Lanka can use UN Convention against corruption to seek Udayanga’s extradition | Page 2 | Sunday Observer

Lanka can use UN Convention against corruption to seek Udayanga’s extradition

Udayanga Weeratunga
Udayanga Weeratunga

The Attorney General’s Department was last week busy compiling paperwork, in collaboration with the Foreign Affairs Ministry, to bring down detained former Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Russia Udayanga Weeratunga.

A senior official at the AG’s Department said, “We are processing further material to be sent to the UAE authorities on their request,” denying the assertion that the UAE had refused to hand in Weeratunga who is wanted by Sri Lanka in connection with a case involving the procurement of second hand MiG-27ground attack crafts from Ukraine for the Sri Lankan Air Force in 2006.

Until the paper work is complete the Sri Lankan side has requested continued detention of Weeratunga in the UAE but it was not immediately clear if the UAE authorities have responded to the request positively.

The officials were reluctant to release further information to media due to the highly sensitive nature of the case. A senior official at the AG’s Department said it was not appropriate to reveal details of Weeratunga’s arrest and expected extradition at this point since it could be counter –productive to the mission at hand - to get the suspect repatriated.

Even though an extradition treaty exists between Sri Lanka and the UAE, Sri Lanka’s Parliament is yet to ratify it. But, a senior official at the Foreign Ministry said the AG’s Department can use the UN Convention Against Corruption which Sri Lanka has ratified to seek extradition of Weeratunga. The Convention provides for extradition in corruption cases and that Sri Lanka utilizes the provisions in the Convention ‘as applicable’.

The Fort Magistrate, Lanka Jayaratne, issued an open warrant for the arrest of the former Ambassador who is a close relative of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in October 2016. The warrant was issued when he failed to appear before court in July 2016 as a principle suspect in the controversial MiG deal.

According to the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID), which probed the case on a complaint by Iqbal Athas, a veteran Journalist who wrote extensively on the murky deal then, Weeratunga had direct intervention in the transaction in which allegedly millions of state funds were misappropriated. It is claimed, the seven MiG-27 fighter crafts acquired for the Air Force in the shady deal were built in the 1980s and purchased at an exorbitant rate. The MiG-27 aircraft deal was also widely exposed in The Sunday Leader, the newspaper founded by assassinated Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge. Details in The Sunday Leader reports on the deal, correspond closely with what the investigations by the FCID have revealed about the purchase of the Russian aircraft so far. Following the murder of Wickrematunge, former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa filed a defamation suit against the newspaper. The case was finally settled after the newspaper was taken over by an associate of the Rajapaksa regime. The Sunday Leader subsequently retracted all of the news reports, but FCID investigations are now finding those reports accurate down to its minute detail.

The FCID was established by the Government in 2015 to fast track cases involving vast scale financial crime and corruption alleged to have been committed during the former regime.

Subsequent to the arrest warrant an Interpol Blue Notice was issued on Weeeratunga. The former Ambassador remained elusive until he was detected in March this year at a UAE airport while on the way to the United States. But the Blue Notice did not provide for an extradition of the suspect. Hence, he was released by the Immigration officials but somehow not allowed to leave the country honoring a request by Sri Lanka.

By late February the CID secured an Interpol Red Notice on Weeratunga.The Attorney General’s Department is currently filling in the paper work to get the former Ambassador returned to Sri Lanka to appear in court.

Foreign Secretary Prasad Kariyawasam told the Sunday Observer on Friday that the extradition of the former Sri Lankan envoy was a process and the Attorney General’s Department is working on it.

“We are fully supporting their efforts,” the Foreign Secretary said signalling that they were using all available channels to get him down.

When Weeratunga was first spotted in UAE, a team comprising officials from the Attorney General’s Department, the Foreign Ministry and the CID left for the UAE to get him deported to Sri Lanka but they returned empty handed.An authoritative diplomatic source said, Weeratunga has broken the UAE domestic law, therefore the UAE may want to prosecute him in their country. Another possibility would be, that he is shielded by a powerful third party, the sources said.

When the Interpol Red Notice was issued in late February, a second team left for UAE to escort him to Sri Lanka but the two officials also returned without the suspect.

During his posting as Ambassador to Russia and Ukraine, Weeratunga reportedly had close associations with the Russian President Vladimir Putin. Cabinet Spokesman Dr.Rajitha Senaratne during a media briefing revealed that the Ukranian government had complained to the Sri Lankan government that Weeratunga had provided arms to the Ukranian rebels.

The AG’s Department official said, the supplementary documents that are being prepared now by the AG’s Department are required to support his extradition. Earlier the Sri Lankan law enforcement authorities put forth a request to their UAE counterparts to deport the absconding former envoy but the Dubai government has indicated that they wanted to treat the case as an extradition case, without acknowledging the request for a deportation.

In August 2017, Weeratunga, through his lawyers attempted to withdraw the Fort Magistrate Court’s arrest warrant on him without success. His lawyers requested the Magistrate to retract the warrant but Magistrate Lanka Jayaratne turned down their request citing the grave charges against him.

Weeratunga has claimed the charges were politically motivated.Soon after his initial detection and release by UAE Immigration in March 2018 he made an appearance on Ada DeranaTV news.

He said he was detained by the UAE on February 4, while on his way to the United States. He said it took him much time and pain to explain to the UAE law enforcing authorities that he was not a law breaker and that there was only an Interpol Blue Notice on him which did not permit an arrest.

Speaking to the news station via Skype he further said the Blue Notice issued against him provided for interrogation, find his whereabouts and report to Sri Lankan authorities. He denied media reports that he was to be repatriated to Sri Lanka.

A spokesperson from the office of the UAE Ambassador in Colombo said the local mission is not involved in the extradition of Weeratunga in anyway. “It is a Government to government arrangement,” she said declining to comment or give an update on his arrest and detention.

She said even the UAE Foreign Ministry would not be making any statements in this regard.