ECONOMYNEXT - Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake resigned today bowing to mounting public opinion after he was linked to controversial bond trader Arjuna Aloysius who is under investigation for fraud.
In a hard-hitting speech in parliament, Karunanayake said he was stepping down to ensure opponents were not able to use the bond controversy to destabilise the government, and raised doubts about the impartiality of the Attorney General’s department.
Karunanayake quit the cabinet amid questioning over his connection to Aloysius who is at the centre of a multi-billion-rupee scandal at Sri Lanka's Central Bank.
"I am not guilty of any of the allegations, but I am resigning from my portfolio to ensure that opponents are not able to destabilise our unity government," Karunanayake said. "I will be a backbencher in parliament."
During the questioning, Karunanayake admitted that he knew Aloysius and his company had fronted a lease of an apartment at the Monarch building for the minister's family, which reimbursed the payments.
The minister was given a tough time by lawyers of the Attorney General's department, including Additional Solicitor General Dappula de Livera who had to be restrained by one of the judges.
A government legislator told parliament that they have now uncovered evidence that de Livera had been paid by a special unit under former governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal between 2007 and 2009, and drew 45,000 rupees a month on top of his salary at the AG's department.
The government legislator suggested that de Livera was going out of his way because of his alleged links to the former administration.
Both the government and the opposition JVP questioned the efficiency of the AG's department, which was in sharp contrast to the lacklustre progress in cases relating to members of the former regime.
Karunanayake himself congratulated the AG's department for analysing 8,803 pages of phone records in a record 48 hours and pursuing the bond investigation.
However, he noted that 87 files sent by the police Financial Crimes Investigations Department (FCID) to the AG was languishing for over two years without being touched.
JVP's Sunil Handunetti said he welcomed Karunanayake's resignation, but said it should not be considered the end of the bond investigation. "This is like uncovering a rape while investigating a murder," Handunetti said. "You must get at those who are really behind the bond scam."
Karunanayake gave evidence before an investigation ordered by President Maithripala Sirisena into then-Central Bank governor Arjuna Mahendran, who was sacked last year. Questioning focused on Karunanayake's lease of an apartment.
The government legislator also accused in parliament that the AG’s department had coached a witness for three days to testify at the Presidential Commission of Inquiry against Karunanayake.
At the inquiry proceedings last week, Karunanayake, who is also the deputy leader of the ruling United National Party (UNP), admitted his family had dealings with Aloysius, but he had no business transactions with them.
Karunanayake, who was finance minister when the scandal broke, was given the foreign ministry in a cabinet reshuffle in May.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said the decision of the foreign minister reflected well on his government, which came to power promising to tackle corruption.
"Today, the minister has shown that this government will not interfere in the investigations," Wickremesinghe said. "Even when he is not guilty, he has shown he is stepping down as a matter of principle."
Opposition leader R Sampanthan applauded Karunanayake for quitting, but noted that he was entitled to the presumption of innocence. The opposition leader's remarks drew angry protests from members of the Joint Opposition loyal to former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. (COLOMBO, Aug 10, 2017)