Sri Lanka: One for Mahendran, one for Rajapaksa


Sathiya Moorthy        6 September 2018

It is possibly in the history of that a fugitive from law in one country is seeking the agency to get him the case documents from the investigating agency in that country. Former Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran has done precisely that with regard to the Red Notice issued by Interpol, at the instance of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) Sri Lanka with regard to the Bond Scam.

Going by media reports, the prosecutors have told the Fort Magistrate Court that Mahendran is very much available in native Singapore, and that the Attorney-General’s Department was looking into his request for accessing the case documents through Interpol. In the meantime, the Government is still examining the course of action on the Court-issued warrant for Mahendran’s arrest and for him to be produced in Court.

That is the interesting twist to the tale as far as the Bond Scam is concerned. If the prosecutors pass on the case documents as sought by Mahendran, he would move the Courts, possibly in Singapore itself, seeking directions for the local Police arm of Interpol, not to apprehend him. If the Sri Lankan Government denies him the documents, he may move the same Singapore Courts for direction to the local Police not to arrest him as required by Interpol on Sri Lanka’s behalf.

Either way, Mahendran can be expected to move the Singapore Courts further on, to delay, if not deny, his arrest and production in Sri Lankan Courts, as far as he can. The alternative would be for him to skip Singapore, too, and move to a Nation that is not a member of the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol).

Freezing passport

There is no knowing if the Sri Lankan Government, having purportedly located Mahendran’s current location with great difficulty, has done anything, or moved any Singapore Court, to stop him from moving out of the Court, as a precautionary measure. Getting his passport frozen, either by the Singapore authorities or the local Courts should be the ordinary course of action. Therein lies the trick for Mahendran to escape the long arm of the Sri Lankan law and the longer arm of Interpol.

It’s a typical ‘heads you win, tails I lose’ situation, and possibly typical of Mahendran’s advance planning, if not plotting, before he embarked on the Bond Scam. He holds all the cards, rather he has been holding all the cards, possibly even before the current Government, especially the UNP constituent under Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, named him as Central Bank Governor.

If proof is needed, it is here. Dates don’t lie, calendars cannot be re-written with retrospective effect. The incumbent Government under the twin-leadership of President Maithripala Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe came to power on 9 January 2015. The first part of the Bond Scam happened the very next month. The Government leaders were jostling for ministerial positions and portfolios, all attempts at keeping the poll-alliance together in one form or the other.

In the absence of evidence to the contrary, it has to be assumed that all along, the Bond Scam was happening behind the back of the Nation, behind the back of even righteous poll allies like the JVP. It is, however, difficult to extend the same quality and quantum of innocence to the powers that be. Having cleared Mahendran for Central Bank Governor, having headed the Cabinet meeting that cleared the ‘Central Bank Bond Project,’ even President Sirisena, with his tall claims to four decades in politics and at least half that time in senior ministerial positions, cannot escape culpability of every kind. Less said about the UNP Ministers concerned and Premier Wickremesinghe the better.

In contrast, we now have the Government setting up Special High Courts under special laws, to try the Rajapaksas (along with their acolytes, of course) to fast-track corruption and related cases against them while in power. The idea seems to be get at least one conviction against each of the Rajapaksas, especially all those contenders for the throne in the presidential polls of 2019-2020.

Doubly sure

The newer the Rajapaksa interpretation of the 19th Amendment nearer home and American citizenship laws (for surrender of the same), the faster seems to be the incumbent Government’s insistence on fast-tracking the criminal cases against them. In pure political terms, does it also imply that the Government’s political leadership is not confident of ensuring that neither former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, nor his brother and war-time Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa could be stopped from contesting the presidential polls, through existing or imagine legal means, including the 19th Amendment?

The alternative is to assume that the Government wants to make doubly sure that neither of the mentioned Rajapaksas could contest the presidential polls. The Government also seems to be keen that any alternative candidate from within the ‘family’ or otherwise, should be burdened by the Court convictions against the brothers and their acolytes that hurts the perceived public image of their SLPP-JO.

Truth be told, nothing worse can happen to the Rajapaksa image than already, either way. A Court conviction and possible jail-terms and/or fines could only have the legal effect of denying the persons concerned a chance to contest elections on those circumstances, too. Alternatively, their grit and determination to face up to all adversities, when in power and outside, could get them new admirers. If nothing else, their admirers and voters at present could become more resolute than already.

Cleansing mission?

It is ironical that the Government that claims to be on a cleansing mission, to rid the country of graft and nepotism, has been able to distance itself very conveniently and comfortably from all those standing in its name, and in the names of ministers and leaders in the incumbent setup. There seems to be one law for Mahendran, another for the former President, his family members, and their acolytes.

Yet, truth be told, from the Bond Scam, Mahendran’s son-in-law and the controversial Perpetual Treasuries Boss Arjun Aloysius is at least in prison just now. It is another matter that no one knows, how long would it take for the criminal cases to run their course, going all the way up to the Supreme Court. Considering intermittent media reports, citing the much-touted Presidential Commission on the Bond Scam that Aloysius had been keeping politicians from across the party spectrum in good humour even before they became Parliamentarians, there will be more of them who would want the case taking its own, slow course.

There is now a Government that seems to be serious about not fast-tracking the case against Aloysius. Nor does it want to fast-track Mahendran’s return, to face the legal music. They are all only for the Rajapaksas, who are politically inconvenient and electorally inconvenient still.

For Mahendran, it is facilitation to get out of the country through Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), as that alone could cool the seats of those that he was leaving behind, at least in the (long) interim. For Rajapaksa and the rest, it is the usual rumours that even as they were losing the presidential polls, one or many of them had escaped the long arm of the law, through the very same BIA. For effect, add the forgotten Kumaran Pathmanathan (KP) of the LTTE arms-procurement fame, as the one whose ‘escape’ was facilitated through the VVIP Lounge at BIA, and the picture is complete, now, as it was then!

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