'Hold offshore enablers, asset destinations accountable'

Rebecca Pavey | Published: 2:25 PM Oct 16 2021
Local 'Hold offshore enablers, asset destinations accountable'

Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) has urged Sri Lankan authorities to take up the recent revelations made by the Pandora Papers to a diplomatic level, to ensure financial institutions in countries such as Singapore are also held accountable and that steps are taken to recover any proceeds of crime back to our country. 

The secret wealth and dealings of nearly 35 current and former leaders and more than 300 public officials were recently exposed through the Pandora papers, with the exposé deemed as one of the biggest leaks of financial documents.

It provided clear evidence of how the offshore industry promotes corruption, thereby emphasising the importance of maintaining open beneficial ownership registers, including in Sri Lanka. 

The Papers refer to extensive assets held offshore by former Deputy Minister of Water Supply and Drainage Nirupama Rajapaksa and her husband, Thirukumar Nadesan.

Amongst several other allegations, Nadesan was charged in 2016 with embezzlement in connection with a real estate deal involving another member of the president’s family Basil Rajapaksa, accused of using public funds to build a villa. 

The case is pending, however, Nadesan and Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s current finance minister, have denied wrongdoing.

TISL initially called for an independent investigation into the matter, following which, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa called on the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption (CIABOC) to investigate the claims made by Pandora Papers.

Since then, TISL has taken several steps in this regard.

On 07 October, TISL filed a complaint with CIABOC, calling for an investigation into the alleged unexplained assets of Rajapaksa and her husband who have been identified as Politically Exposed Persons (PEP).

They requested CIABOC to probe into the Declarations of Assets and Liabilities of the former Deputy Minister relating to her tenure as a Member of Parliament, and to investigate whether public funds have been embezzled and laundered to these foreign safe havens.

TISL also wrote to the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka on 13 October, calling on them to coordinate with relevant law enforcement authorities at both local and international levels to investigate potential money laundering allegedly committed by the former Member of Parliament and her spouse. 

The FIU, as the central independent body established in terms of the provisions of the Financial Transactions Reporting Act No. 06 of 2006 (FTRA), is empowered to facilitate the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of offences related to money laundering and terrorist financing.

TISL has also filed three Right to Information Requests to the Elections Commission, Parliament of Sri Lanka and the Presidential Secretariat, calling for the Declarations of Assets and Liabilities of Nirupama Rajapaksa as an election candidate, member of parliament and Deputy Minister respectively.

The Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law No 1 of 1975 makes it mandatory for Parliamentarians and senior public officials to annually submit a declaration of assets and liabilities, which includes the assets and liabilities of their spouse and dependent children. If the former Parliamentarian has not disclosed the overseas assets revealed through Pandora Papers, she will be in breach of the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law. 

TISL Executive Director Nadishani Perera commenting on the matter stated “We urge the relevant authorities in the country to take immediate action to independently investigate the revelations made by Pandora Papers. It is important that the due process is followed without any interference, obstructions or delays. For the PEPs implicated, there remains a path to clearing their name, if they were to heed the call of the public by making the relevant asset declarations public. A thorough and impartial investigation will also bolster faith in the law enforcement agencies of the country and prove to be an important deterrent against perpetrators of white-collar crimes.”

Rebecca Pavey | Published: 2:25 PM Oct 16 2021

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