ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s investigation into the controversial MiG aircraft purchase has extended to Singapore and Australia as police listed charges against four foreigners in addition to former president Mahinda Rajapaks’a cousin Udayanga Weeratunga.
Two nationals each from Singapore and Ukraine were formally named as accused in defrauding the government of Sri Lanka of nearly seven million dollars in a deal where Weeratunga has emerged the main suspect.
Police investigations have now expanded to Singapore and Australia where part of the MiG deal loot may have been invested, official sources said.
The four foreigners were formally accused of causing the huge loss to Sri Lanka through a series of manipulations and preparing false documents, investigators told the Colombo Fort magistrate earlier this month.
The police Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) told the magistrate that the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) had paid double the actual price of the second-hand aircraft and the service package to a British Virgin Islands (BVI) registered company known as Bellimissa Holdings (Private) Limited (BHPL).
Bellimissa was paid 15.66 million dollars by the SLAF while the Ukrainian arms company received only half of it via another company in Singapore identified as D. S. Alliance (Pte) Limited.
Although the then defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had claimed that the MiG purchases were a government-to-government transaction, investigators told the magistrate that they found evidence that it was not so.
In fact, the Ukrainian government arms sales company Ukrinmarsh had been paid D. S. Alliance (Pte) Limited and not the SLAF.
The Singapore company paid the Ukrainian firm $7.83 million which was the actual price of the aircraft and overhaul services supplied to the Sri Lanka Air Force in 2006.
Investigators have found that Bellimissa was a front to receive money from the Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) , and over 50 percent of the money paid by the SLAF had gone into private pockets.
The investigations were initially held up because MiG purchase agreement had gone missing from the defence ministry as well as Air Force headquarters. There is a separate investigation into how all records relating to the controversial deal vanished from the SLAF and the defence ministry.
In the meantime, investigators had a lucky breakthrough when they stumbled on a certified copy of the original MiG purchase agreement which had been submitted to the Mount Lavinia courts by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in his defamation suit against The Sunday Leader chief editor Lasantha Wickrematunga.
Wickrematunga through his weekly had alleged that the MiG deal was not a government-to-government transaction as claimed by Rajapaksa and that there was a huge fraud. In an attempt to disprove Wickrematunga and The Sunday Leader, Rajapaksa filed a copy of the purported purchase agreement which now turns out to be a fabrication, as confirmed by the Ukrainian government which is cooperating with the current investigation.
Wickrematunga was murdered in January 2009, two days before he was due to testify at the Mount Lavinia courts about the MiG deal. Wickrematunga had told his colleagues that he was going to expose the MiG deal in courts and place it in the public domain so that other newspapers too could report it.
The alleged complicity of two Ukrainian nationals in the MiG fraud was also reported to court this month and they have been noticed to make a statement to the FCID before the end of this month.
The two Singaporeans, Lee Thian Soo and his wife Ng Lay Khim who are directors of D. S. Alliance, have also been accused of money laundering and causing a huge loss to the Sri Lankan government. They have been accused of being part of a conspiracy to defraud Sri Lanka. They have been asked to make statements to the FCID about their involvement in the deal.
Lee is a director of both companies.
Investments in real estate in Singapore and Australia are being investigated as Sri Lanka secured international help to track down where the kickbacks from the MiG deal may have been invested.
The Ukrainian authorities have informed Sri Lanka’s police that investigations revealed that their arms sales company, Ukrinmarsh, had no dealings with Bellimissa Holdings to which the Sri Lankan air force had paid $15.65 million for four aircraft and overhauling others.
It was Singapore-based D. S. Alliance and its director Lee who had signed the purchase agreement with Ukrinmarsh.
Ukrainian authorities have also reported that an employee of Ukrinmarsh and Sri Lanka’s then ambassador to Russia Udayanga Weeratunga were involved in a conspiracy to defraud the Sri Lankan state.
The two Ukrainians suspects have been named as Peregudova Dmitry Alexendrvich and M. I. Kuldyrkaev.
Courts have also ordered the investigation of bank accounts of Weeratunga’s mother in law, L. I. Manamperuma following reports that large amounts of cash had been transacted through them. (COLOMBO, April 28, 2018)