Sri Lanka Rajapaksa relative set for trial over money laundering in US
ECONOMYNEXT – Former ambassador to Washington Jaliya Wickramasuriya, a close relative of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, pleaded not guilty this week to charges of money laundering and other frauds.
Legal and diplomatic sources said Wickramasuriya’s trial date in the Washington District court coincided with a high profile case involving a former campaign adviser to President Donald Trump. Hence, the former ambassador’s case was pushed back.
Former Trump advisor Roger Stone was in court charged with seven counts by special counsel Robert Mueller, including witness tampering and lying to Congress.
The five charges against Wickramasuriya were read out in court, after which he pleaded not guilty and set in motion the process of a trial, officials said, adding that a date was yet to be fixed for the start of the hearing.
He is accused of embezzling 332,027.35 dollars from the Government of Sri Lanka and the subsequent reimbursment through illegal channels after his initial fraud was discovered.
According to US court documents, the first two counts of wire fraud against Wickramasuriya relate to two wire transfers of quarter of a million dollars each on January 17, 2013 and March 20, 2013. These two actions are also listed under money laundering charges. The fifth count involves making a false immigration declaration.
His case 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 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 Lanka Supreme Court ruled that Sirisena had violated the constitution and restored parliament. Eventually, Sirisena was forced to reinstate Wickremesinghe 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 in Sri Lanka, 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.
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.
Wickramasuriya has now set a record to become the first head of a Sri Lankan mission to be prosecuted in the US to which he was posted. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in jail and lose all his assets. (COLOMBO, February 2, 2019 – SB)