Sathosa fraud trial begings on Tuesday: Daily hearings for Johnston | Sunday Observer

Sathosa fraud trial begings on Tuesday: Daily hearings for Johnston

Johnston Fernando . Pic: ANCL Media Library
Johnston Fernando . Pic: ANCL Media Library

Former Minister and Parliamentarian, Johnston Fernando and three others who were indicted on charges of misappropriation of state funds will be produced before the High Court of Kurunegala on Tuesday (11) for the continuation of the trial which will be taken up daily.

Fernando and two others were remanded by the Kurunegala High Court Judge Menaka Wijesundara last Monday when the case in connection with the misappropriation of Rs. 5.2 million in public funds was taken up for trail.

Former Minister, his private secretary Raj Mohideen Mohamod Sakeer and Nalin Fernando, SATHOSA Chairman at the time that Johnston Fernando was the Cooperative and Internal Trade Minister, will face trial for ordering goods worth over Rs. 5.2 million to be released at three Sathosa warehouses at Yanthampalawa, Wehera and Mallawapitiya in the Kurunegala District. This incident had reportedly occurred during the North Western Provincial Council Elections in September 2013.

Former Minister Fernando was a key member in the Rajapaksa regime against whom corruption allegations were rife when the Government was defeated in 2015. Sathosa was under the purview of the Minister in his capacity as the Cooperatives and Internal Trade Minister when the alleged misdemeanor had taken place. However, the entity is registered as a private company giving it separate legal status as an entity of its own.

When allegations were made upon misappropriating public funds many politicians of the then government tried to explain it as a situation of supporting the displaced people.

Even last Monday (3), after the matter was taken up in Court, UPFA MP Anuradha Jayarathne was seen addressing the media saying it was an action the former Minister had taken to provide immediate relief.

“Minister Johnston provided relief to flood victims and had already repaid the money to the Cooperative, but he was still in remand custody,” he added.

Representing the Attorney General’s Department, senior State Counsel Lakmali Karunanayake and Senior Deputy Solicitor General (SDSG) Rohantha Abeysuriya were present in court, while President’s Counsel Kalinga Indatissa appeared for the first defendant with the assistance of Attorney Rashmi Kalinga Indatissa and Resan Widhanagamage, Anil Silva PC and Shavindra Silva (PC) who was represented by his junior.

The former Minister and two others were earlier arrested by the Financial Crimes Investigations Division (FCID) three years ago, on May 5, 2015. He was summoned at the FCID to give a statement on complaints of financial fraud at Lak Sathosa.

Soon after the FCID statement the former Minister was arrested under the charge of misappropriating public funds. After being produced before Court he was remanded till March 28, 2015. He was then released on bail by the former Kurunegala High Court Judge, Sunanda Kumara Rathnayake.

According to sources of the defendant, the Coordinating Secretary of the former Minister had settled the total amount to SATHOSA by April 8, 2015 while the investigation was underway, the repayment of which had begun in 2014.

It was also pointed out by legal analysts that attempting to undo an offence does not release a person from its legal consequences, nor does it prove his innocence.

According to the Penal Code and court sources, if the suspects are found guilty by the Courts, they would be given custodial sentences, and not suspended sentences.

The main defendant, MP Johnston Fernando seeks bail, pointing out the need to participate in parliamentary sessions. High Court Judge Menaka Wijesundara has instructed the Court Registrar to inform prisons officials that his visits to Parliament be endorsed while under their custody.

The former Minister was first taken into custody by the FCID in May 2015, and produced before the Magistrate’s Court, and thereafter further remanded till May 25, 2015. Fernando however, managed to obtain bail by May 20.

In June 2015 Fernando filed a Fundamental Rights case before the Supreme Court stating that the goods obtained were not for his own use, but for the public and that there was no offence in obtaining goods from Sathosa, a trading entity.

Both reliefs requested by Fernando to prevent him from being arrested by the FCID and asking for compensation for arresting him were dismissed by the Supreme Court.

Other than the said allegation the parliamentarian also faces other cases filed against him, in May 2018, by the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption, for not producing asset declarations as a parliamentarian for over five years. The suspects charged under the Public Property Act will be in remand prison, in Kegalle, until the verdict is delivered. The case will be consecutively heard from September 11 onward.