NYT report: Outcry to reveal probe on CHEC funding Rajapaksa campaign | Sunday Observer

NYT report: Outcry to reveal probe on CHEC funding Rajapaksa campaign

State Minister of Finance and Mass Media, Eran Wickramaratne yesterday called on investigating agencies to reveal either the status or outcome of the investigation into the alleged transfer of over US$ 7 million to affiliates of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa Presidential election campaign.

Noting that although originally in 2015, it was reported that China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd (CHEC) which is involved

in a number of key construction projects including the Hambantota Harbour, has paid money for the Rajapaksa’s campaign, which the CID was investigating, he said that subsequently, there were reports the FCID was investigating several suspicious financial transactions worth more than Rs. 3 billion.

“Thereafter, we didn’t hear about this which means there hasn’t been an outcome of the investigations. The investigating authorities whether it is the CID or FCID must make it public either on the status of the investigation or the outcome of it. The public have a right to know and therefore I would call upon them to act,” the State Minister urged.

The New York Times in an in-depth article last week said it found evidence showing that US$ 7.6 million (around Rs.1.2 billion) had been transferred from the China Harbour’s account at Standard Chartered Bank to affiliates of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s campaign days ahead of his Presidential bid. (Full story on Page 09)

Another US $38,000 (Rs.60 million) was paid to a popular Buddhist monk who was supporting Mr. Rajapaksa’s electoral bid, while two cheques totaling $1.7 million (Rs. 270 million) were delivered by volunteers to Temple Trees, his official residence, the report said.

Two media reports on alleging that CHEC had funded the Rajapaksa campaign ahead of the January 2015 election appeared in local newspapers in July 2015 and May 2016, citing the investigating agencies as the CID and the FCID.

The report in May 2016, indicated that the FCID would present a B report on the alleged funding from CHEC to the Rajapaksa election campaign in court within three weeks. The status of the investigation has never been revealed since.

Wickremaratne outlined that while campaign financing by local citizens and businesses was accepted practice world over, what was troubling in this instance is the fact that this is a foreign company allegedly funding the election campaign of the former President.

“We talk a lot about nationalism and patriotism, but if we take foreign funding, it is natural to come to the conclusion that we are working to some agenda set by other people. If it is foreigners, then it is very troubling because they should not be interfering with our internal political destiny which will undermine the sovereignty of Sri Lankans,” Wickremaratne noted.

Speaking on campaign financing in other countries, Wickremeratne said in 95 countries, political parties are compelled to disclose their spending on election campaigns, in 123 countries - parties and candidates are required to reveal their sources while there are spending limits in about 83 countries.

“Unfortunately, Sri Lanka does not have a law on any of these three things. Therefore, you can’t fault somebody because they have not broken the law. But taking funds from dubious sources or sources under investigation is a completely different issue,” the State Minister highlighted.

Highlighting the fact that there were no campaign finance regulations laws at the moment, , Manager of Right to Information at Transparency International Sri Lanka, Sankhitha Gunaratne said while these actions were morally offensive, they were not technically illegal.

“The underlying issue here is that the President is not covered by the Bribery Act and there is currently no law that covers campaign finance, hence insufficient regulations or restrictions exist for campaign financing, the TISL official said, adding that there was currently no requirement to disclose details about political funding.

Gunaratne says this incident highlights the need for disclosure and for donation limits on campaign financing.

Further, assuming these allegations are true, this may also be an instance of one sovereign state meddling with the sovereignty of another state, she said.

Meanwhile the Voice Against Corruption affiliated to the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna is also threatening to take legal action against former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and China Harbour Engineering Company over the allegations. Its legal team is currently said to gathering the necessary information for the purpose and gearing up for the case.

“This is a serious allegation against a head of state,” Central Committee Member of the JVP and Convenor of the Voice Against Corruption organization, Wasantha Samarasinghe said. According to him paying bribes to intervene in government decision is a serious offence. “It is important to see what action can be taken against these past misdeeds as a country,” he said adding that these claims must be investigated. “Giving and taking bribes are both wrong” Samarasinghe stressed explaining that international companies caught committing such acts as often blacklisted. “This is an instance where a leader was bought by parties with vested interests,” he said.

Several members of the pro-Rajapaksa Joint Opposition have criticized the New York Times article as inaccurate, but are yet to issue a formal clarification pointing out errors. Hambantota District MP Namal Rajapaksa tweeted on Thursday that there were “many inaccuracies in the article”. “Acknowledging the port is near 1 of the world’s busiest shipping lanes shows why it’s still a major focus for the West, fearing China’s growing global influence. #SriLanka’s assets should not be used as geopolitical pawns in this power struggle,” the tweet said.

The New York Times journalist who authored the article said she had offered Mahinda Rajapaksa multiple opportunities to comment on the report over several months. “They allowed our photographer access to Rajapaksa but refused multiple requests for comments. They didn’t seem to want to provide their side of the story which we really wanted to include. We tried for two months and await their response today,” the journalist said.

Issuing a media release on the scandal that has caused ripples in political circles, Government Spokesman Dr Rajitha Senaratne said CHEC had not yet denied the report. “The New York Times newspaper has done something that the FCID, CID and even the Attorney General’s Department has been unable to do,” his statement said.

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Chinese Embassy responds

The Embassy of People’s Republic of China issued an official response on the scandal, that did not outright deny the New York Times article but said it had noticed the report and responses to it in Sri Lanka that were “criticizing it full of political prejudice and completely inconsistent with fact”.

“The Embassy stress that China has always been pursuing a friendly policy toward Sri Lanka, firmly supporting the latter’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity, and opposing any country’s interference in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka.,” the embassy statement said. The statement further stated that China “would like to work together with Sri Lanka to actively implement the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries, and concentrate unwaveringly on our fixed goals, continuously promote the pragmatic cooperations under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiatives.

Comments

If any body is planning sue the NYT forget it. Nobody in Sri lanka have the money to hire a team of lawyers to match the owners billions. NYT is famous for their revelations in the US too. Most likely some hanky-panky took place. In the US a similar thing is currently being investigated by a team of investigators headed by a special prosecutor. If I had loaned a ton of money to a country I'd like to have my man in power to protect my investments. Be warned unlike Sri Lankan courts more dirt will come out during the hearing.

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