‘75m gold’ MP Raheem’s tit for tat revenge vote to spite Government

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  • Sabri wages retaliatory strike against Ranil for not coming to his rescue

Puttalam MP Sabri Raheem who was arrested by Customs officials on Tuesday for attempting to smuggle 3.5 kilos of gold bars, was back in Parliament on Wednesday to nonchalantly attend to the business of the House as if nothing untoward had happened to him the previous day when he had arrived at the airport from Dubai.

Not that MP Ali Sabri Raheem, 60, of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress had to mention his airport mishap to anyone. The news of him being caught red-handed by Customs officials, trying to pass Katunayake Airport’s ‘special guest cabin facilities’ with an undeclared haul of gold bars – valued by Customs at Rs. 75 million – was already well known. He had been fined Rs 7.5 million and later released.

What was not that well known was what he told journalists the day after his foiled gold smuggling bid. He said the gold did not belong to him.

‘The consignment belongs to a friend of mine and I was blamed for it at the end of the day,’ the MP told Daily Mirror journalists in Parliament.

Poor Sabri. No one told him — least of all his gold-owning friend — that it hardly mattered who owned the gold. That the offence was for carrying contraband gold through Customs undeclared. That the legal blame had fallen rightly and squarely on his shoulders as a result.  Sixty years of age, and he — a Lankan lawmaker — still doesn’t know that.

While the police are still investigating the matter, a probe should be launched to find out how many trips he had made to Dubai in recent times and — if he had been a regular visitor — why he had made Dubai, the mecca of his destinations?

So what was he doing in Parliament on Wednesday when one would have expected him to have laid low till the heat had worn off? True, the Constitution only disqualifies an MP if he has been convicted of a criminal offence by a competent court, and Sabri faces no such bar since he has not been convicted yet. But why the indecent rush to take his seat on Wednesday itself?

Was he driven by some irresistible urge to serve the interests of his people by attending Parliament to vote on the motion the government was presenting that day, the 24th of May? The day the Government had decreed that all its MPs must, by hook or crook, be present to secure the 113 votes necessary to remove the thorn in its flesh, the chief of the public consumer rights independent commission, Janaka Ratnayake who had continuously been against the Power Minister’s moves to raise electricity charges.

The final tally read: for the motion to remove him 123 votes: against the motion 77.

It was, no doubt, a whopping victory for the Government. It had successfully removed a lone but powerful statutory voice of dissent from the landscape, and could now proceed without ado to raise tariffs as it wished.

Janaka Ratnayake who had said on Tuesday night, that ‘my gut feeling is that I won’t be removed by these MPs, as I have always stood with the people,’ said on Wednesday evening when he found himself ousted: ‘The politicians in this country make decisions according to their whims and fancies.’

He was not far off the mark even though his arrow did not quite fall for the reason he had meant it to fall.

CAUGHT RED HANDED: The Puttalam MP Sabri Raheem votes against the Government motion out of spite for not rescuing him from his airport ordeal

It later emerged that Puttalam’s gold smuggling MP Sabri Raheem who had first entered parliament in 2020 from the All Ceylon Makkal Congress but had voted with the Government for Gotabaya’s 20th Amendment and had remained in Government ranks ever since, had turned coat this time and voted against the Government.

Why the sudden change of heart? Did he fancy his chances at the next election will shine brighter if he struck a blow for the people after queering his pitch on Tuesday in the gold fiasco at BIA? With all the arrogance of a national list MP, it seems he didn’t give a fig for the people’s interests.

The motivating factor for his anti-government vote had been his grouse that neither Ranil nor Dinesh had facilitated for him a smooth exit from the airport nor given him a get-out-of-jail-free card. It was payback time for the revengeful Goldfinger. For him, it was no dish best eaten cold but to be feasted hot, at once.

Instead of sharpening his knives of hate, he should be counting his blessings that he was handled with kid gloves and was lucky enough to be fined only a tuppence of the 75 million buck value of the contraband gold; and walk out a free man.

But such is the debauched political culture of our times that it has emboldened this gold-smuggling MP to use his parliamentary vote to settle personal scores and, thereafter, to have the brazen impudence to trumpet his spite from Diyawanna’s ramparts.

As the Daily Mirror reported on Wednesday, he had told journalists in Parliament, ‘I decided to vote against the motion to remove Public Utilities Commission Chairman Janaka Ratnayake from his post as both President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena did not come to my rescue when I was faced with a difficulty.’

Pretty much sums up, doesn’t it, the state of Lanka’s Parliament? How the nation’s MPs place their own interest above all else and don’t give a tosh who knows it.

Jerome: If the truth hurt, I’m sorry

On the run pastor’s amazing answer to Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus

Unlike his Prophet to all Prophets, the al Jazeera disgraced Uebert Angel, materialising at his Miracle Dome on March 19th at the whiff of the word joy, Pastor Jerome was unable to manifest himself in the flesh — as he had said he would — at the airport last Sunday.

Instead, he took to the ether to transmit himself via zoom to a more down-to-earth Mirihana hall — a far cry away from his Katunayake miracle dome — to tell his Sunday-best Sunday-dressed flock of devoted sheep what had kept him from keeping the promised rendezvous in the flesh.

‘I am coming back home, that is guaranteed,’ he enthused to pep up his audience watching him on the giant screen. ‘Today my meeting here went a little beyond time. So I couldn’t catch the intended flight. But now my lawyers are working and preparing the way for me to return.’

Quite a slump in standards, isn’t it? Two months ago at Jerome’s Miracle Dome, he had materialised an angel, moments after mentioning that ‘angels invade environments of joy.’ The Angel Uebert instantly manifested, came four thousand miles from Zimbabwe, to have a puff of Jerome’s ‘oxygen of joy’.

But now miracle maker Jerome has to depend on local hacks to smooth the path and clear the legal mines for his return to these island shores.  The miracle dome has fallen silent and lies pitifully bare without its ‘prophet’ to stage its ‘miracle’ shows that kept the credulous in thrall.

HAPPY FAMILIES: Pastor Jerome and wife Pastor Melanie with their ‘Prophet to all Prophets’ Uebert Angel with his wife the ‘Prophetess’ Beverly

He had none but himself to blame. His own foul tongue, fed by his arrogance, had brought him to this ignominious pass. Derogatory slights against the four main religions had flared the nation’s ire and prompted the President to order the CID to probe his inflammatory comments and organisation.

Jerome had gone too far with his religious jibes. Ruffled too many religious feathers to expect a cheer squad at the airport to welcome him home. After fleeing from the island before a travel ban could take effect, he can only expect arrest at the terminal gates.

Last Sunday in his zoomed sermon, he told the 200-odd Mirihana crowd not to fight for him but to stand with him. Referring to his controversial sermon, made on April 30th, he said:

“That day I preached the true gospel. I was preaching what was in the Bible. It is still there in the Bible. I checked it today. It is still there. It is sad to see the clergy taking the opportunity and using my name – clergy who have secretly met me to study the bible – and speaking against me. I can bring up their names but I won’t.’

Then the apology, Jerome style. He said: ‘I want to yet apologize to my Buddhist brothers, Hindu brothers, Muslim brothers and sisters, if my words by any means have hurt you emotionally. I humbly apologise to the Buddhist clergy in Sri Lanka.’

And then came the qualifier. The spoiler.

‘However, he said, ‘I don’t apologise for speaking the truth. My apology is for hurting your feelings.’

Call that an apology? It is nothing of the sort. Rather a self-indulging re-affirmation of his supreme beliefs. An arrogant exaltation of his version of truth as the sole universal truth, beside which all other versions of truth were cast in inferior light, and subjected to his disdain.

What he was really telling the Buddhists, the Muslims and the Hindus was: ‘I spoke the Truth. The gospel truth. So sorry, if the truth hurt you.’

If he had stabbed the feelings of those embracing different faiths four weeks ago, then, last Sunday, with his belated spurious apology, he turned the knife in.

Pray say, can there be repentance without clear admission of sin? Can man atone his transgressions without first confessing his guilt? Can earthly forgiveness be granted to a ruthless terrorist who guns down little children, and yet maintains it was right to have gunned them down, but says he is sorry if it had made the parents cry?

If there was no wrong done, what was there to regret?

His vain apology, designed to smooth ruffled feathers and thaw the frost for an early comeback, cut no ice with the millions he had outraged. Instead of pacifying anger and healing the sores, Jerome’s cosmetic sorry only made matters worse. It deepened the resentment and increased the ire.

Neither did his superficial apology fool the Minister of Police. ‘His apology will not prevent the police from taking action against him,’ Tiran Alles declared at a press conference on Monday.

With police on alert at BIA for his prophesied next coming, with the CID probing his inflammatory comments, with Buddhist and Religious Affairs Minister Wickremanayake strongly warning, there would be no room for anyone to insult any religion, and the Supreme Court petitioned by clergymen, representing all four religious faiths in the country, pleading for his arrest, the Pastor, on the run for two weeks, must feel the noose tightening around his dog collar.

Only a year ago on May 27, Jerome had opened his Miracle Dome, a state-of-the-art 4134 square meter building built on 3-acre land in Katunayake adjacent to the BIA. On its website, it is hailed as a ‘God-given mandate to Prophet Jerome Fernando.’

Pity the mandate didn’t last long for today, exactly a year since its glorious opening, the Dome lies hushed with its Prophet fled from justice.

Only one miracle has survived the backlash and still lingers to fascinate and hold in awe not only all who still believe in miracles but also those who don’t.

The miracle of the dome that baffles the uninitiated is why the taxman turned a blind eye and left unprobed the mysterious source that financed the building of the expansive dome which is reputed to have cost billions to erect. From where did the funds come? Did it fall like heaven’s manna, God-given to pastor Jerome? Or did it gush from the hard-earned savings of his staunch believers, who gave with ‘apage’, or selfless love, their dough?

As a last resort on Friday, Jerome’s lawyers sought an order from the Supreme Court to prevent his arrest by the police. No doubt, his faithful flock will be praying that their prophet, who once drew miracles from his pocket, will find an earthly miracle atop the Hulftsdorp Hill.