AG must file action against SriLankan airlines bribe-takers – Eran

ECONOMYNEXT – UNP Parliamentarian Eran Wickremeratne is demanding that the Attorney General file action against those persons who took bribes to buy aircraft from Airbus for SriLankan Airlines and also that the aircraft manufacturer return a US dollar 98Mn fee which was levied when the national carrier cancelled lease agreements.

Court documents in the UK revealed that the bribes were paid to the wife of a SriLankan Airlines executive. The AG named them as the former CEO of SriLankan Kapila Chandraratne and his wife Priyanka Wijenaike. The couple surrendered to the CID Thursday morning after the AG ordered police to obtain arrest warrants.

Addressing a press conference at the Opposition Leader’s office Thursday, Wickremeratne also said that he was not surprised when the news broke about the payment of bribes to Sri Lankan officials for the purchase of the aircraft.

He recalled that in 2016 he had pointed out that SriLankan had bought A350-900 long-haul aircraft which could fly for 17 hours non-stop when the airline did not have a single route that required such aircraft.

“The longest flight operated by SriLankan is to London which is 10 hours and these aircraft were deployed to fly to India, Dubai and Singapore which have flying times of two to four hours,” he said.

“We were suspicious of the deal because of this fact,” he said.

Wicremaratne said the deal hurt SriLankan airlines and when it was decided to cancel the lease agreements for the A350-900s the airline had to pay US dollars 98Mn as a cancellation fee.

CEO and wife could not have been the only beneficiaries

Wickremeratne also said that this couple “could not have been the only beneficiaries of the bribe which is US dollar 16.84 million. Individuals cannot hide that kind of money,” he added. “There must be people around them who also benefited.”

The court documents showed that the SriLankan “agent” had been offered 16.84 Mn US dollars but investigators had only traced a payment of US dollars 2Mn.

The MP who was briefly the Minister in charge of the airline during the previous administration said that “there is a practice in Sri Lanka of politicians appointing henchmen and close relatives to government bodies so that they can defraud those organizations.”

He said a person appointed to the post of CEO of an airline should have either technical knowledge of the industry or have knowledge and experience of financial management. He added that Chandraratne had neither.

He pointed out that Chandraratne was re-appointed as CEO SriLankan in October 2018 when President Maithripala Sirisena removed Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister and appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa.

“At that time Chandraratne had to step down because of objections from within the government,” Wickremeratne said.

He also went on to say that the Chairman of SriLankan was “also a close relative of the Rajapaksa family.” (Colombo February 06, 2020)