BY Dinitha Rathnayake and Pamodi Waravita
Former Water Supply and Drainage Deputy Minister Nirupama Rajapaksa, who is also the niece of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, and Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, and her husband Thirukumar Nadesan, have been named in the recent International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ (ICIJ) “Pandora Papers” files leak.
The documents allege that the couple were involved in shell companies, which are inactive companies used as a vehicle for various financial manoeuvres or kept dormant for future use in some other capacity, located in tax havens, which obtained lucrative consulting contracts from foreign companies doing business with the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL).
“Nirupama Rajapaksa and Nadesan, together controlled a shell company which they used to buy luxury apartments in London, England, and Sydney, Australia, and to make investments. Nadesan set up other shell companies and trusts in jurisdictions known for their financial secrecy, and he used them to obtain lucrative consulting contracts from foreign companies doing business with the Sri Lankan Government and to buy artwork. In 2018, one of the companies, Pacific Commodities, transferred 31 paintings and other South Asian art pieces to the Geneva Freeport, an ultra secure warehouse where assets are not subjected to taxes or duties,” the ICIJ claimed.
It further said that Asiaciti Trust, a Singapore-based offshore services provider, which managed some of Nadesan’s offshore accounts, had stated in confidential electronic mails that as of 2011, Nadesan’s overall wealth was $ 160 million. An analysis by the ICIJ has found that the Asiaciti Trust alone managed assets valued at about $ 18 million for Nadesan.
In 2016, when Basil Rajapaksa was accused of using public funds to build a villa in Malwana, Nadesan was also charged with embezzlement in connection with the incident. Although the pair has since denied any wrongdoing, the legal case into the matter is still ongoing.
A letter sent by ICIJ Investigative Reporter Scilla Alecci to the couple (Nirupama Rajapaksa and Nadesan) on 13 September 2021 questions as to whether Nirupama Rajapaksa’s alleged involvement in the Pacific Trust, which holds a $ 51 million art collection, was declared to the tax authorities as per the local law (Sri Lankan law).
Alecci has further questioned Nirupama Rajapaksa’s role as an alleged “controlling party” in Rosetti Ltd., an offshore company used to receive consultancy fees and buy properties in Sydney and London. Her roles in a number of other offshore companies and trusts (Sri Nithi Trust, Pacific Trust, Pacific Commodities, Pallene, Chalan Oil, and Red Ruth Investments) set up by Nadesan, have also been questioned.
Alecci had asked Nadesan the source of his $ 160 million wealth and the nature of the consultancies provided by his companies to the Government at the time. Alecci has also claimed that documents show that Nadesan has retrieved income from a London property in thousands of dollars of cash and questioned as to why this was so. Furthermore, Alecci said that Nadesan had told Asiaciti Trust in 2015 that his source of funds could be “challenged” and had therefore questioned Nadesan on the nature of these concerns.
Cabinet Co-Spokesman and Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila was questioned by the media about the Pandora Papers yesterday (4). He responded by saying that from what he has heard, a retired politician from a business family is named and that if that is the case, then the Commission to Investigate into Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) must investigate it.
“It is not important to discuss their names,” he added.
Similarly, Ports and Shipping Minister Rohitha Abeygunawardena said that this is a “private person” and that he cannot make an immediate statement into how the Government could intervene in the matter.
In an initial statement released yesterday (4), Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) urged a domestic investigation to determine if any of the wealth mentioned in the Pandora Papers is a result of the abuse of Sri Lankan public resources. It added that this would require the law enforcement authorities to complete the existing investigations into the implicated individuals without interference.
Meanwhile, speaking at a press conference held yesterday, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)-led National People’s Power (NPP) Leader and Parliamentarian Anura Kumara Dissanayake alleged that Nadesan is part of the corrupt ring of thieves within the elite leadership of the country.
“Nirupama Rajapaksa is the cousin of the three ruling Rajapaksa brothers. The same Pandora Papers have named a political connection of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan as being involved in corruption as well. Khan immediately said yesterday that a proper investigation will be conducted into the matter. However, our country’s leaders are silent. Nadesan is a very close associate of theirs. He is involved in an embezzlement case with Basil Rajapaksa. On a day in August 2015, when then Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe went in the early hours of the morning for the power transition with then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, it was Nadesan who accompanied him (Wickremesinghe). Is Nadesan’s wealth part of the wealth of the ruling corrupt elite as well?” questioned Dissanayake.
Moreover, Dissanayake pointed out that this is not the first instance where the Rajapaksa Governments have been involved in international investigations into corruption.
“A former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer who recently went to jail in the US had been paid $ 6.5 million by then Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal. When England, the US, and France did a joint investigation into the French AirBus Company, it was revealed that then Air Lanka Chairman Kapila Chandrasena had sent $ 2 million to his wife through a Brunei-based shell company. Later, the money was transferred back to one Nimal Perera in Sri Lanka from Australia. The Panama Papers also named Sri Lanka. The New York Times once reported that Mahinda Rajapaksa had received $ 7 million from Chinese companies for his election campaigns. Is this not a corrupt country? Each of these investigations either has Rajapaksa family members or their close associates named in them. This is millions of dollars of public funds,” alleged Dissanayake.
He also stressed that these revelations are only a small portion of the actual corruption taking place in the country.
The Morning’s attempts to contact Cabinet Spokesperson Dullas Alahepperuma and Cabinet Co-Spokesperson Dr. Ramesh Pathirana regarding the matter proved futile.