By Namini Wijedasa
The investors behind the arrest of President’s Chief-of-Staff I H K Mahanama and State Timber Corporation Chairman P Dissanayake on bribery charges has written to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe asking him to “at least now” release the Kantale sugar factory infrastructure so their project can go ahead.
Their letter makes it clear that the Prime Minister knew as far back as September 2017 of attempts to elicit bribes from the investors.
M G Sugars Lanka (Pvt) Ltd has said that, despite all Dr Mahanama’s efforts to frustrate or thwart the initiative, they have remained committed and already invested millions of dollars into the project. They have requested the Prime Minister’s intervention to have all land and infrastructure released to proceed without further delay.
The joint venture is made up of the Sri Lanka Government, Shri Prabulingeshwar Sugars and Chemicals Ltd of Bangalore and SLI Development Pvt Ltd of Singapore. Their letter to the Prime Minister dated Friday refers to two previous communications sent in September 2017 and February this year on the subject of “retention of building and infrastructure situated at the Kantale sugar factory”.
“By those letters, we inter alia pointed out that Dr I H K Mahanama–former Secretary to the Ministry of Lands and Parliamentary Reforms–made several attempts at demanding that we pay him large sums of money as illegal gratifications, which at all times we refused to do,” the company writes.
“It was further brought to your attention, Sir, that due to our refusal to provide those gratifications, Dr Mahanama willfully orchestrated numerous setbacks to the project–all in clear violation of the express provisions of the Shareholder Agreement–which included delaying the handing over of the required lands to us as well as continually misleading all relevant authorities as to the status of the project,” they state. No reference is made to Mr Dissanayake.
Dr Mahanama is alleged to have blocked the transfer of machinery, scrap metal and other assets belonging to the Kantale sugar factory to M G Sugars that in 2015 signed a US$ 100 million deal to revive the facility. He is said to have demanded a bribe of Rs 540mn which he later agreed to reduce to Rs 100mn. The two men were arrested by the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption (CIABOC) while counting the first installment of Rs 20mn.
The Prime Minister reportedly encouraged the investors to alert CIABOC on the assurance that the informant–in this case, the Indian national K P Nagaraj–would not face victimization. But on Tuesday, he is alleged to have received a death threat from a man who claimed to be a former LTTE cadre.
The suspect visited Mr Nagaraj’s office around 12 noon, while he was out, and inquired from two employees where he was and what his mobile number was. When they replied that they did not know, the man told them that he was an ex-LTTE fighter named Joseph Pillai. He handed over three sheets of paper with six sides of writing and asked that it only be given to Mr Nagaraj. He also said he had been instructed to kill him and that if he did not comply, his own life would be under threat from his handlers.
The letter is now in the custody of the Criminal Investigation Department and Court has been informed of the development. Mr Nagaraj has been told that he can have security from the State if he so requires it.