Sugar importers clear Sathosa on huge cocaine contraband

  • Third party supplier’s cargo, same supplier delivered previously without any issues: Chairman
  • Says first detected by Sathosa employees, and not the PoliceSugar importers of SL also clear CWE and Lanka Sathosa
  • Rishad praises Sathosa employees, calls for immediate report
  • “We warned you on Brazil sugars, beware, 75 more containers at Port”: SL importers
  • Country of origin of container: Brazil
  • Sugar imports from Brazil to SL nosedive 

Sri Lanka’s powerful sugar importers’ group promptly cleared Lanka Sathosa and CWE (Sathosa) from any links to the huge cocaine haul detected on 19 July while the Head of Lanka Sathosa said that the initial detection was not by the Police but by vigilant Sathosa employees themselves.

The Minister of Industry and Commerce has urgently called for a report on the 19 July incident.

Meanwhile, sugar imports from Brazil to Sri Lanka, which surged last year, are suddenly taking a huge nosedive this year.

“There are speculations that the cocaine was inserted to the container while transported locally but that is not so,” said Lanka Sathosa Chairman T.M.K.B. Tennakoon yesterday, addressing a special press briefing at CWE Vauxhall Street premises.

“On 19 July around 5 p.m. a cocaine haul of more than 100 kg was detected by employees of Lanka Sathosa in a container sent to CWE (Sathosa). The detection was made in a container on a private container carrier vehicle that arrived at the warehouse of CWE (Sathosa) Ratmalana Economic Centre,” he said.

Tennakoon added: “Previously on 18 July the Cooperative Wholesale Establishment (CWE) called tenders for sugar supplies. CWE received bids from five suppliers and chose Ranjitha Pulses Splitting & Processing Industry Ltd. as they qualified with the lowest price, and CWE awarded them the tender for 500 MT of sugar, valued around Rs. 50 million. The container from Ranjitha Pulses supplier arrived around 5 p.m. on 19 July, and its seal was opened in the presence of Lanka Sathosa officers, a representative of Hemas Logistics, and a representative from Ranjitha Pulses Company. Lanka Sathosa employees wanted to offload the container contents and re-load them to a CWE goods-lorry nearby. Upon opening the container they detected the unusual green colour bag inside, stopped their work, then opened the bag, and found the cocaine haul. They closed the container immediately and informed the nearby Mt. Lavinia Police post of the discovery.

“The Police who arrived identified the cargo to be a cocaine haul of more than 100 kg and the Police will know the correct amount. There is speculation that the cocaine was inserted into the container while being transported locally but that is not so – it was sealed by Customs officers after inspection at Orugodawatta Container Terminal Yard and cannot be opened thereafter until it arrives at the final unload location. This shows that the cocaine was not placed in local transit but arrived previously and had escaped detection at Orugodawatta Terminal. People also say that Police found the cocaine – that too is not true; it was the Sathosa workers who found the bag and informed the Police. We and the Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen praise Lanka Sathosa employees for their prompt action and informing the Police. If not for the prompt action by Lanka Sathosa employees, the cocaine haul would have gone out to the public.

“The Minister has ordered me to investigate and give a report to him immediately. Ranjitha Pulses supplied to CWE previously too, always based on our tender process and there were no issues. If the Police and Courts find this or any supplier guilty then we will de-list them as a supplier to CWE. The container’s country of origin is Brazil. I believe that sugar imports to Sri Lanka from Brazil should be stopped.”

According to the Department of Commerce of Sri Lanka, various types of sugar imports from Brazil to Sri Lanka totalled $ 95 m in 2015 and strongly increased by 58% to $151 m last year. This year Sri Lanka’s sugar imports from Brazil show a huge decline – only $ 11 m of various sugars from Brazil were imported from January to May. This is only 16% of this year’s (Jan-May) all types of total imports from Brazil.

A sugar importer and Media Secretary of Sri Lanka Sugar Importers Association Hemaka Fernando addressing the briefing said: “Brazilian sugar is low priced but is high risk due to drug mafia operating in Port of Santos who mix cocaine and sugar. Mafia loads a duplicate container (similar to sugar container) with cocaine and switch the containers at another transit port later. Therefore in 2016 we stopped importing sugar from Brazil. The internet is full of reports of this practice. I am now showing a Mail Online article – an example – that shows how these things work. The question then is why containers from Brazil are still arriving here; the reason is that the sugar orders that our members placed with Brazil prior to stoppage were not cancelled and 800 such containers were on their way. Those stocks are still arriving.

“This particular container was not imported by supplier to CWE Ranjitha Pulses Splitting & Processing Industry but landed in Colombo Port in 2016 November and was one of those 800 containers which landed. This was imported by WDR Samarakoon Company in Sri Lanka. Due to some issues between Samarakoon Company and the foreign supplier, Samarakoon Company wanted to sell off this container load to any other local buyer – the purchaser being Ranjitha Pulses. Therefore the initial owner and importer of this problematic container was not Ranjitha Pulses but Samarakoon Company. The real issue is not whether Samarakoon Company or Ranjitha Pulses are guilty; the issue is despite announcing that we will not import sugar from Brazil in 2016, the pressure of containers continuously arriving from Brazil to Colombo. In fact after landing in Colombo Port, this container, with another 10 containers, was sent to Orugodawatte Yard for inspection and clearance and was cleared by Customs officials. It was then the Ranjitha Pulses gave the price quote to CWE in tender bidding. With responsibility, I can therefore clearly say that Lanka Sathosa is in no way involved in this.

Remember, independent labour gangs, not connected to Lanka Sathosa, too were involved in unloading and we do not know what they were up to – Lanka Sathosa cannot be involved in this at all. I say this with respect. I also reveal another news now with responsibility – there are another 75 to 80 similar sugar containers from Brazil lying at Colombo Port right now, waiting to be cleared. All these were imported by WDR Samarakoon Company.”

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