State Counsel express surprise:
Udayanga pays for UL Moscow do, embassy gets reimbursed

Rs. 24 mn readily spent


by Rathindra Kuruwita

SriLankan Airlines had reimbursed the Sri Lankan Embassy in Russia, to the tune of Rs. 24 million, for the expenses incurred on a party to provide publicity to the airline’s General Sales Agent (GSA) for Russia, Upekha Abeysekera, Senior Manager, Revenue Accounting at the Airline told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) probing irregularities at SriLankan Airlines, SriLankan Catering and Mihin Lanka yesterday.

The event took place during the tenure of controversial Sri Lankan Ambassador to Russia, Udayanga Weeratunga. Last week it was revealed that Weeratunga had recommended a company, Sri Lanka Limited, to be appointed as General Sales Agent (GSA) for the national carrier in Russia. Writing to the SriLankan country manager in Russia in 2011, Weeratunga stated that Sri Lanka Limited could help the country build closer relationships with Russia and Ukraine and thus the company should be selected.

Although the party was organized to celebrate the airline’s GSA and SriLankan had agreed to bear the expenses, for an unknown reason the Sri Lankan Embassy in Russia had initially footed the bill. "This includes a payment of USD 100,000 for the venue, the Ritz Carlton and another USD 84,000 for VVIP movement handling totaling USD 184,000. Our embassy initially paid the bill and we had reimbursed it," she said. The Attorney General’s Department officials who led the questioning noted that it was strange as the airline itself could have easily paid the bill without having the embassy involved.

Last week Shiromi Cooray, Manager Industrial Relations at SriLankan told the commission that this was the first time, according to her knowledge, that a diplomat had involved himself to assist a company to become a GSA for SriLankan.

The Airline started selecting GSAs, a sales representative for an airline in a specific country or region responsible for selling passenger and cargo space, after the departure of Emirates. Earlier it maintained its own offices in a number of countries. Even under a GSA system, the airline retains a country manager and an officer in charge of finance, who are provided office space by the GSA.

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