Moscow embassy held Rs20mn Ritz party for SriLankan Airlines: commission proceedings

ECONOMYNEXT  – Sri Lanka’s Embassy in Russia had spent 184,000 US dollars on a party to celebrate the launch of the SriLankan Airlines Colombo-Moscow flight in 2011, and requested the airline to foot the bill, a presidential commission of inquiry heard.

Senior Manager Revenue Accounting Upekha Abeysekera testifying at a Presidential Commission of Inquiry into irregularities at SriLankan Airlines said 100,000 dollars had been spent on the Ritz Carlton in Moscow, 34,000 US dollars on ground handling charges for VVIP movements, and 50,000 US dollars for hosting travel agents.

The payment vouchers had not included any details, and the airline cannot confirm whether these charges were incurred fully, Abeysekera said.

She said she cannot confirm whether any VVIP attended, and the VVIP term is only reserved for the country’s president.

The embassy had sought re-imbursement for 184,000 US dollars (20.2 million rupees under then prevailing rate of 109.9 dollar/rupee) from the SriLankan Airlines head office.

Abeysekera said that the SriLankan head office did not raise any concerns with then Russia Country Manager, who was responsible for verifying if the payments were genuine.

She said she was not aware of the issue being taken up to the senior management team which comprises of the Chairman and chief executive.

“But no action would have been taken. Most probably would have been justified,” Abeysekera said.

She said an internal audit had not taken place for Russia, and she does not think the external auditor examined Russia either.

The embassy had expected to spend 200,000 US dollars, she said. The Russian Ambassador then had been Udayanga Weeratunga.

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Last week, the commission heard that Weeratunga had influenced the appointment of the Russian general sales agent for the airline.

Commissioner Anil Gunaratne observed that the party would have been a grand event with over 2,000 attendees, if 184,000 US dollars were spent on it.

The witness was asked if similar events were held in other destinations when flights were inaugurated, and she said that usually a ceremony is held, with Sri Lankan celebrities attending such an event.

However, she said that she does not have an idea about the expenses usually incurred in holding such an event.

She said when foreign airlines hold such celebrations in Sri Lanka, they do not celebrate at a scale which appears to have been done in Russia by SriLankan. (COLOMBO, 30 August, 2018)

 

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