Revelations about MR’s Chief of Staff Gamini Senarath

*Enacting Rohini Hathurusinghe episode II
* Ceylon Chamber of Commerce voices concerns about economy



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Key witness Dissanayake Mudiyanselage Sarath Dissanayake (in the middle in a blue T-shirt) outside the Human Rights Commission in the company of (from left to right) lawyers Udul Premaratne and Namal Rajapaksa and Ven. Sumangala and Ranjith Keerthi Tennakoon of the Anti-Corruption Front.


Gamini Senarath, former Chief of Staff to Mahinda Rajapaksa


Last week sensational revelations about the doings of Gamini Senarath, the chief of staff to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa were made by one Dissanayake Mudiyanselage Sarath Dissanayake who claimed to have been a driver working for both Gamini Senarath as well as a businessman by the name of Rohan Lokumudalige. Sarath Dissanayake described Rohan Lokumudali as the person who does all the crooked deals (hora weda) for Gamini Senarath. According to Dissanayake, during the last presidential elections, Gamini Senarath had given the cheques received as campaign contributions to Rohan Lokumudali and it was the latter who in turn gave the cheques to him (Dissanayake) to cash. Between December and 7 January 2015 – a period of about five weeks – Dissanayake claimed to have countersigned and cashed cheques amounting to over Rs. 12,000 million. (His repeated claim was that he had cashed cheques amounting to ‘Koti 1,200’ which works out to Rs. 12,000 million or Rs. 12 billion.


Dissanayake had claimed that he had been sent by Gamini Senarath and Rohan Lokumudali to cash these cheques in order to conceal their own identities as the recipients of this money. One day when he was absent, he said that another driver by the name of Wijesinghe had been taken to cash two cheques amounting to Rs 50 million each (laksha 500 check dekak). This was found out by the CID and they had questioned Wijesinghe but Dissanayake states that Gamini Senarath had paid a bribe to the CID and suppressed the investigation. Sarath Dissanayake claimed that he was being accused of having stolen 10 million (koti ekak) out of the 12,000 million that he had brought from various banks and that the Gamini Senarath and Rohan Lokumudali duo had, using the influence they had, got him arrested by the Colombo Crimes Division and severely assaulted trying to get him to admit having stolen the money.


All these matters were revealed at a press conference held outside the Human Rights Commission by Sarath Dissanayake accompanied by former JVP and Peratugami Party student leader turned lawyer and public interest activist Udul Premaratne, the Convenor of The Anti-Corruption Front. Ranjith Keerthi Tennakoon, Ven. Sumangala of the same organisation and lawyer-activist Namal Rajapaksa. Udul Premaratne in introducing Sarath Dissanayake to the media outside the HRC described him as "an important witness regarding the financial irregularities of the Rajapaksa government". Ranjith Keethi Tennakoon who spoke to the media after Sarath Dissanayake had related his story, said that there is a lot of evidence regarding financial irregularities that occurred in this country in the possession of Dissanayake and that he has to be protected. The relevant video clip can be viewed via the following link http://www.lankanewsweb.today/archives/10504.


This became the main topic of discussion at the weekly cabinet press briefing as well. Later the government owned Daily News story on the cabinet press briefing had a headline screaming "Rajapaksas’ financial transactions using Gamini Senarath’s driver revealed". The article said that "All monetary transactions carried out by the former President, his family members, etc. through the driver of Gamini Senarath, had now been revealed, Health Minister and Cabinet Co-Spokesman Dr. Rajitha Senaratne said." The Daily News article stated further that "A sum of Rs. 12,670 million was withdrawn from an account in a Colombo bank on January 7, which is a violation of bank rules and regulations. They will experience the repercussions for their acts of corruption by next week," Senaratne said." As far as the government was concerned this appeared to be the most important matter of state last week as it was the main topic of discussion at the weekly cabinet press briefing.


This writer spoke to Ranjith Keerthi Tennakoon of the Anti-Corruption Front who introduced this Sarath Dissanayake to the public outside the HRC about the credibility of the story that Dissanayake was relating. Tennakoon said that he can’t say anything about the credibility of this individual’s story. This writer told Tennakoon that Dissanayake’s story sounded very much like the ‘evidence’ that key witness Rohini Hathurusinghe gave before the Commission to Inquire into the Death of Denzil Kobbekaduwa et al in the 1990s.


The Hathurusinghe episode


(Rohini Hathurusinghe was the key witness of the Denzil Kobbekaduwa Commission and she related a story about how her husband who she claimed had been an army officer had told her that it was Maj Gen Vijaya Wimalaratne who had fixed a bomb onto Kobbekaduwa’s vehicle. As a result of this evidence, Gen Wimalaratne’s statue in Kadawatha was torn down by PA goons. It later turned out that Hathurusinghe was a crackpot who had related a story conjured up by her own imagination. The whole fiasco ended with a press conference where the worthy witness hinted that the child in her womb was that of Justice Tissa Dias Bandaranayake the Head of the Kobbekaduwa Commission who in his misguided naivety had believed all the cock and bull stories that Hathurusinghe related! Hathurusinghe was later convicted and jailed for giving false evidence.)


In response to my question about Sarath Dissanayake’s evidence sounding like the evidence that Rohini Hathrusinghe had given, Ranjith Keerthi Tennakoon said that such things are not new to those who know politics and he stated that Udul Premaratne, himself, Ven. Sumangala and lawyer Namal Rajapaksa had taken care to take up only the issue of Dissanayake having been improperly arrested and assaulted by the police and not these sensational revelations about Gamini Senarath that he is making. Tennakoon also stated that if money had indeed been withdrawn from a bank the way Dissanayake claims, verifying that is a simple matter for the police. The rest of the conversation with Tennakoon went as follows:


The Island: Sarath Dissanayake claims to be the driver of both Gamini Senarath and Rohan Lokumudalige. How can a senior state official and a businessman share the same driver? Is it practically feasible for a top public official or a businessman to share their diver with anybody? A driver has to be always at the beck and call of his boss if the latter needs to move around. Why would a man like Gamini Senarath who could call on any driver in the presidential secretariat, need to share a driver with a businessman?


Tennakoon: Dissanayake mentions seven or eight names of people who were in Temple Trees circles. He mentions the name of one Laksman, then another person serving in the transport division. He seems to know some inside stories.


The Island: But who would believe the story that he was working as a driver for both Gamini Senarath and Rohan Lokumudali? Dissanayke also claimed that both Senarath and Lokumudali had sent him to cash their cheques in order to cover their own identities as the recipients of the money. When he was not present they had taken another driver by the name of Wijesinghe and the latter had cashed two cheques for 50 million (500 lakhs) each.


Tennakoon: The CID had done an inquiry about this Wijesinghe.


The Island: If a driver takes a cheque for Rs. 50 million to be cashed, no bank is going to cash it without verifying the identity and retaining the ID card details of the person receiving the money.


Tennakoon: True. If I send a cheque to be cashed through an unfamiliar person even for Rs. 100,000 the bank will phone the signatory to verify whether such a cheque has been sent. And in any case for the huge amounts mentioned, no bank is going to simply hand over the cash over the counter. So you’re right.


The Island: This Dissanayake claims to have cashed over Rs. 12,000 million or Rs. 12 billion (koti 1200). Gamini Senarath is supposed to have got all this money in cheques and not in gunny bags as is usually the case at elections. Can an unknown blue collar worker like a diver cash such an amount of money without everybody in the bank and the police wanting to know why and how he was getting so much money and what he was going to do with it?


Tennakoon: I will tell you how I got involved in this. I got a call from a relation of this Dissanayake who said that this individual has been tortured by the police and that he is in hospital as a result. He also told me that this Dissanayake’s life was in danger. I sent a person to see this individual in hospital and got to know that Udul Premaratne has also been informed about this person. Then Udul phoned me and asked me what can be done about this case and confirmed that the person concerned had indeed been assaulted by the police. I suggested that he should be taken to the HRC and a complaint lodged. My question is if the government wanted to make him a state witness why was he assaulted? We all know how the CCD acts.


The Island: Since this person claims to have cashed cheques worth over Rs. 12 billion, between December and 7 January 2015, even if each cheque was for Rs. 100 million, he would have to cash over 120 such cheques in about 25 working days. So every working day from December to January he would be withdrawing about Rs. 400 million a day, every working day. No bank can hand over cash like that. They have to be given prior notice of at least a few days to withdraw such large sums. If withdrawals of such magnitude were being made even the Central Bank would have come to know about it. If this person’s claims are true the entire banking system in the country would have experienced a lock down. Listening to Sarath Dissanayake’s story, I can see that this is Rohini Hathurusinghe Episode II.


Tennakoon: No doubt there are suspicions about the story he relates. A simple inquiry will verify the truth or otherwise of what he is saying. He mentions specific bank branches so this can be verified within two days.


The Island: He would have given his ID card details as well to cash the cheques.


Tennakoon: He has given all details. Recently I was not able to get even Rs. 50,000 out of my own account without my ID card.


The Island: How many people can you find in Colombo who can give a cheque for Rs. 100 million as a donation? You will have to have over 120 individuals who can give such amounts to be able to make up the Rs. 12 billion that this individual claims to have cashed. If the cheques were for smaller amounts like one million each, there would be over 12,000 cheques. Even if the donations were in Rs 50 million cheques, you will still need more than 240 individuals to make such donations.


Tennakoon: I watched the press conference held by Dr Rajitha Senaratne on this matter and I thought he was exaggerating things. I don’t believe the story related by this individual. There may be some truth in it, but it may be that he has done something and he is trying to escape the consequences of that. The only thing that can be said with certainty is that he has been assaulted by the police. Why was he assaulted by the police? That is the question I have.


The Island: I get the impression that this man was arrested by the police for theft.


Tennakoon: That is possible. He could have been taken in for some theft and when he relates a big story which captures the attention of the country, he probably thinks he can cover up what he has done. The whole country is now watching this man.


The Island: If Gamini Senarath told a driver to cash cheques amounting to over Rs. 12 billion and the driver kept 10 million for himself, Senarath is not going to complain to the police about that.


Tennakoon: I agree that that would never happen. Furthermore there is no reason why a man like Gamini Senarath would be unable to find a more reliable person to cash cheques for large amounts of money.


The Island: I get the impression that the CCD was investigating the complaint that this driver stole Rs. 10 million. They don’t seem to know anything about this other story about cashing cheques for Gamini Senarath. The CCD has obviously not tried to hide the fact that it was they who arrested Dissanayake as he had been taken to the CCD headquarters.


Tennakoon: That is the feeling that I also get. He was in fact released from the CCD headquarters.


The Island: Rohini Hathurusinghe is the name that comes to mind.


Tennakoon: When I heard his story the name that came to my mind was also that of Rohini Hathurusinghe. There are a lot of unclear things in his story.


The Island: The reason why Dissanayake has become so important is not because you took him to the Human Rights Commission but because his story featured so prominently in the weekly cabinet press briefing. Now the story that Dissanayake relates is an important matter of state. So far as we know, election contributions unless they are small amounts, or by very rich people who have huge bank balances, are never given by cheque but in cash in gunny bags.


Tennakoon: Yes. If I was going to make an election contribution, I would take cash and hand it over myself. How many people would be able to give more than Rs. 10 million? I know that the owners of a certain business chain gave Mahinda Rajapaksa only Rs. 5 million for the 2005 presidential elections. Now how many businessmen do we have at that level? If even big businessmen gave only Rs. 5 million, you have to be a really big businessman to give Rs. 10 million. At the last parliamentary election (2015) one major tea exporter (name withheld) gave only Rs one million to a person who was billed to get one of the most important ministerial portfolios. Udul, Ven. Sumangala and I discussed among ourselves that we are not going to include anything in our complaint to the HRC other than the two issues of irregular arrest and assault. All these stories about Gamini Senarath were kept out.


Govt. going bonkers?


This writer spoke to Gamini Senarath to find out what his side of the story was and he said that this Dissanayake was never his driver but he had been the driver of one of his associates Rohan Lokumudalige - a businessman. He says that Lokumudalige may have come to his house with this driver but that he has no recollection of this face and that in any case he had no connection with this driver nor has he given this person any cheques to cash. Senarath states that he had learnt from his friend Lokumudali that this driver had been working for him until last month when he had disappeared with Rs. 10 million of Lokumudali’s money. This incident had occurred in April before the Sinhala and Tamil New Year. Lokumudali had been taking Rs. 10 million in cash to purchase a vehicle when he had to alight from his vehicle somewhere to attend to some matter and when he came back he found the driver and the cash missing and had complained to the police.


From the information available to this writer, the ‘abduction’ that Sarath Dissanayake alleges was the CCD’s arrest of this absconding driver. While on the run from the police for theft, the fugitive driver had apparently contacted a showman who is also a UNP parliamentarian and related the story about Gamini Senarath’s billions. The showman turned parliamentarian had taken him to the FCID who had recorded his statement and he had apparently agreed to become a state witness. After becoming a ‘state witness’ in this manner this driver had thought it safe to return to his home but when he did, the CCD who knew nothing about the fugitive driver’s new found friends had arrested him for the theft of Rs. 10 million. But the fugitive turned state witness had obviously intimidated the CCD by mentioning the names of his new found friends and obtained his release instead of being remanded for the theft of Rs. 10 million.


Now it appears that any common thief who claims to have evidence of the Rajapaksas misdoings will become a national figure overnight and be forgiven all his transgressions in return for evidence however full of holes it may be. When the government owned Daily News writes in a matter of fact way that the cabinet spokesman had said a driver had cashed cheques amounting to Rs. 12.6 billion which is more than 86 million USD within a period of about five weeks, that will be read by every international financial agency and will place the financial regulation regime of this country under scrutiny. This will be the only country in the world where a blue collar worker can cash cheques amounting to over 86 million USD within a period of five weeks and go completely unnoticed for over fifteen months and still be undetected until he volunteers to speak to the press about all the cheques he had cashed.


This in a situation where the financial management of the country has got a lot of bad press already. Last week we outlined what Moody’s and Fitch had said about the economic management of the country. What they had said was that they are not confident about the ability of the government to meet the targets set by the IMF programme because of the government’s ‘patchy’ implementation record. Following upon the comments made by the ratings agencies, the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce put out a statement last week, tellingly titled "Sri Lanka’s corporate leaders urge policy consistency to build investor confidence".


The CCC had said that ‘Consistency in policy should be a top priority of the government in order to build confidence and boost private sector investment’ and that while there is greater interest among government officials to listen to and address private sector concerns, this is yet to translate into a stable economic policy environment, where policy changes are carefully considered alongside their impact on business activities. They stated that the most critical concern right now is tax policy uncertainty and ad hoc policy changes. With several shifts within the span of a few months, the lack of clarity and the uncertainty surrounding tax changes are hurting the business climate. The CCC also emphasized that conflicting messages from different agencies and individuals on the same issue is harmful for business confidence, and urged coherence and consistency across all agencies relevant to an issue. They also stressed that irregular and unpredictable tax and other policy regimes substantially hurt businesses’ ability to plan ahead and take longer-term investment decisions. They stated that in a survey done by the CCC with Lanka Business Online earlier this year among 164 of the country’s key Corporate Leaders, 90% of Corporate leaders were concerned about uncertainty in overall economic policy, 88% about tax policy changes and 84% about domestic political stability.


We can see from the pantomimes that were enacted at last week’s cabinet press briefing about a chauffer drawing less than Rs 50,000 a month who cashed cheques amounting to over 86 million USD within five weeks and then went unnoticed for fifteen months until he volunteered the information to the public, that the priorities of the government are very different to what the business community, the IMF and the credit rating agencies think they should be.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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