Scandal and politics: The Ravi Waidyalankara imbroglio | Sunday Observer

Scandal and politics: The Ravi Waidyalankara imbroglio

The former FCID chief left the police in the wake of a Sunday Observer expose in January 2019 into allegations that the top cop had mishandled key investigations while he and his family were enriched under mysterious circumstances. This is the continuing saga and details about his family’s involvement with a financial scammer indicted for money laundering in the US and under investigation by Waidyalankara’s own agency in Sri Lanka

As police investigators were closing in on his family, former Senior DIG Ravi Waidyalankara made a stunning reappearance into the public eye, prerecording a video interview, the same segments of which were aired in unison across two private television stations last Friday (26).

In the interview, the former head for the Financial Crime Investigation Division (FCID) claimed that charges of corruption and financial crimes leveled against Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) presidential candidate by his own officers were false, and that senior members of the Government pressurised him to arrest members of the Rajapaksa family without evidence.

The bizarre allegation came weeks before a presidential election, and months after Waidyalankara had left the police in the wake of a Sunday Observer expose into allegations that the top cop had mishandled key investigations while he and his family were enriched under mysterious circumstances.

But a careful study of the current status of police investigations involving Waidyalankara and his family shows that just days before Waidyalankara sat for his interview to whitewash the Rajapaksa family, FCID investigators had reported to the Colombo Fort Magistrates Court damning evidence of financial links between Waidyalankara’s family and suspects in a US $55 million fraud and money laundering investigation that had been sidetracked by the FCID under the former SDIG’s watch.

On Monday, 21 October, the FCID reported to the Colombo Chief Magistrates Court that Punya Edwards, the wife of suspect Rienzie Edwards, and Waidyalankara’s wife Mary Basilica, had started a company together on 10 February 2016, weeks after the FCID put the Edwards investigation on ice. The day after the company was formed, Waidyalankara’s then 31-year-old son Asela purchased a Rs 52 million luxury apartment at Monarch Residences using a nominee company that masked his ownership. The company that purchased the apartment was Talos Management Consultants. Talos is a single shareholder company, registered under PV No 109455 at the Registrar of Companies. The only director and shareholder of Talos Management Consultants Private Limited is Asela Jayampathy Rajasundara Waidyalankara, according to the FCID B report presented to court on October 21.

According to the FCID report, no mortgage was taken during the purchase. A cash advance was paid of Rs 2 million. Then Rs 42.858 million was transferred from an account operated by the junior Waidyalankara to the seller. Finally, a remaining balance of Rs 7,142,000 was paid in cash. The day before Asela Waidyalankara’s company purchased the Monarch apartment on February 11, 2019, his mother Mary Basilica had become a share-owning director at a company also owned by Edwards’ wife.

In January, Asela Waidyalankara denied to the Sunday Observer that he lived in or owned or had even heard of Apartment 16/A2 at Monarch Residences, the same apartment that the FCID has now confirmed was purchased by him the day after his mother formed a company with FCID money laundering suspect Punya Edwards. “My father is a public servant, so no one in my family can own an apartment at Monarch,” Asela Waidyalankara told this newspaper in January this year.

It was when FCID investigators began investigating the alleged role of the Waidyalankara family in the Edwards fraud that the former FCID head found it in himself to align himself with the Podujana Peramuna election campaign by going on television and throwing his FCID officers under the bus and claiming that their investigations into the Rajapaksas were conducted maliciously and under government pressure.

The Edwards investigation began in July 2015, when the FCID received a complaint about Rienzie Edwards’ alleged involvement in laundering over US $50 million in proceeds of a financial fraud into Sri Lanka. Investigations revealed that Edwards had brought the sum, amounting to over Rs 7 billion, into Sri Lanka using bank accounts controlled by a law firm based in Kandy, and that he had begun using the money to fund lavish property purchases.

In late 2015, the FCID impounded the passports of Edwards and his wife and began aggressively investigating the couple’s alleged criminal activity. Suddenly, in December 2015, FCID investigations into the couple ceased, they were produced before the Magistrate and enlarged on bail, and the investigation file was shipped to the Attorney-General’s Department with a cryptic letter seeking advice on how to proceed.

Then in February 2016, the suspicious corporate and financial activity involving the Edwards and Waidyalankara families took place. Four months later, in June 2016, American prosecutors filed indictments against Edwards, a Singaporean and four Americans, for defrauding investors, allegedly stealing their money by falsely pretending to be officers of the US Federal Reserve Bank offering a government-backed investment scheme.

In December 2016, US prosecutors sent a request for formal legal assistance to Sri Lanka, which was assigned to the FCID as the agency handling the connected domestic investigation. The US sought to freeze Edwards’ assets connected to the indictment, and to secure records from Sri Lankan banks connected to the laundering of the stolen funds.

However, despite the wide powers under Sri Lankan law for police to freeze accounts suspected of involvement in money laundering, the FCID under Waidyalankara did not act, ignoring the American request, refusing to freeze any of Edwards’ assets and failing to share bank records with the US investigators.

In August 2017, US prosecutors filed a superseding indictment against Edwards and the other five accused. While six people were charged, the indictment made no secret of the fact that Edwards was the ringleader and primary beneficiary of the fraud scheme.

“Almost immediately after investors wired their funds to the purported trust accounts,” the 2017 indictment reads, “the defendants, caused the bulk of the funds to be transferred to various overseas bank accounts controlled by Edwards.”

“In some cases, investors’ funds were first transferred to intermediary bank accounts in the United States controlled by Jacobs and Handler-Jacobs before being sent to the overseas bank accounts. In an attempt to further disguise the illegal nature, source, and ownership of the funds, Edwards, Jacobs, and Handler-Jacobs typically provided a bogus description for the purpose of the wire transfers to the originating banks.

To date, the criminal indictment of “United States V. Edwards” has not gone to trial. But unlike in Sri Lanka, this is not due to a delay in the judicial system. US investigations have continued aggressively. In 2018, one by one, the other defendants have pleaded guilty to the charges against them and cooperated with prosecutors by giving up evidence against Edwards, who received the vast bulk of the defrauded US $55 million in Sri Lanka.

Attorneys for one defendant, Michael Jacobs, told the US court that Edwards was “the mastermind here” and that his client was “the perfect pawn.” Jacobs’ wife, at her sentencing said that Sri Lankan officials were protecting Rienzi Edwards. “I wish, I wish the country of Sri Lanka wasn’t protecting this guy,” she wept.

Meanwhile, after Waidyalankara left the FCID earlier this year, the investigation got reactivated and investigators got back on the trail of how Edwards disbursed the US $55 million laundered from the US and other victim jurisdictions. In the report filed last month in the Magistrates Court, the FCID set out how the funds have been used to purchase several properties for Edwards and his family, including Rs. 2.7 billion paid to purchase land on Horton Place from Asiri Central Hospitals. It was while pursuing this paper trail that sleuths unearthed the links between Edwards’ wife and the spouse of their former boss, dated just two months after their investigations had come to a standstill.

After his bizarre television interview aired whitewashing the Rajapaksa family, the media widely reported on the irregular financial and corporate activity involving the former Senior DIG’s family and the Edwards money laundering suspects. The reporting clearly struck a nerve, with both the former top cop and his son issuing vaguely worded press releases denying any wrongdoing on their part. In fact in his letter to the media, SDIG Waidyalankara said that statements he had made to the media had been taken out of context, to “reinforce political strategies”.

Documents seen by the Sunday Observer also prove that contrary to Waidyalankara’s claims that the Government pressured him into investigating officials in the Rajapaksa regime, the former FCID chief had in fact written to the IGP on several occasions, seeking his greenlight to investigate alleged corruption and financial fraud by high ranking members of the former First Family. Even as late as February 2018, SDIG Waidyalankara was urging the IGP to allow him to launch a FCID investigation into Shiranthi Rajapaksa’s property purchases. In another letter dated April 28, 2017, SDIG Waidyalankara seeks IGP approval to launch investigation into Tharunyata Hetak – a foundation run by Hambantota District MP Namal Rajapaksa and the Carlton charity.

As reported separately in this newspaper, when the former FCID head’s son and wife were summoned to give statements, Waidyalankara made several complaints to the Elections Commission, insisting that any action taken against his family would negatively impact the presidential campaign of Gotabaya Rajapaksa. However, both the police officials and the Elections Commission told the Sunday Observer that the EC would not interfere in a criminal investigation.

The SLPP candidate has been indicted and faces trial in the Permanent High Court over an FCID investigation, and he has also featured prominently in several other investigations where he has not been formally accused of wrongdoing, including the controversial “MiG Deal”, a 2006 purchase of military aircraft in which half the money paid by the Air Force, US $6.9 million, was siphoned off to a shell company based in the British Virgin Island, Bellimissa Holdings Limited. Meanwhile, the former FCID chief’s legal dilemmas are not limited to his family’s alleged entanglement in the Edwards scheme. Police officials last week detailed a number of outstanding investigations being conducted by other units of the police. One was a complaint made in 2016 by businessman Nimal Chandrarathna Korale, who alleged that Waidyalankara had attempted to extort a sum of Rs 7.5 million from him by threatening to launch an FCID investigation into his business. He says he was asked by an intermediary to meet Waidyalankara at a five-star hotel in Colombo on August 11, 2016, where he was asked to pay the large sum for protection from investigation. When Korale refused to pay the money saying he had done nothing wrong, a week later, on 18 August 2016, the FCID filed a case against Korale and his company in the Colombo Magistrates Court.

The police are also investigating other allegations against Waidyalankara. On December 15, 2018, the FCID complained to the Colombo Fort Police about a former employee at poilce head quarters, Manesha Menuri, who had allegedly accosted Waidyalankara outside the FCID premises. Menuri had told police that she confronted the police officer over broken promises, after he had allegedly funded her construction of a house and paid her medical bills as a part of a relationship that went sour.

Yesterday, the former Senior DIG again visited the Elections Commission, stating that his son had been summoned to appear before the FCID on Monday. He is requesting the Elections Commission to insist that the police suspend the investigation into his family’s dealings with Edwards. Waidyalankara has allegedly expressed concern that publicity given to the FCID inquiry into his family would be used to hinder Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election campaign.