waited there for about 45 minutes with great difficulty, they were allowed to enter the lawyers’ office room with the approval of both the lawyers and investigating officers.
There, the Coalition Government’s SLFP Ministers and SLFP Opposition MPs exchanged views with the former minister. During this time Basil and the other two had the opportunity to enjoy a meal of pittu, cocnut curry and lunumiris served by former Deputy Minister Hisbullah. Susantha Punchinilame had brought orange juice prepared at home.
Instead of the van that brought the three accused a prison bus had arrived at the courts complex aroiund 9.20 p.m. They were summoned to the Magistrate’s chambers at 10.15 p.m. Along with the accused their lawyers too climbed upstairs. After inquiring from both parties the magistrate ordered the accused to be remanded till May 5.
Accordingly further orders were given allowing the first accused to attend Parliamentary sessions and the other two to be admitted to the Prisons Hospital taking into account medical reports. This order was given at 11.35 p.m.
After coming out of the Magistrtate’s Chambers Basil Rajapaksa took leave of all those who had gathered at the courts premises, after requesting Chief Minister Prasanna Ranatunga and Provincial Minister Nimal Lansa to ensure that the people dispersed without creating any disturbance. The prison bus taking Basil Rajapaksa left for the Welikada Prison at 11.47 p.m.
He was admitted to the Prisons Hospital the same night and the following morning (Tuesday) he performed religious duties. At 10.00 a.m. the prisons doctor recommended that Basil and other two accused be produced before the Chief Medical Officer of the Colombo National Hospital. Immediately an ambulance arrived but it went back soon afterwards. According to unofficial reports a decision had been taken to keep them in the prison for one more day, following ‘orders from the top’.
It is said that the MPs who were there had informed Justice Minster and President’s Counsel Wijedasa Rajapaksa on this matter. As a result Basil and the other two accused were taken before the National Hospital’s Chief Medical Officer at 2.00 p.m. But they were delayed there for about one hour.
Doctors, nurses other staff are now attending the former Minister now in Room 15 of the Merchants Ward of the National Hospital. A doctor had given him a book to read. It is titled ‘The Philsophy of Literature and Aesthetics’ by Vijitha Welagedera. PM Senaratne’s book on ancient Sri Lanka’s rural life was also there.
Although hundreds of people came to inquire about Basil Rajapaksa’s health they had no permission to visit him. Only MPs are allowed to do so. Eighty one parliamentarians visited him from the day he was taken into custody up to 7.00 p.m. on the 24th. They included Opposition Leader Nimal Siripala De Silva, UNP General Secretary Anura Yapa, National Organiser Susil Premajayantha, Coalition Government’s SLFP Ministers Manhinda Amaraweera, Jagath Pushpakumara, AHM Fowzie, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Sudarshani Fernandopulle and also Faizal Musthapha Government MP.
A senior nurse of the National Hospital informed Basil Rajapaksa on Friday evening that on his birthday, Monday April 27, her daughter who is a development officer at the Economic Development Ministry is making arrangements to organize Bodhi Pooja at the village temple.
Arrangements have also been made to hold Bodhi Poojas at 61 temples in the Gampaha District.
(The writer is a senior journalist who could be reached at email@example.com)