MP Ali Sabri Raheem

Jewellery, gold biscuits and smartphones worth Rs 78 mn confiscated

By Shamindra Ferdinando

United National Alliance (UNA) General Secretary, M. M. Naimullah, yesterday (24) said that the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) should take disciplinary action against Puttalam District MP Ali Sabri Raheem who was nabbed by the Customs for smuggling in 3 kg and 397 grammes of gold and 91 smartphones in the early hours of Tuesday (23) via the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA).

Naimullah said so when The Island asked him how his party intended to deal with MP Raheem as his party fielded the businessman at the last general election, conducted in August 2020. The Island raised the issue with the party that he represented in Parliament as the Customs released the lawmaker, after he paid a fine of Rs 7.4 mn, consequent to a brief inquiry. Customs confiscated the undisclosed gold and smartphones estimated at Rs 74 mn and Rs 4.2 mn, respectively.

Naimullah, who had served the Central Provincial Council during 2004-2009 period, as an SLMC (Sri Lanka Muslim Congress) member, elected on the UNP ticket, emphasised that Rishad Bathiudeen’s All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) fielded Raheem from the Puttalam District.

Asked to explain the arrangement between the UNA and the ACMC, Naimullah said that the SLMC and ACMC fielded four candidates each, on the Muslim National Alliance (MNA) ticket. They were joined by former SLFP/UPFA Provincial Council member and ex-UNP Urban Council member, Naimullah said, adding that Raheem got through.

Subsequently, Naimullah has re-registered MNA as UNA with the Election Commission.

According to Naimullah, in terms of a MoU, signed between the then MNA and ACMC, disciplinary matters, in respect of elected members, would be handled by the latter. Pressed to explain the status of internal inquiry, if any, Naimullah said that he expected the ACMC to act on this matter. “If the ACMC, in writing, informed me of whatever its decision on MP Raheem, I wouldn’t hesitate to forward it to the Secretary General of Parliament,” Naimullah said.

A senior SLMC official told The Island that the SLMC and breakaway SLMC faction, ACMC, joined hands with those who had served the UNP and SLFP/UPFA, at different levels, to contest Puttalam, under one symbol, as they strongly felt the need to get a Muslim, elected from that district. The MNA contested only in Puttalam, he said, adding that for three decades the Muslim community couldn’t win a parliamentary seat from Puttalam though there were National List members.

Mohamed Haniffa Mohamed Naina Marikkar was the last to get elected from the Puttalam district.

Naimullah said that in spite of ACMC declaration that it would expel Raheem from the party, over his decision to vote for the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, in October 2020, the party conveniently failed to inform him, in writing. “Therefore, as the General Secretary of the MNA/UNA, I couldn’t address a serious breach of party discipline,” Naimullah said.

Naimullah said that though he didn’t want to address these issues at hand, publicly, but when the media sought an explanation, he couldn’t decline to respond.

Asked whether MP Raheem received special treatment in view of his status, Customs spokesperson Sudantha Silva said that they followed normal procedure. The official said that Customs could conduct further investigations, if necessary, depending on the requirement. Sudantha Silva said responding to The Island query whether they would try to establish the role played by the MP. Responding to another query, the official said that he didn’t have information pertaining to MR Raheem’s foreign travel in the recent past.

The Customs spokesperson said that there was no further inquiry regarding this matter at the moment.