Unending stench of Pandora

Tuesday, 19 December 2023 00:00 –      – 51

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Sri Lanka’s Public Security Minister, Tiran Alles, has become the first sitting Cabinet minister to be identified in the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ (ICIJ) Pandora Papers data trove as having offshore holdings. An ICIJ analysis of the leaked records and UK’s public property register shows that Alles owns two British Virgin Islands companies that hold properties in London.

The Pandora Papers is a trove of 11.9 million leaked documents obtained by ICIJ that were at the core of a 2021 global investigation exposing the financial deals and hidden assets of politicians, celebrities, business people and criminals in more than 200 countries. The files came from 14 offshore service providers that specialised in setting up shell companies and trusts in tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions.

Among the group of politicians identified by ICIJ were former minister Nirupama Rajapaksa, niece of then President, and her husband, Thirukumar Nadesan. The documents revealed that Rajapaksa and Nadesan together controlled a shell company used to buy luxury apartments in London and Sydney, and art while using them also to make numerous other investments. The amount of money stashed in these offshore accounts by the Sri Lankan duo is in the range of $ 160 million.

As soon as these revelations were made in 2021, then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa directed the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption to launch an immediate investigation into the alleged malpractice and report to him of the findings within a month. In November 2021, the Presidential Secretariat issued a press release stating that the Bribery Commission had handed over an interim report to the President regarding their investigations.

Even though the interim report was never made public, the press release stated that the Director-General of the Commission had informed that the various banks and financial institutions have been requested to submit reports containing the bank account details of Nadesan. As the investigation has not been completed, the final report will be issued after further scrutinising the called reports and other relevant investigations are carried out,” the Presidential Secretariat said. Despite the lapse of three years and a changed president, nothing has been heard of the supposed investigation.

The Pandora Papers saga is emblematic of the systemic corruption that is permeating throughout the governing structure of the country. The individuals concerned wield influence throughout the political spectrum and therefore have immunity from justice whoever is in power. Tiran Alles is not an exception but the norm and representative of an oligarchy that has emerged to the greater detriment of the public. He has a dubious record, once accused of funnelling hundreds of millions of rupees to the LTTE in order to distort the 2005 Presidential election. The fact that an individual who was once investigated and indicted by the Attorney General for providing funding to a terrorist organisation remains the minister in charge of the police department, says volumes about the state of the country’s law and order situation and sums up perfectly the entrenched nature of corruption and the impunity handed to those who are supposedly in charge of the public coffers.

Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis in its post-independence history. The details of the Pandora Papers are in the public domain simply because they were investigated and exposed by international entities. These are only the tip of the iceberg of the colossal corruption and misappropriation of funds that occur regularly in this country.