Will Pandora Papers Dim Concerns Raised During Shringla’s Visit?
|By Gagani Weerakoon|
The hyped concerns raised by various parties over the recent visit of Indian External Affairs Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and his visit to oil tanks in Trincomalee in the immediate aftermath of arriving in Sri Lanka appeared to have faced an untimely death with the revelation of Pandora Papers which included names of Sri Lankan businessman Thirukumar Nadesan and his wife Nirupama Rajapaksa, niece of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Even though, it was not officially mentioned anywhere, it is not a secret that Shringla’s visit was a sign of India expressing its displeasure over delayed development projects amidst disturbingly increased presence of China in Sri Lanka.
Hence, President Rajapaksa upon meeting Indian Foreign Secretary Shringla assured that Sri Lanka would not be allowed to be used for any activity that could pose a threat to India’s security, because there is a clear understanding about the geographical location of the two countries. The President explained the relationship with China in a comprehensive manner and informed the Indian Foreign Secretary not to have any doubts about it. Nevertheless, he said that the people in the two countries should be properly apprised regarding the decisions taken by the two sides in reaching an agreement.
The President emphasised the need to act with the consent of the majority of the people by explaining the advantages and disadvantages. President Rajapaksa elaborated on the need to re-establish the friendship and relations between India and Sri Lanka that existed in the 1960s and 70s. He said that he is expecting to obtain India’s support in advancing the 1971 proposal made by Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike to declare the Indian Ocean a peace zone.
Both sides were of the view that short and long-term steps that should be taken to bring relations between the two countries to a higher level should be correctly identified. Recalling his experiences in liberating the Jaffna Fort, the President said that he is well aware about the consequences of a war including the missing persons as well as regarding the widowhood caused by the war.
The President pointed out the urgent need to understand the weaknesses as well as the strengths of the 13th Amendment and act accordingly. President Rajapaksa told Shringla that he wished to create conducive environment for the Tamils, who left Sri Lanka, to return to the country and that he had openly invited the Tamil Diaspora and Tamils living abroad at the UN General Assembly to contribute their support in making the Government’s efforts in this regard a success.
Explaining the steps taken by his Government for the development of the North and the East in the recent past, the President said that more than 90% of the lands acquired during the war for security purposes have been released by now. The families of the missing persons are being compensated and the President explained the need to expedite the resolution of other issues that have arisen during the war.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has ordered the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) to investigate Sri Lankans who are listed in the Pandora Papers and submit a report within a month. Cabinet Spokesman Dullas Alahapperuma at the weekly Cabinet Media briefing said that it should be underlined that no members of the current Government are named in these documents.
Anyone can file a complaint with the Bribery Commission about this. Former Deputy Minister Nirupama Rajapaksa and her husband Thirukumar Nadesan’s names were listed in Pandora Papers as having offshore accounts. Pandora Papers claim that Nadesan established more shell companies and trusts in many countries, which he used to win lucrative consultancy contracts from foreign corporations doing business with the Sri Lankan Government and to purchase artwork.
A long-time consultant to Nadesan allegedly put his whole worth, as of 2011, at more than US$ 160 million in secret emails to Asiaciti Trust, a Singapore-based offshore services provider. Meanwhile, Thirukumar Nadesan, called on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for an independent investigation to be conducted into the revelations made by the Pandora Papers in regard to both him and his wife.
Nadesan, in a letter to the President, stated that as the names of him and former Deputy Minister Nirupama Rajapaksa were referred to in the Pandora Papers, as having various offshore accounts/assets, it is commonly believed that the names that have been so divulged are in some way guilty of a wrongdoing.
However, both him and his wife are innocent and have not committed any wrongdoing, he said. Thereby, he requested for the appointment of an independent investigator, preferably a retired Appellate Court Judge to conduct investigations into the allegations. “The allegations have caused heartache and pain of mind. We have been presumed guilty, the presumption of innocence is reversed,” he added.
Meanwhile, the lawmakers of both ruling party and Opposition were engaged in verbal exchange on the matter in the House last week. The JVP slammed the Government for not responding to Pandora Papers, the most expansive leak of tax haven files in history that revealed the secret offshore holdings of more than 300 politicians and public officials from more than 90 countries and territories.
JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake stressed that it is not surprising that Sri Lankan business persons’ and politicians’ names are mentioned whenever a revelation about black money is leaked. “Now, a relative of the President and the PM is accused of controlling a shell company they used to buy luxury apartments in London and Sydney, and to make investments.
But the Government is maintaining silence about the matter. Just after the Pandora Papers revelations, Pakistani PM Imran Khan stated that his Government will thoroughly investigate the persons whose names are on the leaked papers. It is a responsibility of the President, the PM and the Finance Minister to make a statement regarding the matter,” Dissanayake said.
According to the Pandora Papers that made global headlines since 3 October, former Deputy Minister Nirupama Rajapaksa, a relative of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa, and her husband Thirukumar Nadesan together controlled a shell company they used to buy luxury apartments in London and Sydney, and to make investments.
“Nadesan set up other shell companies and trusts in secrecy jurisdictions, and he used them to obtain lucrative consulting contracts from foreign companies doing business with the Sri Lankan Government and to buy artwork,” the leaked papers claimed. Speaking further, the JVP Leader alleged, “The deed of the controversial house in Malwana which is said to be owned by Basil Rajapaksa belongs to Thirukumar Nadesan. After the Presidential Election in 2015, UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe went to then President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s house with Thirukumar Nadesan for a transition of power. Nirupama Rajapaksa is not a stranger to the corrupt ring of thieves who are in power now.
We have suspicions that those thieves are also a part of this Pandora Papers revelation.” Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa said the onus is on the Government to expose all those alleged to have squandered the country’s wealth as revealed to the world by the Pandora Papers.
He said as divulged in the Papers, the Sri Lankans alleged to have pilfered the country’s monies for their personal gain should be exposed despite their political clout. Premadasa also challenged the Government to reveal to the country as to how much precisely had been pilfered by the Sri Lankans named in the Pandora Papers and in which countries the monies had been deposited.
He emphasised that the Government should appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee to probe the matter. State Minister Shehan Semasinghe, in Parliament, said the Opposition is trying to re-launch mudslinging campaigns against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa, like they did before 2015, using Pandora Papers revelations.
Speaking after SJB MP Thushara Indunil, who raised question on Pandora Papers, which mentioned a relative of the President and PM, Nirupama Rajapaksa, and requested the Government to launch a probe, the State Minister charged that the Opposition MPs are lacking in literacy skills. “Thushara Indunil is speaking about Thirukumar Nadesan.
But isn’t he aware of who depended on Vidya Amarapala back then? Aren’t you aware of Panama Papers revelations? Who depended on money mentioned on Panama Papers? 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 years,” Semasinghe stressed.