by Shyam Nuwan Ganewatta and Sarath Dharmasena
Foreign Minister and former Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake yesterday vehemently denied any involvement in the leasing or the subsequent purchase of a penthouse at Monarch Residencies in Colombo 03. He said all those matters had been handled by his family.
Karunanayake made the daring denial before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry probing the alleged bond scams in Colombo.
The Foreign Minister, however, on being questioned said that he, his wife and children were still living in the same penthouse.
Senior Additional Solicitor General (SASG) Dappula de Livera, PC led the evidence of Karunanayake.
Karunanayake was extensively questioned on the questionable housing deal and other matters from 10.30 am to about 3.00 pm. Rienzie Arsecularatne, PC and a team of lawyers appeared for Minister Karunayake.
The commission premises were full of lawyers, journalists and members of the public. For the first time, since the commission commenced sittings in January 2017, journalists’ telephones were collected by the security personnel of the commission yesterday. However, many other persons were seen with their telephones within the commission premises. Some of the supporters of the minister were seen wearing T-shirts with ‘Ravi’ written on them on the road. They were shouting slogans in support of the minister.
Minister Karunanayake said he had got to know about Walt and Row Private Ltd., being involved in leasing out the apartment only later and it had been purchased by Global Transport Logistics (GTL) Company he had set up, Karunanayake admitted in answer to queries raised by Justice Prasanna Jayawardena.
The Minister said it was a company belonging to his family and it had purchased the penthouse.
Commission Member Justice Jayawardena told Karunanayake that there were no payment records as regards Monarch apartment in the ledger accounts of GTL or bank accounts.
Karunanayake claimed that though he lived there with his family, he had not seen the lease agreement and was not aware that it had been leased out by Walt and Row from Anika Wijesuriya as all those matters had been attended to by his family.
Asked whether he knew that Arjun Aloysius controlled Walt and Row Company, which had paid the monthly lease rental of Rs 1.45 million, the Minister said his family members had reimbursed the money and he had receipts.
President’s Counsel Livera told the Commission that Karunanayake’s evidence was contrary to the statement Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had made in Parliament on March 17, 2015 and sworn testimonies given to the Commission by Treasury officials.
At the time, the urgent need was for Rs. 15 billion, the PM had said, the SASG de Livera noted. Similarly, the Secretary to the Treasury the Deputy Secretary to the Treasury and the Director General of the Treasury Operations Department had, in their evidence before the Commission, stated that they knew nothing about the letter issued by Karunanayake as Finance Minister stating that Rs. 75 billion was needed urgently.
Minister Karunanayake said the Prime Minister had mentioned the need for Rs. 100 bn in his statement and the matter had been discussed with the Finance Ministry officials and anyone who denied that was not telling the truth.
SASG de Livera said the letter Minister Karunanayake had purportedly written to the then Governor Arjuna Mahendra had been newly created. He said it was crispy. The date when the minister claimed to have issued the letter was also false, the SASG added. Karunanayake said he was telling the truth. Justice Jayawardena said the commission had noted that the letter had been new though the minister claimed to have written it a year back.
Stating that Minister Karunanayake was making statements instead of answering questions SASG de Livera requested the commission to warn him not to do so. Justice Jayawardena warned Karunanayake to answer the questions posed to him.
SASG de Livera submitted to the commission information pertaining to Minister Karunanayake’s and Arjun Aloysius’ travel to Singapore 13 times between September 2015 and April 2017. The periods during which they had been to Singapore were identical and they had once travelled on the same flight, he said, asking whether Karunanayake had met Aloysius in Singapore. Karunanayake said he had met Aloysius on two or three occasions.
While Karunanayake’s evidence was being led, SASG de Livera told Karunanayake that the latter was lying to commission. Karunanayake said he was telling the truth under oath and the SASG was not under oath.