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Thursday December 2nd, 2021

Govt and opp MPs trade charges in Sri Lanka parliament over Pandora papers exposé

The sun sets over the Parliament at Shri Jayewardenepura

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka must investigate individuals implicated in the controversial Pandora Papers exposé to save those in government the embarrassment of being linked to them, opposition MP Thushara Indunil Amarasena said.

“One of our own girls, Yohani, went international with her music over the last few weeks. As Sri Lankans, we were all very proud. By yesterday, another lady from Sri Lanka had gone international,” Amarasena told parliament on Tuesday (05).

The MP said among the names mentioned in the Pandora papers were former deputy minister Nirupama Rajapaksa and her husband Thiru Nadesan.

The sums mentioned by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) amounted to over 168 million US dollars, said Amarasena.

“That’s 35 billion rupees,” the MP said amid heckles from backbencher MPs from the government side.

“If this family spent 10 million rupees a month, that’s still enough money for 250 years or five generations.

“They can buy pani kaju (a local dessert) and pudding for their dogs, ice cream for their neighbour’s dog, and omelettes for their cat. If they spent 100,000 rupees a day, that’s enough for 900 years or 18 generations,” he said, as government MPs shouted in protest.

The Pandora papers expose the secret offshore affairs of 35 world leaders, including current and former presidents, prime ministers and heads of state. They also shine a light on the secret finances of more than 300 other public officials such as government ministers, judges, mayors and military generals in more than 90 countries.

The Sri Lankan names mentioned in the ICIJ findings are related to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and their powerful family.

The ICIJ report said: “In confidential emails to Asiaciti Trust, a Singapore-based offshore services provider, a longtime adviser of Nadesan’s put his overall wealth, as of 2011, at more than $160 million. ICIJ couldn’t independently verify the figure.”

Related: Members of Sri Lanka president, PM ruling family in Pandora papers

“The name Rajapaksa is mentioned. We’re embarrassed as Sri Lankans when something like this happens,”  said Amarasena.

“When you probe deeper, there is also mention of a land in Malwana with no apparent ownership,” he added.

The MP said that the public cannot be faulted for drawing a connection between the names mentioned in the Pandora papers and the ruling Rajapaksa family.

“This is an embarrassment to [the president and the prime minister]. To save [those in government] the embarrassment, we say investigate this,” he said.

Responding to Amarasena’s remarks, State Minister Shehan Semasinghe claimed that any allegations the opposition levels at the Rajapaksa family must be levelled at the opposition itself, and as well as a number of former presidents.

A visibly annoyed Semasinghe said MP Amarasena was unable to comprehend the contents of the ICIJ report.

Semasinghe likened the SJB’s allegations to what he called a propaganda campaign directed at the Rajapaksa camp in 2015, which resulted in then President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s surprising defeat at the presidential polls.

“None of these allegations can be proven,” the MP said.

“It is unfortunate that the house is being used to make such baseless claims,” he added.

Semasinghe also challenged Amarasena on whether he knew who was really implicated in the Panama papers in 2016, a similar exposé also by the ICIJ.

“Does Thushara Indunil know who benefitted from Vidya Amarapala?” he said.

Amarapala, then consultant to the Megapolis and Western Development Ministry held at the time by now SJB MP Patali Champika Ranawaka, resigned in April 2016 in the wake of the Panama papers controversy after local media reported that his name was mentioned in a 2013 offshore account holders’ list.

Semasinghe went on to claim that the funds referred to in the Pandora papers cover a period between 1990 and 2000. A book written by former United National Party (UNP) heavyweight Tiron Fernando, Through Winds of Fire, Semasinghe claimed, mentions that former president J R Jayawardena pressured outgoing president D B Wijetunga in 1994 to appoint Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga as prime minister after the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)-led coalitions historic election victory. Jayawardena had allegedly asked Wijetunga to overlook former prime minister and SLFP leader Sirimavo Bandaranaike, fearing a possible loss of his civic rights the way Bandaranaike lost hers in the 1980s.

“If such money was made between 1990 and 2000, who would’ve supported it” said Semasinghe.

“I advise those who make this allegation against the Rajapaksas to level them against [opposition and SJB leader Sajith Premadasa]. He should know what deals his father would’ve had. [Former president Kumaratunga] would also know [of deals with the parties mentioned in the Pandora papers]. Jayawardene might know, as might Wijetunga,” he said.

However, the government will investigate the matter, said Semasinghe, but warned that it will end up making the SJB look bad.

“Remember that any revelations will only be an embarrassment to [your party],” he said. (Colombo/Oct05/2021)


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