The Government has begun a hunt for a close friend of former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga to probe charges that he benefited to the tune of Rs. 60 million from a bogus land sale directly orchestrated by her when she was Head of State and Head of Government.
The Government is looking for Mr. Ronnie Peiris, currently living at `Serendib`, The Avenue, Radlett, Herts., WD 7 7 DQ, in the outskirts of London ? often visited by President Kumaratunga and her immediate family members.
The alleged rip-off follows submissions made to her own Cabinet by the then President Kumaratunga to lease State land near the Parliament complex to Japanese investors as a BOI project for the purpose of a golf course. The Cabinet readily approved President Kumaratunga`s proposal.
However, no Japanese investor ever showed up, and instead, four people of Sri Lankan origin received the State land owned by the Urban Development Authority (UDA) on lease.
The four lucky beneficiaries were Sivasinanthan Selvaratnam, Suwaneetta Selvaratnam, Shantha Wijesinghe and Susan Wijesinghe. The so-called BOI project never got off the ground.
Subsequently, another Sri Lankan businessman, Sumal Perera, paid an undisclosed sum, reportedly in the region exceeding Rs. 150 million for the `piece of paper`, and built his own golf club in the property, now called The Water`s Edge Golf and Country Club.Highly placed Government sources said the Inland Revenue Department had already recovered `millions of rupees` from the four persons who got the Rs. 150 million for doing nothing but get the UDA land on President Kumaratunga`s proposal.
The Government is reported to have based its own investigations following The Sunday Times exposure on September 9, 2004 giving details of this transaction. Investigators had discovered that the Selvaratnams and Wijesinghes had invested this `money-for-jam cash` in other ventures, but not paid their taxes.
There were no capital gains from the sale of their shares to Sumal Perera, but they had not declared this money or where it was invested to the Income Tax Department, these sources said.
These so-called `promoters` confirm that they received this sum of money for the `permit` given to open a golf course, and that they gave Ronnie Peiris his `commission` for his services in this transaction.
In short, these so-called `promoters` were mere `front-men` for this transaction. Following on this trail, the investigators have now discovered that indeed a tidy sum, in the region of Rs. 60 million, had been credited in a bank account of Mr. Peiris -- a direct beneficiary of the Cabinet paper presented by former President Kumaratunga.
According to the Income Tax Law currently in force, Mr. Peiris` tax liability will be 35 percent of the estimated Rs. 60 million share of the Kumaratunga proposal. He faces a penalty as well for not paying income tax on a 2004 transaction. Failure to pay this sum earned as a `commission` -- for being the go-between -- will result in all points of entry into Sri Lanka being told that he should be arrested on arrival.