Fireworks in the offing at special cabinet meeting on Avant Garde today

Monday, 9 November 2015 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • President, PM under pressure to remove ministers implicated in weapons scandal
  • Rakna Lanka audit reveals tampered weapons, similar to those found onboard Avant Garde floating armoury
  • Justice Minister continues to defend private security company in weekend interview

By Dharisha Bastians

President Maithripala Sirisena will chair a special meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers over the simmering Avant Garde controversy today, even as new shocking details emerged from a recent weapons audit of Defence Ministry owned security firm, Rakna Arakshaka Lanka Limited (RALL).

The Ministers will meet to discuss recent remarks in Parliament by Law and Order Minister and Lawyer for Avant Garde, Tilak Marapana and Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, who have absolved the private maritime security company in a defence corruption scandal involving tens of millions of dollars. Another UNP Minister Vajira Abeywardane is also implicated in the scandal, which is threatening to create an implosion in the UNFGG Government that swept to office on an anti-corruption platform.

Auditors have found 320 automatic rifles with serial numbers scratched off to mask the entities to which the weapons were originally licenced. Similar weapons bearing the same tampering of serial numbers have been found onboard a floating armoury run by Avant Garde Maritime Security. 

Police raided the vessel in October on the instructions of the Commission of Inquiry investigating cases of Large Scale Fraud, and found it lacked the necessary documentation and clearances to dock in Galle, carrying its cargo of weapons and ammunition. Police are still in the process of determining for what purpose the weapons in RALL’s possession and found on board the Avant Garde ship should have their serial numbers tampered with.

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was the Chairman of RALL, a private security arm he set up under the auspices of his Ministry, which was then contracted to provide security to several state institutions including the Hambantota Port and universities across the island.

Senior Government Ministers, who did not want to be named ahead of today’s meeting, told Daily FT that they expected some kind of decision on Minister Marapana. “In one voice, the Government parliamentary group has made their suspicions about the Law and Order Minister and the Justice Minister known,” the ministerial source said. The Government’s credibility had been gravely eroded by the Minister’s remarks in Parliament, the source added. Deputy Ministers Ajith P. Perera and Ranjan Ramanayake have been particularly vocal about the conflict of interest inherent in Minister Marapana’s statement in Parliament last Wednesday.

Minister Marapana continues to maintain that he had put forward a legal position, that the charges brought against Avant Garde and its controversial chairman Nissanka Senadhipathi would be impossible to prove. Marapana entered Parliament on the UNP National List and was appointed Minister of Law and Order and Prisons. Because of the senior lawyer’s retention by Senadhipathi, the Prime Minister had instructed him to refrain from addressing the Avant Garde issue and determined that he could give no instructions to the Police with regard to the high profile case, Cabinet Spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said last week.

Justice Minister Rajapakshe has also come under fire for claiming that he had prevented the arrest of former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa over the Avant Garde case, a move critics say is tantamount to interference in a judicial process. 

In an interview with state media over the weekend, Minister Rajapakshe continued to staunchly defend Avant Garde and its controversial chairman Senadhipathi and even indicated that the Government had earned up to Rs. 15 billion in foreign currency thanks to the company’s activities. “After getting the benefit of this transaction, how can the Government now say it is illegal?” Rajapakshe said in the interview.