ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s main opposition the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) has challenged the impartiality of a probe ordered by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Sri Lankans named in the Pandora papers.
SJB MP Mujibur Rahman told reporters on Thursday (07) that the 20th amendment to Sri Lanka’s constitution has effectively politicised the “independent” Bribery Commission and that this raises questions about its fairness when investigating a close relative of the president.
“We know by bringing the 20th amendment, the president [essentially] took the powers that had been vested in the bribery commission.
“The president is asking the commission to investigate a relative of his. Will such inquiry be fair?” said Rahuman.
Provisions in the 20th amendment allow the president to appoint members to the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC). The president may also disregard the advice and observations of the newly created parliamentary council that replaced the previous constitutional council.
President Rajapksa on Wednesday (06) instructed the CIABOC Director General to immediately investigate the Sri Lankans named in the Pandora papers and submit a report within a month.
Former Sri Lanka Human Rights Commissioner Ambika Satkunanathan on Wednesday questioned the wording of the president’s statement, tweeting that the use of ‘instructed’ raises questions about the bribery commission’s purported independence.
Your Excellency, if the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery & Corruption is an independent Commission, you should not issue instructions to it.
By issuing instructions, you are illustrating this Commission & other Commissions aren’t independent as claimed. https://t.co/r7xXxAD0jq
— Ambika Satkunanathan (@ambikasat) October 6, 2021
The Pandora papers have exposed the secret offshore affairs of 35 world leaders, including current and former presidents, prime ministers and heads of state. The investigation, carried out by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), reveals 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, former deputy minister Niruapama Rajapaksa and her husband Thiru Nadesan, are closely related to President Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and are known, though low-profile, members of the ruling family.
Meanwhile, the SJB parliamentary group has requested the Bribery Commission to investigate any politicians, government officials, and businessmen who might have enabled the acquisition of wealth mentioned in the ICIJ investigation, Sri Lanka’s privately owned NewsFirst network reported on Thursday.
NewsFirst also reported that the MPs have conveyed to the CIABOC that any information on the time period in which said wealth was acquired and details on any tax evasion or money laundering allegations must be publicised.
SJB MP Ashok Abeysinghe speaking to reporters outside the CIABOC premises expressed his suspicion that the recently introduced finance bill was an attempt to launder the ill-gotten wealth of politicians, including the money referred to in the Pandora papers.
His colleague Harshana Rajakaruna said: “What puzzles us is, whose money is this? Clearly, it is money earned by other people that have gone through these individuals.”
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.”
The Pandora revelations have stirred much controversy in Sri Lanka.
Government MPs have claimed that the expose doesn’t implicate the current administration in any way.
State Minister Shehan Semasinghe told parliament on Tuesday (05) 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.
Noting that the funds referred to in the Pandora papers cover a period between 1990 and 2000, 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.
Nadesan himself as asked for an impartial inquiry.
“It is commonly believed that all persons whose names have been [divulged in the Pandora papers] are in some way guilty of wrongdoing.
“I assure Your Excellency that my wife and I are totally innocent and are guilty of no wrongdoings,” Nadesan said in a letter addressed to the president and copied to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on Wednesday (06),” he said writing to President Rajapaksa on Wednesday.
The SJB also filed a Right to Information (RTI) application on Thursday requesting the elections commission to disclose details on the asset declarations of former MP Nirupama Rajapaksa between the years 1994-2015 in light of the release of the Pandora papers.
The @sjbsrilanka today filed an RTI application requesting the elections commission to disclose details on the asset declarations of former MP Nirupama Rajapaksa between the years 1994-2015, in light of the release of the Pandora papers and former MP being named therein. pic.twitter.com/D7er30BBlL
— Rehaan Jayawickreme(RJ)රෙහාන් ජයවික්රම (@RehanJayawick) October 7, 2021