An Echelon Media Company
Tuesday December 5th, 2023

Sri Lanka buries China-related corruption probes?

ECONOMYNEXT – Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has publicly called for a fresh probe into alleged foreign funding of former president’s re-election bid, but several other high-profile China-related investigations remain in limbo.

At least three mega corruption cases involving Chinese state-owned firms have either been moth-balled or deliberately put on hold, according to officials familiar with the cases. These graft cases are in addition to the alleged campaign funding by the Chinese.

In July 2015, both the police and the Central Bank’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) investigated ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa allegedly receiving billions of rupees in funding for his 2015 election campaign, but the investigation stalled due to political pressure.

The investigations 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 Thursday to respond to the NYT allegations, but stopped short of an outright denial.

The Chinese embassy, which also addressed the selected journalists on Thursday, 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.

Shocking Interference

The alarm was raised by the SCB in the last days of the Rajapaksa regime, but official sources suggested that, even under the new administration, there have been attempts to stifle the investigation into CHEC payments as well as other China-related corruption cases.

The momentum of these investigations slowed down dramatically as the new government also began doing business with Chinese entities.

Sources close to the investigations said three other cases — Nilwala river development ($690 million), purchase of two MA 60 aircraft ($41 million) and the purchase of two ships ($71 million) — appear to be on hold.

In the Nilwala case, nearly $30 million was paid to a Chinese company  even before any work could commence and the official who authorized the payment is now reportedly living in New Zealand. The project never took off. A further $3.6 million had been paid to a politically influential local with links to both the SLFP and the UNP.

After extensive work on the three cases, it is understood that on or around November last year, the cases were taken away from the specialized arms of the police. It is not immediately clear who is investigating them or if any an inquiry is still on under any other branch of the police.

There are unconfirmed reports that the former central bank governor Arjuna Mahendra too may have played a role in slowing the investigations in the early days of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government.

The Sunday Observer newspaper in 2016 alleged that the amount of suspicious payments made by the Chinese firms under investigation was 3,110 million rupees (about $24 million), which is three times more than the $7.6 million alleged in the NYT report.

Government spokesman and Health Minister Rajith Senaratne is on record thanking the New York Times for helping to revive the investigation.

The NYT said with 10 days to go before polls opened in January 2015, around $3.7 million was distributed in cheques: $678,000 to print campaign T-shirts and other promotional material and $297,000 to buy supporters gifts, including  saris.

Another $38,000 was paid to a Buddhist monk from Colombo 7 who was supporting  Rajapaksa’s electoral bid, while two cheques totaling $1.7 million were delivered by loyalists  to Temple Trees. (COLOMBO, July 7, 2018)

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Sri Lanka stocks close up as some investor interest returns

ECONOMYNEXT – The Colombo Stock Exchange closed up on Monday, CSE data showed.

The All Share Price Index was up 0.22 percent, or 23.33 points, at 10,743.59.

The S&P SL20 index was up 0.68 percent, or 20.60 points, at 3,067.73.

Turnover was at 708 million. The banks sector contributed 189 million, while the food, beverage and tobacco sector contributed 176 million of this.

Sri Lanka’s stock market has seen some investor interest return after last week’s news that the country had managed an agreement on a debt restructuring deal with an official creditor committee, and foreign funds for some development projects resumed.

Top positive contributors to the ASPI in the day were Sampath Bank Plc (up at 71.50), LOLC Holdings Plc (up at 379.00), and Commercial Bank of Ceylon Plc, (up at 90.90).

There was a net foreign outflow of 52 million.

Citrus Leisure Plc, which announced that its banquet hall and revolving restaurant at the Lotus Tower would launch on or around Dec 9, saw its share price rise to 6.20 rupees. (Colombo/Dec4/2023).

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Sri Lanka rupee closes broadly steady at 328.10/30 to the US dollar

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s rupee closed at 328.10/30 to the US dollar on Monday, from 328.00/10 on Friday, dealers said.

Bond yields were stable.

A bond maturing on 01.06.2025 closed at 13.70/14.00 percent from 13.70/95 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.08.2026 closed at 13.90/14.10 percent from 13.90/14.05 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.01.2027 closed at 14.00/14.10 percent from 14.05/10 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.07.2028 closed at 14.20/35 percent from 14.15/25 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2030 closed at 14.25/45 percent, from 14.20/45 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.07.2032 closed at 14.05/40 percent, from 14.00/45 percent. (Colombo/Dec4/2023)

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Gov minister highlights abortion rights, sex-ed for children, and Sri Lanka men killing their women

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s legislators have politicized the topics of rape and violence without addressing the elephant in the room, Jeevan Thondaman, Minister of Water Supply and Estate Infrastructure Development said in parliament on Monday (4).

“All the members here are talking about rape. What happens after that? We must talk about abortion rights. That is not something anyone wants to touch on, and that is why we are in this place right now,” Thondaman said.

“Despite alarming statistics on rape and violence, women are often blamed and punished for it. The criminalisation of abortion is a major example of this.”

Sri Lanka has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. According to a 2016 estimate by the Health Ministry, he said, approximately 658 abortions take place a day, and close to 250,000 a year.

“That’s 250,000 women whose lives you are endangering.”

He added that what was needed at this point in time was comprehensive sexual education (CSE) for children and young people.

“Only through CSE in schools will children and young people develop, accurate, age appropriate knowledge attitude and skills; positive values such as respect for human rights, gender equality, diversity and attitude and skills that contribute to a safe, healthy and positive relationship.”

Thondaman pointed out that CSE plays a pivotal role in preparing young people for a world where HIV, AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, unintended pregnancies, and sexual and gender based violence still pose a risk to their well-being.

“CSE basically empowers children take control and make informed decisions freely and responsibly.”

Thondaman also highlighted the findings of a 2021 study (Fatalities_20211109_UNFPA) by the UNFPA and the University of Kelaniya that showed that a majority of women killed in Sri Lanka were murdered by those close to them.

“62 percent of homicides of Sri Lankan women are committed by either an intimate partner, ex-partner or family member. 84 percent are killed in their own homes by someone they know.”

Police and the judiciary have failed Sri Lanka’s women, the minister pointed out.

“Only 5 percent of these cases, between 2013-2017, were ever concluded. Men claim they were provoked, or are of unsound mind or have mental illness: These have been successful defenses. And the Police often express sympathy to this narrative as opposed to the victim’s.”

“We have a history of protecting oppressors.”

It takes 7-10 years for a child rape case to conclude, he pointed out.

Establishment of child courts are needed, he said, as well as several legislative amendments. “The government is working on a new law to reform the domestic violence act, reform of marriage and divorce laws to ensure there is an easier path to divorce: no one should be forced to remain in a marriage that is either abusive or not healthy.” (Colombo/Dec4/2023)

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