UNP picks holes in COPE report

‘Calls for criminal investigation, forensic audit ignored’


By Shamindra Ferdinando

The UNP yesterday said COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) Chairman Sunil Handunetti owed an immediate explanation to the public as regards his decision to leave out UNP recommendation for a criminal investigation into the alleged Central Bank bond scam on Feb. 27, 2015.

Power and Renewable Energy Deputy Minister Ajith Perera told The Island that he had made that recommendation on behalf of the UNP group in the COPE on Oct 24 evening. The Kalutara District MP and attorney-at-law stressed that he called for a criminal investigation into the alleged involvement of both present and past directors of primary dealer Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) as the then Governor Arjuna Mahendran had declared that his son-in-law Arjun Aloysius quit the PTL directorate about ten days before the Feb 27, 2015 bond issue.

Last week, the SLFP alleged that PTL had made massive profits running into billions of rupees at the expense of the national economy. Deputy Minister Perera pointed out that having accused PTL of unfair profits, the SLFP had refrained from backing his call for a criminal investigation.

Deputy Minister Perera insisted that as Arjun Aloysius had remained a director of PTL’s holding company, he couldn’t absolve himself of alleged involvement.

The UNPer said that only a criminal investigation could ensure punitive legal action against the perpetrators of the alleged fraud. Asked whether he had suggested the investigation be handed over to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) or any other agency, Deputy Minister Perera said that his was a request for a criminal investigation instead of civil case. "I never recommended CID, FCID or any other agency. The COPE should have sent the report to Police Headquarters and let the top brass in consultation with relevant authorities decide on the investigating agency."

The Deputy Minister said that during Monday’s discussion at the parliamentary complex, his recommendation for criminal investigation received the unanimous backing of all members present. In fact, the parliamentary watchdog committee had recorded his recommendation made between 5.30 pm and 6.40 pm, Deputy Minister Perera said. However, so-called majority group within the COPE on Wednesday (Oct 26) left out already accepted recommendation from the final report.

Those members of the COPE who had been agitating for a thorough inquiry into the alleged bond scam should explain why recommendation for speedy inquiry was conveniently left out.

The UNPer dismissed Joint Opposition call for a Special Presidential Commission (SPC) as a futile excise meant to delay the inquiry process. Comparing the inquiry undertaken by COPE and the proposed SPC, Deputy Minister Perera said that undue delay could only be avoided by a criminal investigation.

Asked whether he had made any other recommendations regarding the proposed investigation, Deputy Minister Perera said that he also called for a forensic audit and also specific measures to prevent recurrence of similar fraudulent activities. Although, the second recommendation had been accommodated in the final report, request for forensic audit was left out. The Deputy Minister said that Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, too, always pushed for forensic audit as the process would have certainly led to the exposure of those who had been involved.

Deputy Minister Perera urged MP Handunetti to explain circumstances leading to his recommendation being left out of the final recommendation.

According to the attorney-at-law, there had been only two references to the then Governor Arjuna Mahendran in the COPE report and certainly no direct reference to his alleged involvement in the hotly disputed process. The UNPer alleged that specific requests for criminal investigation as well as forensic audit would have surely made Handunetti’s report a much stronger one.

The first reference had been made in respect of Mahendran allegedly influencing controversial transaction whereas the second dealt with the responsibility on the part of the Governor and Central Bank in bond transactions, Deputy Minister Perera said. The COPE should have directly held Mahendran and Central Bank responsible for the said controversial transaction.

Asked whether the report prepared by a special team comprising members of the COPE during 100-day government had been taken into consideration by MP Handunetti’s group, Deputy Minister Perera said that it was accepted.

The Deputy Minister Perera alleged that some members had been pursuing a political agenda and weren’t really keen on recovering losses or punishing those responsible.

Perera said that he would take up these issues at the forthcoming debate on the COPE report.

Responding to another query, Deputy Minister Perera reiterated that the Attorney General’s stand in respect of public auctions in alleged Feb 27, 2015 bond scam was wrong. Referring relevant Section in Central Bank manual, Deputy Minister Perera said that correct situation could be established through criminal investigation leading to prosecution.

Deputy Minister Perera said the irregularities that had been taking place even after the exposure of Feb 27, 2015 alleged fraud. The UNPer insisted that irregularities were taking place even after economist Indrajith Coomaraswamy succeeded Mahendran in the wake of persistent allegations directed at the latter.

The Deputy Minister said the COPE should make a public statement regarding non-inclusion of recommendation regarding criminal investigation and forensic audit.

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