Hafeel Farisz and Amali Mallawarachchi
Minister Ravi Karunanayake yesterday defended himself before the Bond Commission insisting that he did not know of any of the transactions entered into by his wife and daughter and their connected companies with regard to the Penthouse Apartment at the Monarch residencies in which he currently resides.
In a day filled with drama, suspense, outbursts and assertions, Karunanayake took the stand for close to six hours insisting throughout that he was not aware of the transactions or connections that were put to him by the Attorney General’s Department.
“I was not aware and I only came to know after this hullabaloo (after Anika Wijesooriya’s testimony)” Karunanayake asserted.Immediately after, however, it was pointed out by the Attorney Generals Department who quoted the Hansard saying that the issue of his Monarch Penthouse apartment was brought to Karunanayakes notice in Parliament in July 2016.
An initially upbeat Karunanayake, said during the initial stages that the media was “acting Judge, Jury and Executioner”. He also said the counsel leading evidence, could do so only because the “new government was in place”. Thereafter, during a heated exchange, Karunanayake said “ I am hurt (by the line of questioning) Is this the independence of the judiciary?” he asked pointing out the overly agrressive Counsel.
On nexus with Aloysius
The day commenced with ASG Dappula De Livera questioning Karunanayake on where Karunanayake currently lives. “At the Monarch” was the reply. “What is the number of the apartment?” “5 PH2” replied Karunanayake. Then the questioning commenced on Karunanayakes relationship with Arjun Aloysius. An upbeat Karunanayake said that he knew the Aloysius family “for years”.
The questions kept continuing and Karunanayake told the commission that he had a normal relationship, “like any politician would have with people.Our families happened to know each other for over 25 years and my daughters were classmates”, he said.
After allowing Karunanayake to continue, in between after which De Livera and Karunanayake flared up over the Registered Stock and Securities Ordinance regarding the statutory obligations of the Minister of Finance, Livera commenced probing. “So will you say you had a personal relationship with Aloysisus”, Livera asked. “ No” Karunanayake replied. “An official one?” “no” Karunanayake replied”. “A business one?” Livera continued. “ No” Karunanayake replied. “Have you met Aloysius?” “ Yes, a few times at family gatherings.We know each other’s families” Karunanayake beamed.
Next came the revelation. De Livera opened the file, which contained the data on Arjun Aloysius’ mobile phone, he used since late 2016.
He said that the investigators went through a digital forensic audit and were able to gain access to the material contained within.Aloysius earlier refused to give his password, and his phone used during the period in question, 2015, he said was destroyed. The file, De Livera said runs into 8600 pages, with “sensitive information”.
One by one, De Livera read out text messages in which Ravi Karunanayake was inferred to have been mentioned. The initials of Ravi Karunanayake were pointed out, “RK”, which was used in the messages. Karunanayake said he did not know if he was referred to as “RK”. Instead he said he is known as “Karu” or “Ravi”.
Originated from Neil de Silva to Arjun Aloysius, “Dear Hon Min Ravi coming from the site. BOC Subani is going to inform the court. Is there a way for us to stop her from going to court?’. Commissioner, Justice Prasanna Jayawardena pointed out that the message was in reference to a parate execution regarding a property, inferring that the message may have been to use the Minister’s influence to stop the BOC from going to court. Karunanayake said the Bank of Ceylon did not fall under his purview at the time.Commissioner Chithrasiri asked if it was under him at a given time and Karunanayake replied in the affirmative.
Karunanayake said he was not aware of what was discussed in the message, nor the person where it originated from.
Another message read thus. To Steve Samuel From Arjun Aloysius “Remind me to ask Hon RK to get a copy of the Monetary Board Paper 28/Nov/2016”. Samuel, is the Secretary of Aloysius.
Livera, pointed out that a Monetary Board meeting was held on November 28. He asked if Karunanayake knew of the content of the messages, Karunanayake said he did not.Thereafter Di Livera asked Karunanayake if he met Aloysius following the November 28, Karunanayake again remained steadfast. He said he did not.
From Steve Samuel to Arjun Aloysius on December 1, 2016 “Good Morning Chairman. Hope you had a good meeting with RK. Remind the 1 pm haircut”. The next message was read out. Karunanayake, again said he did not recognise the content of the messages. He said he did not meet Aloysius.
Some other messages read:
A calendar reminder
Meeting boss/RK on proposed auction for the week.
01 June 2017 ( Originator Unknown)
“Dear Arjun, there is Kapila Prasanna in Swarnavahini. He was with previous regime from 2007-2015. He has robbed producing money from Swarnavahini. This guy has been the secretary to S.M. Chandrasena from 2015. He only has GCE O/Ls. What is he doing under you? It is not good for you and PTL and Ravi K. These guys are very dangerous. They may send information”
In between the reading of the messages, there was questioning on the “Leader”, referring to the Sunday Leader publication.Karunanayake said he had got nothing to do with the newspaper. Messages referring to the Minister originating from one Ruwan Gallage were then read out. “Employees has stopped work Rs.3 million needed” was one of them. Karunanayake said he was unaware of the contents or the inferences, or the references to him.
“You must ask them” he said.
Coinciding of flights
Thereafter Karunanayake was asked if he had met Aloysius in Singapore or Malaysia. At first, Karunanayake said he had not. Thereafter, De Livera read out flight details and dates. “ !Thirteen times the flights of the two of you has coincided to Singapore or Malaysia” he said. “Singapore is a transit point” Karunanayake replied. Following are excerpts.
Livera: You have been to Singapore in multiple occasions from 07 June 2015 to 09 April 2017. All these coincides with Arjun Aloysius’s Singapore visits as well.
RK: I am not aware.
Livera: Have you met with Aloysius in Singapore?
RK: Once, at a Finance Asia Awards.
Livera: I have the flight details of the two of you with me. How many times have you met Aloysius of all these visits to Singapore?
RK: Once. Maybe twice or thrice.
Livera: Where were you on last Christmas?
RK:In Singapore with my family.
Livera: Aloysius’ flight details shows that he was flying to Singapore on several occasions from 06 June 2015 to 10 May 2017. Did you meet Aloysius last Christmas?
RK:Yes, I think.
Livera: You were in Singapore from 21 December 2016 to 20 December 2016 where as Aloysius was there from 20 December 2016 to 26 December 2016.
RK: I can’t remember the details.
Livera: Were you in the same flight with Aloysius on 04 April 2016, the flight No SQ 469?
RK: I am not aware.
Livera: This shows that you were. Did you meet him on the flight?
RK: I don’t know.
Livera: Do you know there have been 13 occasions coincided when two of you have travelled to Singapore?
RK: I don’t know.
The Commission adjourned at 12.42 PM and recommenced hearings at 1.20 PM. Karunanayake took the stand again. De Livera commenced questioning him on a letter which was sent by the Minister.The letter in question was undated and unreferenced. The letter signed by Karunanayake as the Finance Minister on a Ministry of Finance letter head said, the Government had decided to raise 75 Billion Rupees to fulfill government requirements.
Following are excerpts of the examination.
Livera: Is this your signature?
Livera: Did you issue this?
RK: Yes at the request of Governor Central Bank Mahendran. He wanted this when the second COPE started investigations. He wanted to ensure that this letter issued.”
There was a cabinet meeting on 25 February 2015. The President, Prime Minister and Cabinet of Ministers discussed on how to spend for the election and how to cut down expenditure as opposed to the limited revenue we have. On the 26 February 2015, Hon ministers Malik Samarawickreme, Kabir Hasheem and Governor, Deputy Governors, other Central Bank officials were present.
It was just about a month to election. We were concerned about the stories.We had an economy where there was no sufficient revenue to service the debts we had.We were on a 100 day program, salary increase. All these came to another additional Rs 160 biliion.
Dappula de Livera: When was the letter issued?
Ravi Karunanayake: Somewhere in the range of May-June 2016
Livera: What exactly did Mahendran ask you?
RK: He told that there was a lot of questioning going on. He wanted the letter to substantiate there was a meeting (the Breakfast meeting held on 26 February 2015) and refreshing that there was a government requirement. I wrote this letter in conjunction with Malik Samarawickreme and Kabir Hashim.
Livera: Why does it not have a date?
RK: It was an oversight.
Livera: The Commission previously has observed that this letter was issued newly, it is a newly created document. This copy of the letter is ‘crispy’. It is as crispy as crispy it can be.I suggest to you that what you are saying is absolutely false.
RK: I deny that.
Chanaka de Silva ( Lawyer of Arjun Mahendran): When this document was given to me by my client (Arjun Mahendran), it was handed over in a brief case. It was very well preserved.
Justice Jayawardena: I wish he had taken care of other matters in the same manner.
Livera: Where did you prepare this letter? Was it an official communication?
RK: All I can say is that it was a letter sent on request by Governor Mahendran.
Livera: Why then is the name of the person who requested it not mentioned in the letter?
RK: The letter says ‘to whom it may concern’
Livera: I put it to you that the normal procedure of issuing a letter was not followed at this instance.
RK: I completely deny it.
Livera: From where did you derive this information for the letter?
RK: It was a reflection of the Breakfast meeting. (On 26th February)
Justice Jayawardena: Now that we have got this established why don’t you move to a different subject? We have more important questions to ask from the witness.
Livera: What I say is he has violated the government procedure, no file, no reference number, nothing.
Chairman K.T. Chitrasiri: We see all that. So please move on to another area.
ASG Dappula De Livera at Sea
During the course of the exchange, ASG Dappula de Livera completely lost his demeanour, making the fatal error of quarreling with the witness throughout the next segment. He first challenged the Commissioners asserting that Karunanayake was treated with privilege. The Commissioners pointed out that they were here to “find the truth”. “We must hear both sides of the story. We are here to find the truth and do justice by all,” the Commissioners asserted.
De Livera did not relent, with the anger boiling into the next line of questioning, which the Commissioners identified was the “most important issue”- the apartment at the Monarch Residencies – De Livera, fluttered and faulted, losing his temper and in the process losing the gist of the examination. If there was a lack of clinical professionalism on display, this had to be it. The biggest case in recent history and the star witness before the Commission, it had to take a loose head to drop the ball right on the try line.
De Livera took the days honours for it. The line of questioning was overly aggressive and therefore not yielding the required information by the Commission. Patience was wearing. Commissioner Justice Prasanna Jayawardena called ASG Yasantha Kodagoda to the bench and whispered to him. Following Kodagoda’s return and a murmur on De Livera’s ears, De Livera relented and asked the Commissioner if he wanted to continue the questioning.
As has been the case throughout the hearings, Commissioner Jayawardena the most thorough among those present, wore the hat of examining genius, with many present being reminisced of his days as one of the country’s leading lawyers. Mildly and calmly, he plodded the witness towards the information he required, never once raising his voice, nor losing his demeanour.
“You are a very close family isn’t it”, he asked Karunanayake. “Yes of course with God’s blessings, came the reply”. And the following ensued.
Justice Jayawardena: We know you are a family man.
RK: Yes I am and I thank God for that.
Justice Jayawardena: We are very happy that you are.
Justice Jayawardena: Now you were aware that your family was looking for an apartment? You said that you were aware of it and looking for a close by place because public citizens like you and me spending considerable amount of time in the traffic?
Justice Jayawardena: Now let’s look at the document of the apartment. It says there were two apartments amalgamated. It has 4000 square ft.
RK: I believe it can’t be 4000 square feet. It should be around 2000 square.ft
Justice Jayawardena: Did you ask from whom your family is renting the apartment?
RK: They told me that the owner of the house is Anika Wijesooriya. I was satisfied.
Justice Jayawardena: If you knew that this house was leased out by a man connected to areas under your purview, would you have not moved in to this apartment?
RK: I definitely wouldn’t have moved in if I knew that.
Justice Jayawardena: Are you telling us that for nine months, your family did not tell you that there was no lease agreement between your family company and Anika Wijesooriya?
RK: They told me the house was of Wijesooriya’s.
Justice Jayawardena: Your family knew there was no lease agreement signed with the owner of the house?
RK: I do not know that. But we reimbursed the money, to an ‘accountant’ of a company.
Justice Jayawardena: You said your family paid the rental to Walt and Rowes?
RK: I don’t know,they said it was to an accountant.
Justice Jayawardena: They had to know the lease agreement was with this company because it clearly says so in the agreement. Your wife and daughter are educated people so they must surely know there is a conflict of interest?
RK: No. They are not in the political arena so I don’t think they are aware.
Justice Jayawardena: So you are saying that they did not see anything wrong with their house rent being paid by a company which is connected to the stock market, the Primary market and the Excise Department?
RK: No. I didn’t know.
Justice Jayawardena: It is publicly known that Perpetual Treasuries Limited, Perpetual Capital Holdings and Walt and Rowes Associates are interconnected. So are you seriously telling us to believe you when you say you are unaware of these close associations which concern you?
RK: Yes. I was not.
Justice Jayawardena: So this entire agreement you were not aware of?
RK: No.My wife and three children are perfectly capable of running the company and this was purchased by the company. I did not know anything and completely absolve myself from having anything to do with it
Justice Jayawardena: From where did you get an odd Rs 10 million of money to pay for the apartment?
RK: My wife and daughter were responsible for it.
Justice Jayawardena: If such payments were done bank statements will be available?
RK: Not necessarily.
Justice Jayawardena: We are normal people we don’t carry 12 million rupees in cash. So I just want to know how this was done.
RK: It was done through my company.
Justice Jayawardena: I looked for these payments in GLT ledgers and other records but nowhere information relevant to these payments appear.
RK: The Chairman of the GLT told us to buy the house and he will pay for it.
Justice Jayawardena: We have heard from the evidence that Chairman Lakshmikanthan brought 70 million in cash to the GLT. Do you know from where this money came?
RK: No, I cannot say. All I know is that he is a leading financial analyst.
Justice Jayawardena: You should be aware of the money laundering and such, so it is important that this money should go on record.
RK:The money came from the Chairman. I had nothing to doubt.
Justice Jayawardena: Just because the money came from the Chairman, that does not mean the money is clean. Sakvithi was the Chairman of his company.
Justice Jayawardena: We have given you every opportunity to tell us what you want to say. What you are basically telling us is that “I knew nothing”.
RK: Yes, I knew nothing until the agreement was signed and until concerns were raised.
Thereafter, close to 3PM ASG De Livera attempted to question the witness again, but repeating the same questions to which answers were elicited by the Commissioner. The Commissioners drew a blank forcing De Livera to close the case for the prosecution. Cross examination ensued, by which time the Ministers “I know of nothing” was registered among all and sundry.