Mahindananda in FCID net | Sunday Observer

Mahindananda in FCID net

Soon after the New Year, the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) got to work by arresting Joint Opposition Parliamentarian and former Sports Minister in President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Government, Mahindananda Aluthgamage in connection with the misuse of public property worth about Rs. 39 million. For years, the shadow of corruption has followed the vociferous pro-Rajapaksa politician. A personal civil case revealed he was a billionaire politician, and questions have swirled since, about how the Nawalapitiya strongman accumulated such vast wealth.

He was initially remanded in August 2016 under provisions of the Money Laundering Act for allegedly acquiring wealth illegally. Aluthgamage had purchased a stately home in Colombo 7 valued at Rs 27 million, and failed to explain as to how he earned that wealth, and to declare his assets. In March this year, that case was re-fixed for trial on December 14, 15, 16 by High Court Judge, Gihan Kulatunge.

But last week the former Minister was netted by the FCID on a separate case. Aluthgamage is alleged to have misappropriated state funds when he was importing sports goods during the last Presidential election. The JO MP has been arrested under the Public Property Act, for causing financial losses to the state, by purchasing 14,000 carrom boards and 14,000 draught boards through Lak Sathosa at a cost of Rs. 39 million.

The trouble is, the Sports Ministry never received the stock of carrom and draught boards, the FCID investigation discovered. Instead, they were stored away to be used as gifts during former President Rajapaksa’s re-election campaign in 2015, as election hand-outs. The famous wall clocks, featuring the image of the former President were found in the same storage facility.

The accusation and arrest was doubly ironic because Aluthgamage, now an MP in the pro-Rajapaksa faction of the UPFA styling itself as the Joint Opposition, is one of the most vociferous parliamentarians about fraud and corruption under the current administration.

The former Sports Minister who initially schooled at Gangasiripura Vidyalaya entered Royal College through influence. Initially, it was Mahindananda Aluthgamage’s brother Wijayananda who succeeded their father Simon Aluthgamage as the SLFP organiser for Nawalapitiya. His tenure was cut short at the zenith of the JVP second insurrection of 1988/89. Forced to resign, Wijayananda relinquished his duties as SLFP organiser bequeathing the reins of office to sibling, Mahindananda.

Meanwhile, former Premier. Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s request to nominate a member from the Aluthgamage family to contest the Provincial Council election in 1993 was a windfall for Mahindananda Aluthgamage who was then working at a finance company for a paltry salary.

At the time, he also had two real estate companies that were not doing well. But the stars aligned in his favour and he embarked upon a political career and was appointed Provincial Health Minister in 1995.

Within a short space of time, Aluthgamage climbed to dizzying political heights. He was elected to Parliament in 2000 with 71,653 preferential votes and continues to represent the Nawalapitiya electorate in the legislature to date, 18 years later.

Despite his notorious national reputation, Aluthgamage remains wildly popular in the Nawalapitiya area, where he still commands an unshakable political base for the SLFP.

Despite allegations of corruption following him throughout his career, it was only when his wife Asha Wijayanthi filed divorce proceedings that the extent of his net worth became a matter of public record. The aggrieved spouse listed his assets and properties, valued at hundreds of millions in her case, to qualify for bigger alimony when the marriage ended.

Around this time, a complaint was lodged with the Bribery Commission against then Minister Aluthgamage. The complainants made it clear that it was impossible for an individual who was doing a minor job at a finance company to have acquired such wealth after entering public office.

But that complaint was filed at the height of President Rajapaksa’s power. The Bribery Commission itself was compromised and filled with pro-Rajapaksa officials who would not permit cases against currently serving Government Ministers to proceed. The documents were only reopened by the FCID after Rajapaksa was defeated in 2015 and Aluthgamage lost his political clout.

Consequently, in 2015 the FCID filed a B report under case no. 22467/1/2015 against Mahindananda Aluthgamage at the Colombo Chief Magistrate’s Court under the Money Laundering Act. According to the report filed by the FCID, Aluthgamage who was employed as a Debt Recovery Officer of a Finance Company in 1987 on a monthly salary of Rs. 1,250 had acquired four properties in Colombo 7 and Nawala, one property in Kandy and possessed a house in England within the space of a few years.

FCID investigations have also found that Aluthgamage had failed to declare several foreign bank accounts containing over USD 50 million. The FCID investigation also found that the former Sports Minister owns the Chamber of Gift and Vidoolanka boutiques at the Bandaranaike International Airport duty free complex.