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Dirty Money Trail Connected to Airbus Bribe Scandal Reveals Culpability of Sri Lankan Airlines Directors and Links to Key Persons in the Nimal Perera Network

By Namini Wijedasa

In his open-necked purple shirt, Nishantha Wickremesinghe is chuffed to be seen with his arm around a long-time friend. Businessman Nimal Perera is feting his sixtieth birthday at the Colombo Hilton and the former SriLankan Airlines Chairman is a guest.

The party was just weeks ago. On Wednesday, the Fort Magistrate banned Wannakawattawaduge Don Nimal Hemasiri Perera from overseas travel. This was after hearing that an account held by one of his companies in a Singapore bank received a chunk of the monies Airbus had funnelled into an entity owned by Priyanka Neomali Wijenayake, the wife of former SriLankan Airlines Chief Executive Officer Kapila Chandrasena.

Happy Birthday: Nishantha Wickremesinghe, former Chairman of SriLankan Airlines, birthday boy Nimal Perera, owner of–among other things–NP Capital, and Sumal Perera, Founder and Chairman of the Access Group of Companies

England’s High Court last month fined Airbus a record £3bn in penalties for paying huge bribes on an “endemic” basis to land contracts in 20 countries. One is Sri Lanka and involves the purchase of six A330 and four A350 airbuses and the lease of four other planes in deals agreed to between 2012 and 2013.

Airbus SE had hired Ms Wijenayake as a business partner through a dummy company she registered in Brunei. It then paid into this entity’s account in the Standard Chartered Bank (SCB) in Singapore a sum of US$ 2mn (Rs 362mn) out of a total US$ 16.84mn (Rs 3bn) promised in return for ensuring that SriLankan bought aircraft from Airbus.


Culpability of all SriLankan Directors

Mr Chandrasena and his wife are now in remand. As they stood poker-faced in the dock this week, their lawyers pointed out that the decision to acquire these aircraft was not taken unilaterally by the CEO. He chaired a four-member Committee that included Chief Operations Officer Captain Druvi Perera, Head of Finance Yasantha Dissanayaka and Head of Engineering Division Priyantha Rose.

And the SriLankan Board granted final approval. The Chairman of that Board was Mr Wickremesinghe, who just last month toasted cheerily to Nimal Perera’s continued success. The other Directors were Mr Chandrasena, who was also CEO, Nihal Jayamanne, PC, Shameendra Rajapaksa, Lakshmi Sangakkara, Manilal Fernando, Sanath Ukwatte and Susantha Ratnayake.

For this reason, the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) appointed by Maithripala Sirisena to check alleged irregularities at SriLankan recommended that the present Board of Directors seek legal advice and consider the possibility of claiming damages through a civil suit from the Board that held office during the times these decisions were taken, where they approved the said actions.

The PCoI report, a copy of which the Sunday Times has seen, holds that it is clearly visible the Board of Directors proceeded with the re-fleeting process disregarding the dire financial situation of the national carrier. If the present Board fails to take any action or is unable to do so, it continues, legal advice should be sought by the Secretary to the Treasury to file derivative action under the Companies Act of 2007.

Derivative action is a lawsuit brought by a corporation shareholder against the Directors, Management and/or other shareholders of the corporation, for a failure by management. There is no sign of such action being pursed.

The Krrish case

Nimal Perera, meanwhile, figures in another matter before the Fort Magistrate Court popularly known as the “Krrish case”. And one detail is common to both cases: Mr Perera received or dispatched unexplained monies from the account he holds in SCB Singapore under the name of Sabre Vision Holdings Ltd.

Hambantota District Parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa is the first suspect in Krrish file related to the alleged misappropriation of Rs 70mn. The investigation started on the premise that Krissh Transworks Colombo (Pvt) Ltd had “donated” this sum to Mr Rajapaksa’s Premier Sports (Pvt) Ltd, ostensibly to sponsor a rugby tournament.

As the case proceeded, however, the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID)–now part of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID)–found that the money did not go to Premier Sports. Instead, there were several transactions involving Krrish, two of Mr Perera’s companies named NP Capital and Sabre Vision Holdings, and a businessman named Kishin Ramchandra Butani.

Much of the initial activity took place in 2013, the same year Premier Sports was formed. Namal Rajapaksa and his wife, Limini, also attended Mr Perera’s milestone birthday celebration.

Ms Wijenayake registered her company as Biz Solutions Inc in Brunei. Its bank account was in SCB in Singapore. In December 2013, it received Euro payments amounting to US$ 2mn from European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS), Airbus’s mother firm.

She told investigators she knew nothing about Biz Solutions or the account it operated at SCB. But bank documents obtained through legislation under the Mutual Assistance on Criminal Matters Treaty show that, in four instances, money from that account was transferred to Mr Chandrasena’s Commonwealth Bank account in Australia.

On May 8, 2014, there was remittance of Euros 100,000. On July 7, 2014, there was a remittance of Euros 100,000. On August 7, 2014, there was a remittance of AUD 200,000. And on September 17, 2014, there was a remittance of Euros 200,000.

Ms Wijenayake claimed ignorance. The Biz Solutions account was closed down on November 25, 2015. It had been cleaned out by then.

SL Agro (Pvt) Ltd

Court heard this week that there were several outward remittances from the Biz Solutions account. In December 2014, one year after SCB received the money, Euros 160,400 (Rs 31.6mn) was sent to the Nations Trust Bank (NTB) account of a company named SL Agro (Pvt) Ltd which was registered in 2012 with an address (not an official one) in Mt Lavinia.

The Directors were Rupasinghe Arachchige Pradeep Chaminda Janaka Rupasinghe and Rupasinghe Arachchige Danushka Perera Rupasinghe. Both gave their home addresses as Ranmuthugala, Kadawatha. Investigators found that the two men were not on the Mt Lavinia electors list between 2015 and 2019 and that there was no company named SL Agro at the given address.

Notice was sent to their Kadawatha address, summoning both to present themselves before the CID on February 13 this year. They sent fax messages excusing themselves and were summoned again.

Danushka Perera complied but said in his statement that he consented to be a Director of SL Agro on the request of his brother, Janaka, and that he knew nothing about the company or its activities. He also claimed his sibling was married and lived on Gregory’s Road in Colombo 7 but did not know the address. By the last Court date, Janaka had still not made an appearance.

Enter Nimal Perera

There was another outward remittance, this time to Sabre Vision Holding which held an account in the same bank and was registered to No 6, Eu Tong Sen Street, 11-19, The Central, Singapore 059817. Two payments of US$ 400,000 each–a total of US$ 800,000–were sent from Biz Solutions on November 19 and December 22, 2013.

Previous investigations had already revealed the beneficial owner of Sabre Vision to be Nimal Perera. And this story traces back to 2011 when Delmege Forsyth & Co Ltd signed up as local agent for Netherlands Enraf-Nonius BV (EN Projects) for the construction of a hospital under the Ministry of Health.

Lewis Brown & Co (Pvt) Ltd was bought over by Vallibel PLC/Royal Ceramics Lanka PLC and a few others and renamed as Delmege Ltd. Its subsidiaries were Delmege Forsyth & Co Ltd, LB Management Services (Pvt) Ltd and Delmege Medical (Pvt) Ltd.

Nimal Perera was the Executive Director of Delmege Ltd between June 2011 and January 2013. He was also a Director of Delmege Forsyth and LB Management for a period.

Court documents citing Delmege Ltd’s Legal Officer state that there was a service agreement between LB Management Services and Enraf-Nonius for the hospital project. When she left, she handed these papers over to Mr Perera.

But, on March 16, 2012, the Director Business Development of LB Management wrote to the Project Director of Enraf-Nonius Jonathan Smith asking to end this service agreement. The request was accepted.

Mr Smith then wrote to the Secretary to the Ministry of Health stating that its new local agent–in view of the earlier contract ending–was NP Capital (Pvt) Ltd. This was owned by Nimal Perera and registered to 90, Horton Place, Colombo 7. Company documents state its main business to be “managing and holding of investment portfolio”.

The Director Board of Delmege Ltd later told the FCID they had no knowledge of this agreement. Neither had they taken a decision to opt out of or end such an agreement.

Delmege also had another subsidiary in Singapore called Sabre Vision Holding. The FCID found its beneficial owner to be Nimal Perera.

Under an earlier agreement signed between Enraf-Nonius and the Health Ministry, the services and medical equipment providers were to be Delmege Medical (Pvt) Ltd and Delmege Forsyth & Co Ltd. But Enraf-Nonius then appointed NP Capital as its local agent which had no business or services related to their requirement, the Court was told.

In September 2014, Enraf-Nonius signed up with the Health Ministry to start a hospital project in the Beliatta area. Sabre Vision Holding entered into the relevant service agreement with Enraf-Nonius. But in December 2015, a supplementary agreement was entered into shifting construction to the Gallessa area in Kalutara. The local agent was NP Capital, Court papers show.

Meanwhile, the FCID found that a cheque of Rs 10mn was issued to Delmege’s Director Business Development from Mr Perera’s personal HSBC account. Mr Perera also allegedly paid him Rs 50mn in cash for services rendered in the hospital project. He received the cheque while still employed at Delmege and the cash thereafter. He left in October 2013.

Who did Nimal Perera pay?

Investigations were held into whom Mr Perera issued payments to from his HSBC and Sampath Bank accounts. It was found that deposits totalling Rs 188mn were made into the National Development Bank and Pan Asia Bank accounts of Mr Butani. The money was to purchase 36.3 perches owned by Mr Butani at Gower Street, Colombo 5.

Of the money Mr Perera dished out for the Gower Street property, Rs 70mn was from Krrish Transworks. The company paid him Rs 40mn in October 2012, Rs 10m million in November 2012 and a cheque of Rs 20mn the same month.

In March 2013, Mr Perera’s HSBC account received monies from Sabre Vision Holding. Documents access through legislation under the Mutual Assistance on Criminal Matters Treaty show that Sabre Vision Holding’s Singapore account had got the injection from Deutsche Bank account of Juga Bau, Germany, as well as the Australian and New Zealand Bank Accounts of Aspen Medical Pty Limited and Rabo Bank Accounts of Enraf-Nonius B.V or EN Projects.

These three companies had deposited a total of Euro 4.3 million and US$ 536,909 to the account of Sabre Vision Holdings.

Namal Rajapaksa later took on lease the property Mr Perera bought at Gower Street to set up his consultancy firm Gower Corporate Services. In 2017, it was sold to another businessman, Nandana Jayadeva Lokuwithana.

Courtesy:Sunday Times