BY Faizer Shaheid
(The writer is a law tutor and an independent researcher of laws. He holds a postgraduate degree in the field of Human Rights and Democratization from the University of Colombo and an undergraduate degree in Law from the University of Northumbria, United Kingdom)
Over the last few weeks, all eyes have been on Foreign Minister, Ravi Karunanayake and the owner of Perpetual Treasuries Limited, Arjun Aloysius. Sri Lanka may be going through hell, but the citizens are happy to keep going as long as it is a penthouse at The Monarch Residencies that distracts them. It appears the tide has turned against Ravi Karunanayake, and all other politicians who are jumping the gun in order to capitalize politically.
The idea is to push for the resignation of Ravi Karunanayake in the pretext of the Bond scandal so as to save face for all others.
Several statements were made last week at the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI), regarding the evidence, but a majority of the statements were made with blatant disregard to their own corrupt histories, and it is not too puzzling to figure the motives. There is also complete disregard for the legal maxim, ‘innocent until proven guilty.’
Since 8 January 2015, the government has been plagued with controversy surrounding the Bond scandal. The Central Bank was under the purview of the Economic Affairs Ministry, held by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. He appointed one of his close confidantes, Arjuna Mahendran, as the Governor of the Central Bank. Mahendran was thereafter embroiled in a controversial Bond issue that destroyed his reputation.
In February 2015, 30-year Treasury Bonds valued at Rs 1,000,000,000 were advertised at an attractive interest rate of 9.5%. It attracted 26 bids in total, including a bid by Perpetual Treasuries, owned by Arjun Aloysius, son-in-law of Arjuna Mahendran.
Perpetual Treasuries submitted a bid of Rs 5,000,000,000 at a 12% interest rate. The Central Bank went on to issue tenfold of what it originally proposed, and Perpetual Treasuries purchased Bonds worth Rs 5,000,000,000 at an even more attractive interest rate of 12.5% per annum.
The government initially refused to investigate the Bond scandal, with Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe defending his close friend, Arjuna Mahendran. For formalities sake, President Maithripala Sirisena formed a committee to investigate the Bond scandal which declared that Arjuna Mahendran was not guilty.
A considerable time later, President Maithripala Sirisena set up a Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI), to investigate the Bond scandal, on 27 January 2017. The commission proved to be effective and consistently called for witnesses to present evidence. It involved two Supreme Court Judges and there did not appear to be any tampering of its investigations. Many previously unknown revelations were made, including the fact that Ravi Karunanayake, during his tenure as Finance Minister, resided in a penthouse at Monarch Residencies, and the lease for this penthouse was paid by Arjun Aloysius.
Last week (2), the phone and laptop used by Arjun Aloysius were unlocked, and startling revelations were made. For one, it showed that text messages referred to a certain ‘RK’ or ‘Ravi K’ and also ‘PM.’ There was evidence to suggest that gossip websites were to be launched and funded by Arjun Aloysius, giving a major push to ‘PM’ and ‘Ravi K.’
Meanwhile, Ravi Karunanayake was also interrogated for his alleged involvement in the Bond scandal and regarding the penthouse at Monarch Residencies.
The proof against Ravi Karunanayake was presented by Anika Wijesuriya, the previous owner of the penthouse at Monarch Residencies. The penthouse was eventually purchased by Ravi Karunanayake for an astonishing Rs 165 million, of which Rs 145 million was paid by a company named Global Transportation and Logistics (Pvt) Ltd. The company is owned by his wife, Mela Karunanayake and daughter, Onella Karunanayake.
Amid the chaos, many people began calling for the resignation of Ravi Karunanayake from Parliament, presumably for his involvement in the Bond scandal.
In response, Onella made an earnest statement on Facebook. Onella had asked a very valid question. She asked: “Just ask yourself why only one man’s name comes up all the time in such a huge government?”
She also asked: “Does everyone really believe for the last couple of years everything in the government is just one man and that we have been getting hit because we deserve it or that maybe there is a pattern to this madness now?”
In her impassioned plea, Onella did not answer very pertinent questions in the minds of many. She did not respond to the question as to whether it was indeed her mother and her that arranged for lease payments to be paid by Arjun Aloysius.
She neither commented on her father’s guilt, nor did she state how the money had been accounted for. Yet, her statements appear to imply that her father may be guilty, but he is not alone in the bandwagon.
A Political Melodrama
The PCoI investigation is still ongoing, yet politicians seem to be ready for the upcoming onslaught of criticism. It began when the Joint Opposition led by Mahinda Rajapaksa presented a ‘No Confidence Motion’ in Parliament, supposedly signed by 34 Parliamentarians against Ravi Karunanayake.
Subsequently, Sports Minister, Dayasiri Jayasekara issued a statement that if Ravi Karunanayake does not resign, or is not removed, he would be compelled to sign the ‘No Confidence Motion.’
Minister of Housing and Construction, Sajith Premadasa then entered the limelight stating that he would resign from the Cabinet and take to the streets against corruption should anybody defend corrupt people. Perhaps he should recall the incident where he stated usa vadinam security, usa adunam kamkaru (which means if you are tall, you can be a security guard, but if you are short, you can be a labourer). It would have been much easier to believe him had he resigned from the Cabinet and taken to the streets for his own corrupt practices.
Even Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe entered the limelight by stating that there was no place for corrupt persons in his Cabinet.
If this is true, then he should be the first to resign under the circumstances considering the fact that he appointed Arjuna Mahendran in the first place.
He defended the actions of Arjuna Mahendran in the midst of mounting pressure and protected him from being sacked until his term officially ended.
There was also speculation that President Maithripala Sirisena had asked Ravi Karunanayake to resign until investigations were complete.
Resignation, or not?
There is a legal maxim, which states ‘he who comes to Court must come with clean hands.’ The same maxim should apply to politics.
Many of the politicians are not clean themselves. Donations of this nature, where many private contributors pay the bills of Parliamentarians and Ministers, are quite common among many politicians. After all, without private funding of political campaigns, only corruption could fund major projects of political parties such as the May Day and other political rallies.
It is nearly impossible to organize campaigns without individuals who are willing to spend on the politicians. After all, politicians do not pluck money from trees. The fact remains, however, that the private sector and individuals who contribute towards politics would certainly not do it without expecting something in return. Therefore, political favours are common. Sometimes, the favours come in the form of tenders for contracts, or insider information, or perhaps specific licensing to conduct various businesses.
In view of this, the contributions allegedly made by Arjun Aloysius to pay Ravi Karunanayake’s lease may have been a common practice. However, as per the revelations made by the PCoI so far, there does not appear to be a direct connection between the lease payments for the penthouse and the bond scandal. So far, the investigations have revealed that Arjun Aloysius made the payments willingly. Perhaps, investigations would reveal more details over the coming weeks which would find Ravi Karunanayake guilty or perhaps not, but until such time, Ravi Karunanayake is ‘innocent until proven guilty.’
In addition to the payments made by Arjun Aloysius, there was another payment which raised suspicion. The question on everyone’s mind is how did Ravi Karunanayake manage to raise Rs 165 million in order to purchase the penthouse at Monarch Residencies? So far, the investigation has revealed that a company called Global Transportation and Logistics (Pvt) Ltd had purchased the penthouse subsequently. Further information reveals that Ravi Karunanayake had ceased to be a shareholder of the company since 10 January 2015.
However, his wife and daughter were shareholders of the company, and in order to get to the bottom of this, they would need to hand over the paperwork to the authorities. As far as the law goes, company law dictates that ‘a company remains a legal entity and is recognized in law as a body corporate.’ This is held in Section 2 of the Companies Act 2007. Therefore, the penthouse is recognized as being a property of Global Transportation and Logistics (Pvt) Ltd, and afforded as accommodation to the shareholders. If further contributions were made from outside, it must be deemed as a jointly owned property.
It is more difficult to prove that Ravi Karunanayake was directly involved in the transaction due to the fact that a man and members of his family are different entities. Being so, it is possible for the PCoI to require Mela and Onella Karunanayake to hand over any paperwork related to their transactions, but until such time, Ravi Karunanayake should be left alone.
Implications if found guilty
While it is difficult to observe a pattern between the penthouse payments and the bond scandal, it must be stated that if Ravi Karunanayake or Arjun Aloysius or anybody else is found guilty, it can literally spell doom for them. The Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry Act grants the PCoI extensive powers in relation to investigations. It permits evidence that may normally be rendered inadmissible in an ordinary Court of Law.
Furthermore, Section 7 (2) (f) permits that if there is any technological evidence to be presented, and if such concealed messages or any other is required to be displayed, it is mandatory for it to be done. This is the prime reason why Arjun Aloysius was required to unlock his Apple devices. The same shall apply to Ravi Karunanayake and his family, and Ranil Wickremesinghe should he be required to cooperate in relation to the investigations.
The findings of the PCoI cannot be contested in a Court of Law, and therefore, its report shall be final. Yet, what is most special about the PCoI is that, if it finds a person guilty in its final report, the PCoI will submit it to the President. The President must then mandatorily revoke the civic rights of the persons found guilty. This would mean that any person found guilty can no longer vote, nor enter Parliament, nor fly abroad, nor register any businesses, nor hold any right, but his basic human rights.
The PCoI has a mandate to investigate the bond scam and can only find guilty any person involved in it. Therefore, it is too early to destroy Ravi Karunanayake’s character in relation to the bond scandal, especially due to the fact that the penthouse transactions do not appear to be related to the bond scandal at first glance. It is best to wait for the final report. Given the current evidence, it may be proved that Ravi Karunanayake is guilty, but we must also bear in mind that the politicians who are crying foul also have skeletons in their closets.