China-related investigation underway: Sri Lanka PM

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s police are investigating nearly 1.4 billion rupees paid to former president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s re-election campaign, including payments from the China Harbour Engineering Company, the Prime Minister said Monday.

Ranil Wickremesinghe told legislators from his United National Party (UNP) that 82 cheques amounting to some 1,398 million rupees had been drawn out in the names of officials of the Presidential Secretariat in the five week period leading to Rajapaksa’s defeat in January 2015.

“Cheques issued by China Harbour Engineering Company are also included in this,” the Prime Minister said. His remarks came 11 days after CHEC denied it had funded Rajapaksa’s failed re-election bid.

“The speculation by an international media organization that CHEC funded former President’s 2015 Presidential Election campaign is completely inconsistent with the facts,” it said in a statement on July 5.

Since then, there had been media reports that an investigation had stalled even as the new government began doing business with Chinese state-owned companies which were earlier accused of financing Rajapaksa and his family members.

After the CHEC denial, reports surfaced of a payment of some 19.4 million rupees to Rajapaksa’s sister-in-law Pushpa Rajapaksa’s charity in 2012. The Chinese joint venture Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT) said the money was to build houses for the poor, but it did not monitor where the money was actually spent.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said he held talks with Inspector General Pujith Jayasundara and the Attorney General Monday to discuss the status of the investigations and was assured that they were continuing.

He said the police had sent a case file to Additional Solicitor General Yasantha Kodagoda.

However, official sources close to the investigations have said that several high-profile China-related investigations remain in limbo.

The Rajapaksa funding inquiry began after unusual payments were made from a Standard Chartered Bank account of China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) just before the January 2015 election.





The investigators linked large payments from a SCB branch account of the Chinese firm to Rajapaksa loyalists involved in the election campaign, including a Buddhist monk from Colombo 7.

The case was brought back into focus last month after the New York Times newspaper repeated some of the findings of the police Criminal Investigation Department and the Central Bank’s FIU.

President Rajapaksa has denied he received any funding from China for the failed re-election bid while CHEC addressed a few hand-picked reporters on June 5 to respond to the NYT allegations, but stopped short of an outright denial.

The Chinese embassy, which also addressed the selected journalists, denied any wrong doing by their companies and blamed Western media for trying to tarnish their image.

"The speculation by an international media organization that CHEC funded former President’s 2015 Presidential election campaign is completely inconsistent with the facts," CHEC said in a statement, without spelling out the "facts".

"CHEC has never been involved in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka," the statement added, but did not respond to specific allegations of payments from an SCB account identified as "HPDP Phase 2," a/c 02 013359190/19 belonging to CHEC. (COLOMBO, July 16, 2016)

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