By Dharisha Bastians
Officers from the Attorney General’s Department assisting the Bond Commission were in breach of statutes governing the conduct of presidential commissions of inquiry, lawyers for an aggrieved Central Bank official charged yesterday, warning that findings of such commissions have been quashed by the Supreme Court for far lesser infractions.
Counsel for Central Bank employee S. Pathumanapan, who filed a fundamental rights petition in the Supreme Court last month claiming cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by officers of the Attorney General’s Department, raised objections after the Prime Minister’s testimony yesterday, into the manner in which the Commission was “conducting its affairs.”
Making submissions on the invitation of the Commissioners, who nevertheless warned that their patience was “wearing thin”, M.A. Sumanthiran, President’s Counsel, said there were fundamental flaws in processes adopted at the Commission with persons involved in investigations being conducted by the Commission, also assuming an independent role examining witnesses and leading evidence at the hearings. The same officials from the Attorney General’s Department who were conducting investigations and interrogations, were also leading evidence, Sumanthiran complained. Entire reports of similar commissions have been struck down by the Supreme Court over far more minor violations, such as a commissioner’s signature not being present in the report, he warned.
Sumanthiran, PC further argued that the evidence against his client Pathumanapan, had been led in violation of the principles of natural justice because despite repeated requests the Central Bank official had not been granted an opportunity to testify before the Commission on the evidence presented against him.
Pathumanapan was named in last week’s explosive evidence submitted to the Bond Commission by the CID, which found telephone calls to several high-profile Government politicians and officials attached to Central Bank departments dealing with Treasury bond auctions logged on Aloysius’ mobile telephone.
Counsel for the Central Bank official also argued that his client had been interdicted on 17 November, the very day press reports appeared about evidence submitted to the Bond Commission which had revealed hundreds of telephone calls made between Pathumanapan and Arjun Aloysius of Perpetual Holdings.
“It is no coincidence that my client was interdicted on the day evidence led before this Commission appeared in the newspapers – and this is the cause and the only cause for my client being interdicted,” his Counsel charged.
Sumanthiran PC further submitted that he could demonstrate that the evidence led against his client Pathumanapan at the Bond Commission hearings on 16 October was false, if his client – “or Mr Kodagoda” – the Senior Additional Solicitor General assisting the Commission would step up to the witness box.
Counsel for Pathumanapan also accused the commissioners of issuing a directive that his client be interdicted by the Central Bank.
All three commissioners vehemently protested this claim, insisting that no such directives were issued to the Central Bank by the Commission. Since Pathumanapan had not been summoned to testify before the Commission on the evidence set out against him, the Commission was precluded by law from making any findings against the Central Bank official, since that would be in violation of the principles of natural justice, Commission Chairman K. Chitrasiri told his lawyers. Section 23 of the Commission of Inquiry Act, as amended, stipulates that a Commission shall not arrive at any conclusions on matters under investigation unless it has examined the material and inquired into the matter observing the rules of natural justice. According to the rules of natural justice, any person accused of wrongdoing must be granted a fair hearing.
The Commissioners also requested Sumanthiran PC to make written submissions to the Commission with regard to his objection that officers assisting the Commission from the Attorney General’s Department were not entitled to lead evidence before the Commission.
In his fundamental rights petition before the Supreme Court, Pathumanapan claims he had not been granted an opportunity to testify before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the bond auction, which had led to him being accused of wrongdoing. In his FR petition, the Central Bank employee also accuses officers of the Attorney General’s Department of “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” and claims he was being punished and victimised for refusing to provide favourable testimony to officers assisting the commission.
On 27 February 2015, the date of the controversial Treasury bond auction under scrutiny by the Presidential Commission, Sangarapillai Pathumanapan served as a superintendent of the Employees Provident Fund, the private pension fund run by the Central Bank. He was subsequently transferred to the Bank’s Public Debt Department, which manages bond auctions as a senior manager.
According to the forensic telecommunications report submitted to the Bond Commission on 16 November, Aloysius’ mobile telephone recorded 703 calls to Pathumanapan on Viber, 61 regular calls, two text messages and two Whatsapp communications. Pathumanapan’s mobile number was listed as ‘Pat-Man’ on Aloysius’ cell phone, the CID told the Commission.
Subsequent to assertions by the Commission that they would not make any findings against their client in its report, and the commissioners’ insistence that there had been no directive issued to the Central Bank ordering his interdiction, Pathumanapan’s lawyers fired off a letter to Central Bank Governor Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy demanding the withdrawal of his interdiction letter and his reinstatement.