By Chandani Kirinde
Colombo Fort Magistrate Ranga Dissanayake yesterday refused bail and re-remanded Sri Lanka’s former Ambassador to Russia Udayanga Weeratunga until 11 March, after Police filed a certificate in Court confirming the offence committed by the latter is of a value of more than Rs. 25,000.
Counsel for Weeratunga sought bail for him on grounds that the certificate had not been filed on the first day of the hearing, and urged that the Magistrate decline to consider it.
However, the Magistrate said there was no requirement under the provisions relating to the granting of bail under the Offences Against Public Property Act to file such a certificate on the first day.
He said that once a gazetted officer not below the rank of Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) certifies that the value of the offence committed exceeds Rs. 25,000, such a person can be kept on remand until the conclusion of the trial.
However, as the law allows for Court to consider bail under ‘exceptional circumstances’, Counsel for Weeratunga said they would make another bail application when the case is next taken up on 11 March, and sought a directive from the Magistrate to release all ‘B’ reports filed by the Police in this case for their perusal.
When the case was taken up yesterday, the Magistrate noted that the Acting IGP had not responded to a query from him as to why the two police officers SP Pavithra Dayaratne and Chief Inspector Nihal Francis, who had investigated the case for the past five years, were removed from the case.
CID officials who represented the Police said they were unaware of the reason, and hence the Magistrate directed that the Acting IGP be queried once again on why the two police officers were not present in court. “If they have been transferred, the Court should be kept informed,” he said.
Deputy Solicitor General (DSG) Tusith Mudalige, who appeared for the Attorney General (AG), said Nelum Mannamperuma, brother-in-law of Weeratunga, has been also identified as a suspect in the case, in addition to four others. The others include two Singaporeans and one Ukrainian.
Asith Siriwardena, who appeared for Weeratunga, said that the ‘B’ reports field by the Police in connection with the alleged involvement of his client in the MiG aircraft purchase deal was full of falsehoods.
“Nowhere in the ‘B’ reports is there anything to show that even a cent went into my client’s account. There is also no evidence to show that he had travelled to Sri Lanka in 2006, during the period in which the prosecution claims he had come here to get the agreements signed,” Siriwardena said.
He agreed with the Magistrate’s contention that the agreements pertaining to the purchase of the MiG aircraft had been signed at Weeratunga’s official residence at the Sri Lanka Embassy in Russia, but said both the Embassy and residence are housed in the same building, on two separate floors. “Just because an agreement is signed in his house, it does not mean a fraud has taken place,” he said, adding that the MiG purchase was decided upon the recommendation of the Procurement Committee, as well as a technical Evaluation Committee, and was approved by Cabinet.
The Magistrate said the case had come up in his court on many occasions, and a large number of documents were submitted based on which a warrant for Weeratunga’s arrest had been issued by the Court.
Weeratunga was brought back to the country from Dubai on 14 February, after absconding arrest for over three years. He is facing charges of money laundering and misappropriation over his alleged involvement in the 2006 purchase of four MiG 27 aircraft for the Sri Lanka Air Force.
DSG Mudalige appeared with State Counsel Udara Karunatilleke for the prosecution, while Asith Siriwardena appeared with Rasange Harischandra and Dale Wijeratne for the defence.