COLOMBO (EconomyNext) – Sri Lankan airline chairman Nishantha Wickramasinghe’s penchant for young stewardesses is well documented, but his tastes in wine and anything duty free has left a legacy of losses and reputational damage for the national carrier.
The latest investigation into the conduct of Sri Lankan airlines during the former regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the brother-in-law of Chairman Wickramasinghe, has exposed personal corruption that warrants criminal charges.
Wickramasinghe arbitrarily kicked aside an international tender for the supply of wine, including champagne, served aboard aircraft and awarded the contract to a company known as Phoenix Rising Ventures Limited.
"Sri Lankan Airlines has made a conscious decision to overlook the other bidders and award the contract (for wine and champagne) to M/S Phoenix, a supplier who did not even bid for the tender.
"This is clearly evident with the board papers submitted and the fact that Sri Lankan Airlines only arranged for tasting of M/S Phoenix’s wines and champagne." said the Weliamuna report.
Seventeen suppliers short listed for the contract and who held a wine-tasting function had been abruptly told that the tender was cancelled long after the contract had been awarded to Phoenix.
This means international suppliers were made to believe that the tender process was still underway, but in fact it had long been decided to award the contract to Canada-registered Phoenix headed by Raju Chandiram, the ex-husband of Otara Chandiram, formerly of Odel.
Some of those who tendered, were clearly unhappy that they were kept hanging for a long period while Sri Lankan had other intentions of giving the contract to Phoenix.
"So that I stop wasting, first my time and then yours, just let me know if ONE day I will be receiving updates from your side or if this is just a big joke," a company which made a bid wrote after failing to find out what was happening with the wine tender.
"Please make sure that I will post on every website I can, not to tender for your airline company and to never trust any of you. All this will get back to you one day, make sure of that."
Indeed it has. Some of the top executive could be arrested no sooner a police investigation is started.
What was more shocking was that the wine tasting to pick wines was carried out by Chandiram himself and cronies chosen by him.
The Weliamuna report concluded that former chairman Wickramasinghe, Chief Executive Officer Kapila Chandrasena, Head of Finance Yasantha Dissanayake and former chief commercial officer Jaya Seelan caused massive losses to the airline in awarding the wine and duty free contracts.
The BoI observes that Sri Lankan Airlines overlooking 46 bidders and selecting M/S Phoenix has made a mockery of the Tender/Procurement Procures laid down by SLA.
"Furthermore, such blatant disregard exemplifies the management attitude and trend that existed at Sri Lankan airlines under the control of former chairman Wickramasinghe and former CEO Chandrasena."
Phoenix had also been awarded the exclusive rights to carry out duty free sales aboard Sri Lankan flights causing huge losses to Sri Lankan airlines. A sum of $865,398 due to Sri Lankan airlines from Chandiram’s Phoenix for the financial year 2012/2013 had been written off by Chandrasena, Dissanayake and JayaSeelan.
The investigation concluded that SriLankan’s generosity, despite accumulated losses of over 110 billion rupees, could be the result of corruption that should lead to criminal prosecution of all those involved.
The report did not blame Phoenix, but said the manner in which it had been awarded two contracts, one for duty free sales and the other for wine and champagne — smacked of corruption.
It is interesting to note that former Chairman Wickramasinghe was known to possess at least one Rolex wristwatch which was valued at four million rupees according to a statement he himself gave police when his house was burgled a few years ago.
SriLankan sources said Wickramasinghe had been generous gifting valuable ornaments and perfumes to stewardesses.