Eran calls on Govt. to reclaim $ 98 m paid to Airbus

Friday, 7 February 2020 00:28 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}



  • Wants AG to take legal action on accused, anyone who played a role in bribe 
  • Says such high-level fraud requires support from Govt. officials
  • Claims losses from lease payments higher than bond scam losses  
  • Insists he reduced political interference in National Carrier
  • Believes political appointments led way to corruption  

Former State Finance Minister and United National Party (UNP) member MP Eran Wickramaratne yesterday called on the Government to claim from Airbus the $ 98 million cancellation fee that was paid by the former Government to cancel three leases under the controversial $ 2.6 billion re-fleeting deal that was signed in 2013. 

MP Eran Wickramaratne

Wickramaratne, who was the State Minister for Public Enterprises at the time, along with UNP Chairman Kabir Hashim, who was at that point the Cabinet Minister of the same portfolio, called for the Attorney General to file charges against the offenders. 

He also defended the former Government’s handling of SriLankan Airlines, insisting the National Carrier was allowed to function free of political interference when he was assisting to oversee it. Wickramaratne also contended that political appointments give way to corruption, referring to officials who headed the National Carrier before 2015. 

Wickramaratne asked the Government to claim the $ 98 m fee from Airbus, and also take legal action not only against the accused, but all those who played a role in the bribe. 

“One cannot commit fraud like this if Government officials aren’t helping them,” he said, adding, “We first need to ask who appointed these individuals. Most of the time, in our country, political leaders appoint their henchmen, despite them not having the necessary qualifications.”

“These two people alone could not have been the only beneficiaries of the bribe. Individuals cannot hide that kind of money. There must be people around them who also benefited,” he said at a press conference held at the Opposition Leader’s Office. 

According to Wickramaratne, a lease payment of $ 1,400,000 was made monthly instead of $ 900,000 per aircraft, which “caused more losses to SriLankan Airlines than the bond scandal”.

Mentioning political appointments like former SriLankan Airlines Chairman Nishantha Wickramasinghe, Wickramaratne explained it was important that those appointed to leadership positions of the airline had a technical or financial management background.

Wickramaratne said that the allegations were levelled against Airbus but that they had “come to a $ 16.84 million agreement with a top official of the SriLankan Airlines management” over the sale of aircrafts. He also referred to the $ 2 billion bribe that was allegedly paid to the wife of the former SriLankan CEO Kapila Chandrasena.

Wickramaratne added that it was obvious underhand dealings were taking place, as the Airbus aircraft purchased for SriLankan Airlines were not suitable for the country. 

“One of the aircraft had the capacity to fly nonstop for 14-and-a-half hours but SriLankan Airlines used it for two- to four-hour routes,” he said, adding that the longest route flown by the airline was to London, which was a 10- to 12-hour journey.

In 2016 SriLankan Airlines paid $ 98 million to pull out of leases on three Airbus aircraft. The airline also paid $ 17.7 m (£ 13.9 m) to stop delivery of a fourth, taking up the cost up to $ 115 million. However, the payments were made to a leasing company called Aercap. 

The payments drew massive criticism at the time. In January 2019, SriLankan Airlines said an Airbus A330-200 that was acquired as part of the lease cancellation agreement was unusable, forcing the National Carrier to fix its engine to another aircraft.

A French court last Friday approved a deal allowing Airbus to pay € 3.6 billion ($ 4 billion) in fines to Britain, France and the US to settle corruption cases sparked by suspicious equipment sales. One of the allegations cited in a judgment and released by a London court concerned the purchase of aircraft by SriLankan Airlines.

Investigators had accused Airbus of failing to prevent persons associated with the company from bribing directors or employees of the airline to “obtain or retain business or advantage”.