Sri Lanka ex-president denies taking Chinese cash for campaign
ECONOMYNEXT – Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa Sunday denied allegations that a Chinese company had paid $7.6 million for his failed re-election bid in 2015 and defended his decision to build a port at Hambantota.
“No contribution was made by China Harbour Co to my 2015 presidential election campaign,” he said in a statement responding to a New York Times report last week.
“While claiming that my ‘affiliates’ and ‘campaign aides’ had got the money and that ‘volunteers’ had delivered the cheques to Temple Trees, the writer…has been intentionally vague about who had given this money and who had received it.
“This seems to be a way of carrying out a smear campaign without incurring any liability.”
He questioned the new government of President Maithripala Sirisena why it had restored the Colombo Financial City project to China Habour if it had made contributions to his re-election bid.
“If any election campaign contributions had been made to me by China Harbour Co, the Port City contract would not have been restored to them and neither would they have been allowed to bid for the lease of the Hambantota harbour,” the statement said.
Deputy Minister of Social Empowerment Ranjan Ramanayake lodged a complaint with the Financial Crimes Investigation Division on Friday after the New York newspaper said that the China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) paid the money days before the January 2015 election.
The amount of money allegedly pumped into the Rajapaksa campaign was considerably less than the 24 million dollars thought to have been paid following preliminary investigations by the police two years ago. The NYT put the figure at 7.6 million dollars.
Official sources said it was the Central Bank’s Financial Intelligence Unit which initially raised the alarm and flagged their concerns about CHEC payments in 2015.
Government spokesman and Health minister Rajith Senaratne said the New York Times had helped revive the investigation. He said denials issued by Rajapaksa loyalists to the local media were insufficient and wanted them to respond directly to the foreign newspaper.
In its report, the NYT said it had seen documents from an internal governmental investigation the details of payments and verified them through intelligence sources as well as questioning people to whom some of the cheques had been made.
“With 10 days to go before polls opened, around $3.7 million was distributed in checks: $678,000 to print campaign T-shirts and other promotional material and $297,000 to buy supporters gifts, including women’s saris.
“Another $38,000 was paid to a popular Buddhist monk who was supporting Mr. Rajapaksa’s electoral bid, while two checks totalling $1.7 million were delivered by volunteers to Temple Trees, his official residence,” the NYT said in the report published on its print edition on June 26.
Most of the payments were from a subaccount controlled by China Harbour, named “HPDP Phase 2,” shorthand for Hambantota Port Development Project. The bank account number had been given as 02 013359190/19 in previous Sri Lankan media reports.
There was no immediate comment from the company, but the Chinese embassy in a statement on Saturday evening said the foreign news report was “full of political prejudice and completely inconsistent with the fact.” (COLOMBO, July 1, 2018)