Sri Lanka ex-envoy to face first court hearing in US

ECONOMYNEXT – Former ambassador to Washington Jaliya Wickramasuriya is likely to be brought before a judge this week making him the first Sri Lankan diplomat to be tried in the United States for criminal activities while serving his country.

Jaliya Wickramasuriya, a close relative of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, is most likely to be a arraigned on Tuesday or thereabouts in Washington ending a lengthy and a thorough investigation by the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigations), diplomatic sources said.

His trial was hastened by the October 26 coup when Rajapaksa was installed as Prime Minister by President Maithripala Sirisena.

The US justice authorities had feared a change of government in Colombo and a Rajapaksa return to power would see Wickramasuriya being granted fresh diplomatic status.

As part of the coup in Colombo, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was summarily sacked and eventually parliament too was dissolved.

However, the Sri Lankan Supreme Court ruled that Sirisena had violated the constitution and restored parliament. Eventually, Sirisena was forced to reinstate Wickremesinghe too after the Court of Appeal suspended Rajapaksa.

Wickramasuriya had filed a case in the Court of Appeal against the Sri Lankan government for withdrawing his diplomatic immunity in October last year, but lost it and appealed to the Supreme Court.

Days after he lost the Court of Appeal case, US authorities filed an indictment against Wickramasuriya before a grand jury on May 1.

Whatever the outcome of his Supreme Court appeal, US authorities have found an immigration form he filled on March 25, 2014 waiving his “rights, privileges, exemptions and immunity.” He signed what is known as the I-508 form when he sought permanent residence in the US.

“The question of he has immunity or not is no longer relevant because he has already waived his rights at the time he sought adjustment of his visa status to permanent residency,” an official source said.

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Wickramasuriya jumped bail in 2017 and fled to the United States to avoid prosecution by the Financial Crimes Investigation Department (FCID). However, he may have delivered himself to the US authorities who had been tracking his illegal financial transactions for many years.

With the US authorities officially announcing details of the May 1 indictment on December 20, it is expected that Sri Lanka’s former ambassador Wickramasuriya will set a record to become the first head of a Sri Lankan mission to be prosecuted in the country to which he was posted.

Officials here expected Wickramasuriya to cooperate with the US authorities in exchange for a lenient punishment. He could face up to 20 years in jail and lose all his assets if found guilty of money laundering charges against him.

He has been accused of embezzlement of $320,000  from the government of Sri Lanka in addition to several counts of money laundering, wire fraud and immigration violations. (COLOMBO, January 26, 2018)

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