One of the most influential figures of the Rajapaksa regime, he was admired by many, feared by some and hated by others. With many allegations made against him following the end of the Rajapaksa rule, former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa spoke to Dailymirror and responded candidly to the accusations that are being made against him, on the speculations made concerning his entry to politics and why he believes he is irreplaceable. . . –
Q: Is it true that you fled to the Maldives as soon as the election results indicated former President Rajapaksa’s defeat?
You can see me now, I wouldn’t be here if I left, would I? . . .These claims are only part of the mud-slinging campaigns.
Q:So you never left the country at any point after the Presidential polls?
No! (laughs) How can I leave like that? This is again absurd because I am not an invisible person to flee in that manner. Do they think its possible for me to secretly escape like that? I would have to pass through the airport and I am not an invisible person to be able to pull off such a feat.
Q: You had refuted allegations levelled at you by Minister Ravi Karunanayake about the Defence Ministry account in the Bank of Ceylon. But an issue concerning the legality of the account persists?
Issues have been raised on the need to obtain parliamentary approval but there is no such thing. Cabinet approval is sufficient; it is the responsible authority and it is the normal procedure.
The point is, the account remains under the Defence Ministry and contains funds that were used exclusively for the construction of the Defence headquarters. Cabinet approval was granted to maintain a Defence Ministry account and not for a private account under my name.
Procedural matters are a separate issue and for argument’s sake, various parties can raise varied concerns. The money is with the Government, the Treasury was fully aware of the account and the value of the money deposited in it. The transactions relating to the account were fully divulged, it’s auditable and was maintained by the Chief Accountant. The money withdrawn from the account was carried out in strict adherence to State procedures. So instead of making allegations, the best course of action would be to study the situation and probe into the operations carried out in Akuregoda using the money. Without these finances that project would have been in jeopardy. It’s a crime if that was to happen and ultimately the former President would have been blamed for that too.
It is a good project but was delayed for a prolonged period due to the difficulty in accessing the necessary funds for implementation.
The land plot was allocated many years ago but construction could not be commenced due to unavailability of funds and this was the only way to make it a reality. Otherwise if we were to depend on allocations, it would have been delayed further It is also important to note that I have not signed a single cheque for the money in the account.
I authorized only the expenses and that too was carried out in strict adherence to required procedures including fulfillment of technical evaluations and tender procedures.
The cheques were issued under the signature of the Chief Accountant and several other officials who were authorized to issue cheques. Before making accusations, they should take note of why there was a necessity to maintain this type of an account. The Defence Ministry will be in a very difficult position to continue the Akuregoda project if the money is not released back to remain under the authority of the Defence Ministry.
QLWhat is your response to the accusations being levelled at you and your brother’s regime concerning the course of action followed regarding top LTTE leaders such as KP?
Again, the accusations they are making with concern to this issue are baseless. If you could speak to the intelligence officials on these matters you would realise it.
I believe the governing politicians should investigate without simply making allegations. I have already stated this – whatever possible steps to take we have taken but the most important thing was getting the man. No one is commenting on that. Instead unnecessary facts are highlighted and they are not true. The most important factor is that he claimed he was the next in line for LTTE leadership and we managed to take him into our custody.
Q: But why wasn’t he prosecuted after being taken into custody?
There were different schools of thought during the time regarding the course of action to be taken concerning him.
When hundreds of the LTTE cadres surrendered, there were two options available either to imprison them or rehabilitate and reintegrate them. Both choices have pluses and minuses but it became obvious that imprisoning such a large number would definitely be disastrous.
So during the time all the responsible officials including the President, the Security Chiefs decided that they should be rehabilitated. Likewise, when this person was brought in, the war was over so he was handed over to the intelligence in order to obtain the information they required. If we had arrested him and put him behind bars, he would not have co-operated. My aim was to get him to fully cooperate with the intelligence officials. So he did not remain scott-free – he was under the military intelligence and that in turn helped gather so much of information on the LTTE businesses and the networks run by the terrorist group.
If the incumbent government wishes to act responsibly, they can speak to those who have conducted the inquiries and access the intelligence the relevant officials managed to obtain, provided it is done in a way that does not jeopardise national security.
Q:You are accused of taking control over his fleet of ships and the vast wealth that he had accumulated for the LTTE. What is your response and what became of this wealth?
This is why I am stating that this information should be inquired into by the intelligence agencies. They would be able to clarify whether there was any wealth, what properties included that wealth etc. All these agencies are under the Government and I don’t wish to speculate on anything. The information is easily accessible to the present Government and they should inquire into it.
Q: What do you have to say about the allegations levelled at the military intelligence apparatus being used to for non-military purposes that included procuring information on the former President’s political rivals?
The military should not be discredited because they conduct themselves in a very professional manner. The measures that I took to improve the intelligence agencies can be studied by the President and the State Minister for Defence and they will be amazed by the effort I have taken to improve these agencies and their professionalism and this included freeing these institutions from political interferences.
It is due to these measures I took, that we were able to maintain the security even after the end of the war. No one knows these things and even I should not discuss these matters because these are professional, State-owned agencies.
Rather than making wild allegations, be responsible, speak to these people and get to know what has been carried out for their betterment. I am sure they must have already taken these measures so I urge them to continue the work and improve the quality and the professionalism of the military. I have never done anything to harm them or politicise them. Everything was purely done in the interest of the country’s security.
Q: Is it true that you have bought over many State-owned properties including the Ceylon Steel Corporation?
I don’t own a single thing. Investigative journalists should probe into these allegations and find out whether there is any truth in these accusations.
Investigate and see if I own a property anywhere or whether there are any accounts in which I have amassed wealth or if I have invested millions of money in any shares.
Q: But the allegation is that you have used front men in order to conceal your ownership of these establishments/ businesses?
These are useless allegations, anyone can make such claims! What is the use of owning anything if I cannot enjoy it when I wish to? It is not logical for me to not be able to enjoy the perks of whatever properties or wealth that they claim I have accumulated. The truth is I don’t even have a house to live in still. I am trying to buy a house because the house that I currently live in is owned by my mother-in-law and she was living here for 40 years. I currently use this house because she is living in the US. If I had that much money wouldn’t I buy a house for myself?
Look at the other politicians, even those who make these allegations against me? Look at the amount of properties they have collected. If they are so genuine, they must declare how they managed to buy the properties they currently own. Look at Mr. Ravi Karunanayake himself. The house in which he resides, in which year did he purchase that house?
This house next door to me was mine – I built it when I was in the army in 1987 upon taking a loan from the State Mortgage Bank. Unfortunately in 2001, I sold it for Rs. six million and that money I invested in Treasury bills. To this day I have not withdrawn them and they remain maturing and re-investing. I could have taken that money to the US but I never did that. But today, I am not even in a state to buy back my own house. These are baseless allegations but people will come to know the truth in time. If I had all that wealth,I would have gone to Dubai and bought a mansion there and lived comfortably.
Q:If you had money what would be your priorities?
I have only one son, I have educated him in one of the first-class Universities in the world, the Duke University – not during this period, when I was in the US. He managed to obtain a full scholarship to continue to his degree course purely on his merit. Upon graduation, he was immediately recruited to work for Boeing on a space station project as an electrical engineer. If anyone is interested they can check his credentials. So there is no need for me to gather so much wealth – that is the truth. We are not rogues.
Q:You are accused of being responsible for the death of two journalists including former Sunday Leader founder/editor Lasantha Wickramatunga by one of the former Ministers. What is your response to this allegation?
People know his credibility, you know his credibility – the type of man he was and continues to be – so I don’t have to talk about that. He has carried out similar actions against many other figures over the course of the years including former President Kumaratunga and has made defamatory statements against many politicians including the present Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe. The statements that he himself has made will bear witness to the credibility of his claims and character. Also go back and see what he has told about the current President at the time.
During the previous government, the biggest allegation was him, even for the media. So why take his word seriously now?
Q:Would you say that continuing to accommodate Ministers with such shattered credibility records during your brother’s regime, resulted in a loss of faith in the minds of the people concerning his governance?
That was a mistake! Definitely! Not punishing them at the correct time. It’s not right for me to comment on it because it was not my business. But when it came to taking action on matters under my purview, I have implemented them without fail.
Q: Are you planning to take any legal action against these allegations that are being levelled against you?
No, it is a useless endeavour. Under the present system, there is no point in trying to take action against this type of allegations. Look at what happened to the Sunday Leader case. I went to Courts and it has been over seven years and still the case is continuing. That is when we were in power. People might have thought, when we are in power we can manipulate the judicial system according to our whims and fancies. If it was possible, would I be going to Courts still to resolve the case that I filed? My cross examinations are still not over.
That is a good example to prove that the judicial system was in fact not pressured to carry out the wishes of the previous government. I sought judicial assistance because everyone advised me it was the best course of action to take. But even after so many years nothing has happened. So what is the use of going to Courts? These are the facts that need to be highlighted.
Q: Speculations were made of your likely entry to politics at the upcoming general elections and you too seemed interested in it. Would you continue with the plan?
No, no. During the previous government I was given the responsibility of certain tasks and I did them with commitment. I am certain, anyone can look at my work, judge me and state without any prejudice that I have carried them out with utmost dedication. I worked to end the war and thereafter did everything to maintain the law and order, which was a very challenging task. Then, I was given the responsibility of the Urban Development Authority and the results of my work are visible to everyone.
These successes could be achieved within a short period due to my commitment. Today, despite the criticisms, what are the instructions that have been given to the officials who were previously working under me? To continue the work. If what I did was wrong, they would have changed it instead of continuing them. That shows that what I have done is right. It is good that they are continuing with the work and it must continue.
I have not engaged in ad hoc decision making – every step has been taken with a clear vision and target in mind. It is not one or two projects that I was handling, so many including urban development as well as the welfare of soldiers, professionalising the military, rehabilitation of war heroes, the Kotelewala Defence School. . . If I did not have a plan all these things would have collapsed within a short period
Q: So you are certain of not entering politics?
Yes (laughs) I am not a politician, I am a dedicated government servant. I have done so much and I can tell without any fear or uncertainty, that no one will be able to replace me. I challenge anyone, try and replace my commitment, my hard work and my vision – no one can.