මංගලගේ FCID ගල


Mangala’s FCID Shenanigans At Los Angeles Consulate

By Hassina Leelarathna
Two police officers of the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) flew all the way from Sri Lanka in the last week of January 2017 to interrogate an employee at the Consul General’s office in Los Angeles.
What “financial crime” were the two top cops – Deputy Inspector General of Police Ravi Waidylankara and Chief Inspector Anura Senarathna — investigating that justified travel expenses running into thousands of dollars or the grilling of a highly-respected ministry employee over a two-day period ?
The investigation was at the behest of Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera. According to the state-controlled Daily News, “The minister told Parliament that a son of former Defence Secretary had allegedly wasted public funds by staying in Sri Lankan mission overseas. He stressed that these incidents need to be fully investigated by Parliament. Samaraweera said that financial irregularities has [sic] allegedly taken place when a house had been purchased for a Sri Lanka Consul General in Los Angeles in 2013, at a time when a Consul General has not been appointed.” (“Speaker appoints PSC to look into External Affairs Ministry,” CDN 12/21/16)
The Sunday Times in a column reported that:
“The Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) has started a probe on how a Sri Lanka Consul General’s office in Los Angeles received Government funds running into millions of rupees when it was not staffed for more than two years.” (“Millions wasted on Lanka’s ghost consulate in LA,” ST 12/11/16)
The ST columnist went on to give the probe international proportions adding that “FCID detectives said they may obtain the help of US investigative agencies to question those linked to transactions in Los Angeles.”
It is noteworthy that the minister would have to call in the FCID (or that the FCID would go to American “investigative agencies” — FBI or CIA?) to start a “probe” when three government auditors had already visited Los Angeles (another junket costing Sri Lanka thousands of dollars) and investigated the same “financial crime.”
What the auditors found was that:
On January 15, 2013 CG Dr. Hector Weerasinghe entered into a 2-year lease to be effective March 1 of that year for a house in Glendale. Dr. Weerasinghe occupied the house until the end of his term on July 31, 2013.
The names of two drivers employed by the consulate were added to the lease after the departure of Dr. Weerasinghe and his driver.
Mr. Malraj de Silva (US citizen residing in LA) was appointed CG effective October 1, 2013 to the position of consul general but did not assume duties. The appointment was officially terminated in January of 2015. (Note: de Silva told this writer that his request for a leave of absence from his job at Los Angeles County dragged on for several months and was eventually denied.)
While de Silva did not officially assume duties, the two drivers employed by the consulate continued to live in the house – standard practice throughout the history of the LA consulate the auditors noted.
The auditors made it clear that the house was leased by Dr. Weerasinghe. Their report makes no mention of a house being purchased by the CG or that the government gave funds to the CG’s office when it was not staffed. The CG’s office itself, located on Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, was staffed and functioning.
By the very fact that a lease had been signed by its representative, GOSL was on the hook for the entire two years, regardless of whether it was occupied or not.In this case, two employees continued to live there since, as the auditors noted, the terms of their employment gave them that right.
The first opportunity to legally stop paying the monthly rent came at the expiration of the lease in February 2015. By then, Mr. Samaraweera was heading the foreign ministry. But instead of letting the lease expire on the empty house, his ministry actually extended it, for another 4 months.
Not just the auditors but Minister Samaraweera himself conducted an investigation at the consulate. The minister reportedly questioned the same employee during his trip to Los Angeles in September last year, the stated purpose of which was to announce plans for the 70th Independence Day (2018) celebrations. With the minister, who traveled from New York after attending the UN General Sessions, were ministry staffers and several others.
Apparently, the minister had not been able to get the incriminating evidence he was after. Hence, the rolling in of the FCID big guns who are more adept at intimidating, threatening, and bullying a witness.
The visiting FCID officers’ interrogation was mainly aimed at extracting a statement to the effect that Gothabaya Rajapaksa’s son was occupying the CG’s residence and that he had utilized the consulate vehicle for his personal purposes.
The “financial crime” here, one surmises, is the unauthorized use of government property. We get that.
But this investigation also raises some fundamental questions about government spending and entitlements. Are the lines between the legitimate and unauthorized use of state assets clearly demarcated? When is an adult with a parent working for the government entitled to scrounge off state assets with impunity? Are the offsprings of political appointees more privileged than those of government officials when it comes to freebies paid for by the state?
While the minister is cavalierly spending foreign exchange sending high-ranking cops to chase one alleged pilferer of state-owned assets, there’s quite a bit of the same kind of activity going on unchecked in his ministry. In fact, those outposts called “consulate general” offices, invariably staffed by political appointees who have no defined functions, no accountability, and are never called upon to show tangible results for the foreign exchange they suck up, are breeding grounds, the perfect loci, for the type of abuse the minister is at pains to (selectively) criminalize.
Taking the Los Angeles consulate itself as an example, if he did stay at the CG’s house, Rajapaksa’s son would not be the first nor last such unauthorized occupant. Consul General Dr. Weerasinghe had included his son on the lease in addition to his wife, driver, and housekeeper.
Currently, Sri Lanka is footing the bill for the housing of two adult children of the consul general. Mrs. Swarna Gunaratne (political appointee installed by Mr. Samaraweera) has named her adult son and daughter as occupants on the lease signed in April 2016 for the luxury mansion at $9,000 a month in Pasadena. GOSL is also on the hook for utility bills incurred as a result of these adults living in the CG’s home, including government cell phones.
In addition to these members of the CG’s family, a male friend of Mr. Samaraweera, someone from his electorate whom he hired for a job at the consulate after coming to power, is also reported to be staying at the Pasadena mansion. While he is a consulate employee, this person is not entitled to government housing.
As for the use of government vehicles, has the foreign minister ever wondered how many times a day the consulate vehicles are commandeered for personal purposes such as transporting the CG’s daughter to college, trips to the hairdresser, shopping, or picking up of family members from the airport?
And since he wants to make sure the use of government-owned vehicles is on the straight and narrow, strictly for state business, how would the minister categorize trips taken by the consul general for a dinner or lunch to the home of a compatriot? Is it personal or state-business when the consul general and her family members get chauffeured by a driver who is on the government payroll, in a vehicle paid for by the state, to parties at the home of wealthy Sri Lankans? Bear in mind that some of these late evening parties also result in overtime for the driver, again, charged to the Sri Lankan government.
Back to the two police officers’ interrogation at the Los Angeles consulate: it is not known if they succeeded in their mission of coercing a statement that would incriminate Rajapaksa’s son. What is clear is that the FCID, considered by many to be an extra-judicial body created by the current government to destroy its political foes, has added more grist to that mill by being co-opted into an expensive investigation that is seriously marred by its political overtones and shaky merits.
Seems Minister Samaraweera is once again letting intense political hatred override good judgment. Almost two years after firing his highly-publicized “$19 billion stolen funds” salvo at President Rajapaksa, he has still not provided proof to back up that explosive charge. In the case of another political target, Udayanga Weeratunge, he resorted to outright fabrications, including one about the former envoy to Russia being investigated by authorities in Moscow for selling arms illegally to the Ukranian rebels. Weeratunge was also falsely accused of murdering a Sri Lankan employed at the Moscow embassy, despite the fact that, using camera footage from a CCTV camera, Russian authorities had already arrested a suspect for that crime. The suspect was later found guilty. But that did not deter Sri Lankan authorities from the ghoulish task of exhuming the body, which was not reburied for nearly a year.
Is Mr. Samaraweera’s credibility (what’s left of it) about to take a further beating as he plunges into the muddy, tangled waters that separate freebies enjoyed by the political elite from financial crimes requring a (top-brass) police chase around the world?


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