Justice must be seen to be done

Tuesday, 4 June 2024 02:16 –      – 15

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The Colombo High Court last week ordered the release of five defendants, including former Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Ajith Nivard Cabral, of accusations pertaining to the Greek bond scam in 2012. Cabral then the Governor of the Central Bank under President Mahinda Rajapaksa had invested in Greek bonds, while the country was facing a financial meltdown causing a loss of Rs. 1.84 billion to the Sri Lankan Government. The reasons for this acquittal were not that Cabral et al was found to be innocent of the crime but a technicality pertaining to the signature of the Director General of the Bribery Commission.

In its verdict the Court noted that a director general had not been appointed under the new anti-corruption act when the indictment against these defendants was signed. According to the Court it is against the law for the director general appointed under the old act to sign a charge sheet presented under the new anti-corruption act. Since the validity of this charge sheet has been challenged in the eyes of the law, the Court refused to hand over the charge sheets to the defendants and they were released from the case.

Cabral is not the only official to be charged with corruption and malpractice only to be released on technicalities. The list is long and quite appalling. The Permanent Colombo High Court Trial-at-Bar has released former Governor of the Central Bank, Arjuna Mahendran, his son in law, and eight others, accused in the 2016 bond scam from the charges related to the Public Properties Act.

The case was filed by the Attorney General during the Yahapalana administration charging the defendants with conspiracy to commit criminal misappropriation in the issuance of Treasury Bonds with a value of Rs. 10.058 billion. The AG claimed that there was a criminal breach of trust by the Governor of the Central Bank which caused a loss of Rs. 688 million to the Government. Perpetual Treasuries, a Central Bank licensed primary dealer in Government bonds owned by Aloysius was suspended after the bond scam came to light.

Recently the High Court Trial-at-Bar cleared former Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake, from several charges filed against him related to the bond scam. Karunanayake and six others had been accused of links to the misappropriation of billions of rupees in a March 2016 bond auction. Karunanayake, the then finance minister was accused of living in a luxury apartment paid for by Arjun Aloysius, something he publicly admitted. A presidential commission of inquiry found that Governor Mahendran, a close associate of current President Ranil Wickremesinghe, had interfered in a bond auction and had leaked inside information to help Perpetual Treasuries make billions of rupees in profits. Mahendran raised a policy rate floor outside the regular monetary policy meeting and pressured a tender board to sell bonds at high prices, the inquiry found.

Whatever the technicalities cited for the dismissal of charges against those responsible for this financial scandal, what is clear is that justice is not being delivered. There is no debate or dispute regarding the financial loss to the Government through these transactions. There is also little doubt regarding the conflicts of interest and numerous inappropriate dealings that caused billions in losses. Yet not a single individual is held accountable for these crimes. This is not justice.