By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
A petition has been filed before the Colombo High Court against Deputy Resettlement Minister Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna Amman for allegedly taking over a prawn farm by force; set up by a company, Pearl Farms (Pvt) Ltd.
Muralitharan is also a director of the company with a one third share and according to his partners wielded much power due to his position in the government.
Muralitharan, the former eastern military commander of the LTTE, together with two other investors had set up a company last year to commence a prawn farm project on a 541-acre land in Kokkadicholai in Batticaloa.
The deputy minister had informed his partners that he could provide the land, but the monies would have to be invested by them.
According to the partners, they are not aware of the process followed by Muralitharan in securing the land for the project due to the belief that there would not be any problem since the latter is a minister in the current administration.
The partners believing that Muralitharan owned the land had commenced investing in the project without any doubts.
After Muralitharan’s supporters allegedly threatened and attacked the partners when they had tried to enter the prawn farm in Kokkadicholai, they have sought legal redress.
A petition was filed by two of the company directors against Muralitharan before the Commercial High Court in Colombo on March 23rd.
Pearl Farms (Pvt) Ltd and Muralitharan have been cited as respondents in the case.
Pearl Farms (Pvt) Ltd. was registered on September 15, 2011 and the directors of the Company are Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, Murugesu Raveenthraraja and Sinthubarathy Sitsoruben.
The petitioners Murugesu Raveenthraraja and Sinthubarathy Sitsoruben have stated that they had discussed about the setting up of a prawn farm with Muralitharan in May 2011.
Muralitharan had told them that he could arrange to get 541 acres in Kokkadicholai in Batticaloa for the project.
Since Muralitharan did not possess any knowledge about prawn farms, Raveenthraraja and Sinthubarathy’s father, Ruben had taken the initiative of putting together a project proposal for the farm.
Although the original agreement had been for the three directors of the company to invest equally in the project, Muralitharan had informed Raveenthraraja and Ruben that he would not be investing any money, but would provide the land for the project.
Raveenthraraja and Ruben have agreed and have also agreed to the Minister’s request to employ about 90 of his supporters to work in the prawn farm.
It was then decided to initially commence the prawn farm in a 200-acre area in the land allocated for the project.
Once completed, the 541-acre prawn farm in Kokkadicholai was going to be one of the largest prawn farms in the country.
Raveenthraraja and Ruben had spent close to 15 million to purchase/rent the equipment required to construct the ponds for the farm.
They have then made arrangements to purchase prawn for the farm from the Shrimp Breeders Association in Chilaw. They have purchased 23,102,000 prawns worth Rs. 10,395,900 from the Association with the promise to settle the dues later.
President of the Association, Priyantha Lowe had made the necessary arrangements since a government minister was also involved in it.
The prawns had been given to Pearl Farms in January this year and due to the delay in settling the payment.
The Association on March 11, 2012 had written to Pearl Farms requesting for the dues to be settled.
Meanwhile, Pearl Farms had also purchased prawn feed to the value of Rs. 14,216,625.00 from Nisho International (Pvt) Ltd, Puttalam since December 2011 till March 4, 2012. The purchases were also made with the promise to pay later.
Receipts issued by Nisho International clearly indicate the monies due to them from Pearl Farms.
However, Pearl Farms had paid a sum of Rs. 5.4 million, but is yet to pay the balance monies due to Nisho International.
Also, Ravi Investments (Pvt) Limited owned by Raveenthraraja had also imported two containers of prawn feed valued at Rs. 5.6 million.
Two directors of Pearl Farm, Raveenthraraja and Sinthubarathy had invested the monies required for the prawn farm estimated to be around Rs. 70 million while Minister Muralitharan’s investment had been limited to the land.
At the same time, the petition filed before court by Raveenthraraja and Sinthubarathy state that Muralitharan in January 2012 had requested that his dues from the project be deposited in his bank account even before the prawn harvest.
He had asked that Rs. 1.5 million be deposited in his account every month. Hence, Raveenthraraja and Sinthubarathy have deposited monies every month in Muralitharan’s bank account at the Bank of Ceylon (BoC) bearing number 70982868.
Bank deposit slips presented to court by the petitioners prove the monies that have been deposited.
Meanwhile, Raveenthraraja had also taken on lease a bulldozer worth Rs. 3 million through his company Ravi Invesdtments (Pvt) Ltd.
A backhoe worth Rs. 3.5 million had also been leased from Primage Holdings (Pvt) Ltd.
However, the prawn farm was allegedly taken over by Muralitharan by force in March this year.
Sinthuibarathy’s father, Ruben, who was the in-house manager of the prawn farm located in Kokkadicholai had arrived in Colombo around March 4th to pick his son who was returning to the country from Canada on holiday. Ruben was to return to Batticaloa the following day with his son.
However, the day after Ruben had left for Colombo, on March 5th, Muralitharan had visited the prawn farm and sacked the manager of the farm, Kokilavasan. Before leaving for Colombo Ruben had given the necessary direction to Kokilavasan to carry out the work in the farm.
After sacking Kokilavasan, Muralitharan had appointed the watcher of the farm, who is also one of his supporters, called Mathan as the new manager of the prawn farm.
Mathan, who does not posses any knowledge of the prawn farming business, was assigned to take over all work that Ruben had been carrying out.
Raveenthraraja and Ruben had decided to visit the Kokkadicholai prawn farm on March 12th.
When they had arrived at the farm, Mathan had not allowed them to enter. Raveenthraraja and Ruben had asked that they be allowed to speak to Muralitharan.
Meanwhile, President and several representatives of the Prawn Breeders’ Association had also arrived at the Kokkadicholai farm on the same day asking for their dues amounting to several million rupees.
Mathan had then contacted Muralitharan over the telephone and informed him of the situation at the farm.
Raveenthraraja and Ruben have stated that Mathan together with about a group of 10 persons had threatened them on Muralitharan’s directive and had even attacked Raveenthraraja’s vehicle bearing number JW-9999.
Raveenthraraja had lodged a complaint with the Kokkadicholai Police about the threat and attack on his vehicle. The Kokkadicholai Police had recorded the complaint bearing number MOIB 207/89.
Raveenthraraja and Sinthubarathy in their petition to court has requested that they be assisted to get their investments back, to pay the monies due to the prawn breeders and the prawn feed providers.
They have also requested that the prawn be harvested only with the participation with all three directors of Pearl Farms.
The petitioners have expressed concerns that the lack of proper attention to the prawns during the crucial few months before the harvest could have an adverse impact on the harvest.
In the event the monies are not recovered from the prawn harvest, the petitioners state that they would stand to lose millions of rupees and would be unable to meet the payments due to suppliers.
However, since the case is being heard before the Commercial High Court, neither the two investors nor the suppliers have been able to recover their monies amounting to millions of rupees.
The Commercial High Court has however issued an enjoining order preventing the harvesting of prawns without the participation of all members of Pearl Farms (Pvt) Ltd.
Priyantha Lowe from the Shrimp Breeders Association in Chilaw had even written to President Mahinda Rajapaksa on March 22nd about the payments due from the prawn farm where deputy minister Muralitharan is a director.
Lowe said the Association had been trying to recover their dues from Pearl Farm since January when they had given the prawns.
He said that their payments were not met although they had continuously requested for two months until March 12th.
“We finally visited the prawn farm in Kokkadicholai trying to get the monies due to us,” he said. Lowe had also given on lease a backhoe from his company and the dues to him for the equipment currently stands at Rs. 840,000.
“When we went to Batticaloa we thought even we would be attacked when the group of persons advanced towards us, but they attacked Raveenthraraja’s vehicle,” he observed.
The Association members who visited the Kokkadicholai farm said that the area was being considered as Muralitharan’s fiefdom with everyone carrying out his orders.
Muralitharan was not available for comment although the Sunday Leader made several attempts to contact him.
The Sunday Leader also sent a text message informing of the need to speak to him for a story being published, but there was no response even at the time of going to print. courtesy: The Sunday Leader