Finding stolen money

Monday, 18 March 2024 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

President Ranil Wickremesinghe was recently asked at a forum to do more to “find the Rajapaksa stolen money” by a young member of the audience. The response from the President was disappointing at best and more revealing of the political deal making that has kept him in power with only one parliamentary seat.

The President asserted that the return of stolen money would be very small to make a dent on the economic crisis that Sri Lanka faces. Secondly and more concerningly he says that there is no evidence against many of these claims. “We initiated legal action against some of them during our previous administration, but the cases failed due to lack of evidence,” he said.

The President’s assertions would be correct if Sri Lanka had properly functioning, independent, democratic and public institutions. If the police, the Central Bank, Inland Revenue Department and other agencies could carry out investigations into corrupt activities, the Attorney General could independently decide on which cases to prosecute based on evidence, and the judiciary was capable of delivering justice without fear or favour, we can excuse the President and his Government of having no role in finding any stolen money or delivering accountability for those responsible for financial crimes.

However, as we all know this is not the case. Every public institution has been weakened by successive administrations with the current one led by President Wickremesinghe doing no better. Under such circumstances, investigations, prosecutions and trials of any individual is dependent on political will and motivation. The fact that the Rajapaksas are not being prosecuted, for the very least, their financial crimes is a political matter for which President Wickremesinghe is responsible. If he is to assert otherwise, he must demonstrate that under his administration the institutions noted above that are the tools of a criminal justice system are truly independent.

Former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa when serving as Secretary to the Ministry of Defence was accused of misusing State funds to build a monument to his parents and was featured in numerous military deals during the conflict including the purchase of second hand MiG-27 ground attack aircraft. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his children are equally tainted with claims of money laundering, embezzlement, and misappropriation of State funds. Former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa is known as ‘Mister Ten Percent’ for his alleged profiteering out of Government projects. Rajapaksa relative and former ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuriya was recently found guilty of embezzlement in the United States while another relative Nirupama Rajapaksa featured prominently in the Pandora Papers scandal. The list of accusations, indictments and financial scandals concerning the Rajapaksa family is long and unsavoury.

It is not only the Rajapaksa family that needs to be held accountable for such financial crimes. Numerous individuals associated with the President’s own party have also gotten away with numerous crimes. A crony business network which supports a spectrum of political dispensations and individuals today fuel Sri Lanka’s economy, benefiting from political patronage and impunity from the criminal justice system.  

As Sri Lanka gets ready for the next round of elections, there is little talk of corruption, asset recovery or transparency. The same old suspects who brought Sri Lanka to its knees are in discussions over sustaining the system that had enabled them to get away with financial crimes at the cost of the masses. With these same players manipulating Sri Lanka’s politics there is little hope for stopping financial crimes, let alone recovering what is already stolen.