Avant Garde avalanche before Govt.

Saturday, 7 November 2015 01:07 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Rajitha says on notice about Marapana’s remarks
  • Special cabinet meet about Avant Garde issue convened for Monday
  • UNP Parliamentary group meeting erupts over Avant Garde
  • Govt. MPs tell PM they want action against three implicated ministers

By Dharisha Bastians

Law and Order Minister Tilak Marapana’s staunch defence of the private security firm Avant Garde this week has precipitated a major crisis in the ruling Government, with ministers and MPs now demanding disciplinary action against the senior UNP lawyer and two other ministers.

Cabinet Spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said he and Urban Development Minister Champika Ranawaka had warned the President at a heated cabinet meeting on Thursday that they would be compelled to make a major political decision unless steps were taken to deal with the errant Ministers.

“There is definitely a conflict of interest,” Senaratne said in reference to Minister Marapana’s former legal representation of Avant Garde in its corruption case. “The Prime Minister said that when his ministerial appointment was made, the Law and Order Minister was not to get involved in the Avant Garde case, or give instructions to the Police on the investigation,” Senaratne said.

Both Minister Marapana and Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapakse, are under heavy fire with the former suggesting that Avant Garde was blameless in the arms scandal, while the Justice Minister informed Parliament on Wednesday that he had prevented the arrest of former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in the controversial case.

Minister Senaratne said the prevention of the former official’s arrest was interference with the legal system. 

President Maithripala Sirisena has convened a special meeting of the cabinet of minister on Monday (9) at 10AM to discuss the controversy, the Cabinet Spokesman said.

“On Monday something could happen,” Minister Senaratne said, regarding the resignation or sacking of three ministers in the UNFGG Government.

Senaratne told the weekly cabinet media briefing yesterday that back in January after the presidential election, over three consecutive weeks the Attorney General had informed the National Executive Council dealing with corruption issues that the Avant Garde case had gone from being a criminal case, with indictments supposed to be filed against the former Defence Secretary and several officials, to a civil case. Week after week, the Council was told that the arrests were being delayed, Minister Senaratne explained.

“During those meetings in response to questions by JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Champika Ranawaka and myself, the Attorney General’s Department said that it was coming under severe political pressure to go easy on the controversial arms case,” the Cabinet Spokesman told journalists. “The official said that just that day he had received seven telephone calls from a powerful minister,” Senaratne added.

Senaratne said the present Government had been built on a foundation of good governance and anti-corruption. “That is why we are raising an issue,” the Minister explained.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe grappled with an angry UNP Parliamentary group at Temple Trees last morning, with most MPs demanding action against Ministers Marapana, Rajapakse and Vajira Abeywardane for their alleged involvement in the Avant Garde cover-up.

The controversial maritime security firm is believed to have racked in millions of dollars from leasing weapons licenced to the Sri Lankan Government through the company’s floating armouries operating off several continents. Weapons were provided to Avant Garde, through the Defence Ministry owned Rakna Arakshaka Lanka (RAL), without cabinet approval or any Parliamentary oversight of the weapons transactions. In January, Police raided a floating armoury maintained by Avant Garde that had been allowed to dock in the Galle Harbour, exposing one of the biggest corruption cases the State has been dealing with in the months after the fall of the Rajapaksa regime. The Attorney General’s Department, now under scrutiny for its mishandling of several high profile corruption cases, recently informed court that there were no grounds to charge Avant Garde or senior Government officials under terrorism or firearms laws. The AG told Court that there was a possibility of charging the company under the Money Laundering laws.