Sri Lanka’s ‘Avant Garde’ arms scandal takes another twist

ECONOMYNEXT – The Avant Garde floating armoury controversy has taken a new turn with a foreign-owned pistol going missing and the private security company blaming the defence ministry for the loss.

President Sirisena ordered last week that weapons aboard two floating armouries now anchored at the Galle harbour be taken over by the navy along with the sea marshal operation carried out by Avant Garde for the past three years.

It was an operation previously carried out by the navy that was subsequently handed over to Avant Garde through a defence ministry-established private security arm known as Rakna Araksha Lanka Limited (RALL).

A representative of another maritime security company, Emergency Maneuvering Lanka Pvt. Ltd. (EML), complained to police last evening that a pistol belonging to a foreign company had gone missing.

EML had said the weapon had been placed in a safe locker aboard the Avant Garde operated MV Mahanuwara that is anchored at Galle. Avant Garde had also made a complaint that the Mahanuwara armoury had been opened without their presence.

Avant Garde has also written to the Secretary, ministry of defence, complaining that EML had been allowed to open a safe deposit box without an Avant Garde representative present.

Police are to launch yet another investigation into the missing pistol while the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) is conducting a separate investigation into the 59 tampered weapons found aboard on MV Avant Garde.

"In this case, we will look into the question of this pistol going missing, but we have also heard that many more weapons are missing from Avant Garde armouries and that information came out following a weapons audit by the navy before the president ordered the take over,”  a senior police source said.

The vessel Avant Garde and sharing the  same name of the company was seized by the navy on October 5 outside the Galle harbour following several discrepancies about the lethal cargo, the crew and their route and final destination.

Former Law and Order minister Tilak Marapana who defended Avant Garde and eventually resigned after allegations of conflict of interest, had claimed ignorance of weapons whose serial numbers had been erased or changed.

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There had been media reports that the defence ministry in October this year through RALL had entered into a memorandum of understanding with Avant Garde to provide maritime security services and transport weapons by air and sea to extend their services to the Straits of Malacca.

The defence ministry is yet to comment on the reports which suggest that despite several on-going investigations into gun running, money laundering, bribery and corruption, the ministry, headed by President Sirisena, thought it fit to do business with Avant Garde. (Colombo/November 18 2015)

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