President orders full probe | Sunday Observer
Pandora Papers expose:

President orders full probe

10 October, 2021

With the controversial Pandora Papers revelations on Sri Lankan citizens as allegedly having offshore accounts, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has ordered the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) to launch an immediate investigation into related transactions of Sri Lankans exposed in the Pandora Papers and submit a report in a month. This shows the Government’s genuine desire to conduct an independent probe into this matter. However, some Government lawmakers are critical of the attempt by the Opposition to put the blame on the Rajapaksa administration regarding the transactions that had occurred from 1990 to 2000 adding that the Government should conduct an investigation on the transactions disclosed in Pandora Papers from 2005 to 2015.

It was published in the international media that according to the Pandora Papers, information has come to light of a Sri Lankan citizen or citizens in relation to maintaining large cash deposits in offshore accounts. However, addressing the weekly Cabinet press briefing, Co-Cabinet Spokesman and Mass Media Minister Dallas Alahapperuma said that there is no one representing the present Sri Lankan Government, named in the Pandora Papers adding the Pandora Papers only relate to a Sri Lankan businessman and his wife.

Former Water Supply and Drainage Deputy Minister Nirupama Rajapaksa and her husband Thirukumar Nadesan have been named in the recent International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ (ICIJ) “Pandora Papers” files leak that have exposed the secret offshore affairs of 35 world leaders, including current and former Presidents, Prime Ministers and Heads of State. Nirupama Rajapaksa served the SLFP-led UPFA Governments during the presidencies of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa, representing the Hambantota district.

Shell company

Nirupama Rajapaksa and her husband Thirukumar Nadesan together had controlled a shell company they used to buy luxury apartments in London and Sydney, and to make investments, according to leaked files,” the ICIJ said in its website after analysing the document related to both Nirupama Rajapaksa and Nadesan. It is alleged that Nadesan set up other shell companies and trusts in secrect jurisdictions, and he used them to obtain lucrative consulting contracts from foreign companies doing business with the Sri Lankan Government and to buy artwork. On September 13, ICIJ journalist Scilla Alecci had written to both Nirupama Rajapaksa and Thirukumar Nadesan seeking some response on allegations against them.

The main Opposition, Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) on Tuesday (October 05) demanded an investigation into the Pandora Papers which has caused much controversy in the country. Several other countries have already begun investigations into the revelations of the Pandora Papers, which have stirred a hornet’s nest around the world. The SJB has also filed a complaint at CIABOC, and requested an independent investigation into the matter. “We are also requesting an international investigation, either through Scotland Yard or through another internationally recognised organisation,” SJB Parliamentarian Harshana Rajakaruna told the media outside CIABOC after filing their complaint. In addition, a group of young SJB members have filed a Right to Information (RTI) application at the Elections Commission seeking details of the assets of former Deputy Minister Nirupama Rajapaksa. SJB Working Committee member Rehan Jayawickrama who was among those who filed the RTI application said that they expect the information to be put forward by the Elections Commission within 14 days. He said if the Elections Commission fails to submit the information then they will take further action.

Governor of the Central Bank Ajith Nivrad Cabraal had said that the law enforcement authorities would have to initiate investigations into the Sri Lanka aspect in the Pandora Papers revelations. The Governor had said that when asked whether CBSL would look into ICIJ disclosure pertaining to stunning disclosures of clandestine financial transactions by elites across the world. CBSL Governor Cabraal said: “The inquiries will have to be initiated by the law enforcement authorities. In the course of their investigations, if they require any input from the Central Bank authorities, we would certainly provide such assistance.”

Unbiased inquiry

Meanwhile, Thirukumar Nadesan, the husband of former Deputy Minister Nirupama Rajapaksa, one of two Sri Lankans identified in the Pandora Papers exposé, has written to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to declare his innocence and seek an unbiased inquiry. In his letter addressed to President Rajapaksa, he said that “It is commonly believed that all persons whose names have been divulged in the Pandora Papers are in some way guilty of wrongdoing.” Adding to that he mentions “I assure you that my wife and I are totally innocent and are guilty of no wrongdoings,” Nadesan stated this in his letter to the President which was also copied to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Impartial investigator

Nadesan has also urged that the investigation be conducted by an impartial investigator, ideally a former Appellate Court Judge, in order to cleanse him and his wife’s reputation. “I am making this request to you because my wife and I have suffered heartache and pain of mind. We have been presumed guilty, the presumption of innocence reversed,” he wrote.

Nadesan on Friday (October 8) arrived at the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) to give a statement regarding the controversial Pandora Paper incident. Nadesan had been summoned to record a statement after the Commission launched an investigation following the directive of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Accordingly, the Bribery Commission has appointed a special investigation team to probe into the Sri Lankans who were listed in the Pandora leaks over allegations that former Deputy Minister Nirupama Rajapaksa and her husband Nadesan maintained accounts/assets offshore.

The Pandora Papers is a collection of nearly 12 million documents that disclosed the hidden offshore activities of international leaders, including current and former Presidents, Prime Ministers, and business leaders. Over 330 politicians exposed by the leak were from more than 90 countries and territories. They were exposed by journalists of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), working in partnership with media organisations such as the BBC, The Guardian, Washington Post and 150 other media outlets around the world. More than 600 journalists in 117 countries have been trawling through the files from 14 sources for months, finding stories that were published in the Pandora Papers.

The Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) has also called for a thorough Government probe into former Deputy Minister Nirupama Rajapaksa and her husband Thirukumar Nadesan named in the Pandora Papers as having offshore accounts. TISL has called on Sri Lankan authorities to ensure that independent investigations are carried out expeditiously into the revelations made by the Pandora Papers. This would entail allowing law enforcement authorities and the judiciary to pursue and complete the existing pending investigations pertaining to the implicated persons without interference.

Mudslinging campaigns

Meanwhile, State Minister Shehan Semasinghe told Parliament on Tuesday (October 5) that the Opposition is trying to re-launch mudslinging campaigns against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa, similar they did before 2015, using the Pandora Papers revelations. Speaking after SJB Parliamentarian Thusara Indunil, who queried on Pandora Papers, which mentioned former Deputy Minister Nirupama Rajapaksa and requested the Government to conduct a probe, State Minister Semasinghe charged that the Opposition MPs are lacking in literacy skills. He said “Thusara Indunil is speaking about Thiru Nadesan but isn’t he aware of who depended on Vidya Amarapala back then? Aren’t you aware of the Panama Papers revelations? Who depended on money mentioned on Panama Papers? MP Indunil has not read the website which revealed Pandora Papers properly. If these people know how to read properly, they should know that the allegations in those papers are listed between 1990 to 2000,” Semasinghe said.

The Government Ministers were also questioned by journalists about former Deputy Minister Nirupama Rajapaksa being named in the recently leaked Pandora Papers. Addressing the media, Co-Cabinet Spokesman and Minister of Energy Udaya Gammanpila said that the Bribery Commission must investigate the assets of a politician if their name is mentioned in the Pandora Papers. Also commenting on the Pandora Paper leaks, Minister of Ports and Shipping Rohitha Abeygunawardana said that action will be taken against anyone in Sri Lanka who has been identified as having earned money through illegal means. Responding to former Deputy Minister Nirupama Rajapaksa being named in the documents of Pandora Papers, Minister Abeygunawardana said he cannot state how the Government can intervene in the matter, as it is a personal issue. He further said there are laws pertaining to those who earn money via illegal means, and the Government will take action in line with the laws, irrespective of the status of the person involved.