The offices of the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs were the headquarters of a multi billion rupee human smuggling operation to the United States, a CID investigation has revealed.
This investigation was sparked off after CID detectives last week arrested eight Sri Lankan nationals heading for Alaska (in the United States) with forged visas. They were to board a Singapore-bound flight and take connections thereafter to Taipei (Taiwan) and to Anchorage (Alaska). Immediately thereafter, two of those linked to the human smuggling ring were arrested outside the airport by CID detectives.
CID investigations have revealed that two close supporters of Sports and Youth Affairs Minister Jeevan Kumaratunga were operating this racket together with a wealthy businessman. The duo had been appointed by Mr. Kumaratunga as directors of the National Youth Service Council in Maharagama but they had used the Ministry offices to interview prospective candidates for jobs in Alaska. Mr. Kumaratunga is now away from Sri Lanka and could not be contacted for his comments.
The eight now in custody have told CID detectives that each of them paid between Rs 700,000 and Rs 900,000 to the two NYSC officials. The cash transactions had taken place in the Ministry premises. Detectives have taken into custody a pile of documents from the Ministry including records that confirm that payments have been made. Through this, the CID has been able to establish that 79 other Sri Lankans had made payments, obtained forged visas and left the country.
The mastermind behind this human smuggling operation together with the two directors of the National Youth Service Council is said to be a businessman who got rich through this operation. He is said to own a large apartment in one of the city`s leading condominium complexes. The man has gone into hiding and a hunt is now on for him. This businessman is said to have a Nigerian associate with whom he had been involved in human smuggling operations to other countries. His link with the present US forged visa scam is also being probed.
CID detectives, The Sunday Times learns, have recorded the statement of Ministry Secretary S. Virithamulla in this connection. He is learnt to have said that the two NYSC directors had no official appointment at the Ministry. He has said that he was unaware of what they had been doing in a section of the Ministry premises. Detectives are also to record the statement of Saman Amerasinghe, Private Secretary to the Minister.
CID detectives have found that the visas issued have all been cleverly forged. They have brought this to the attention of the United States Embassy in Colombo and sought assistance to ascertain the cases of the other 79 Sri Lankans who had gone on forged visas.
All those wanting to travel to Alaska for employment had been told to come to the Ministry premises giving the clear impression that the entire exercise was a legitimate Government-sponsored activity, a CID official who did not wish to be identified told The Sunday Times. He said a thorough investigation was being conducted to unravel not only matters relating to the racket but also to determine whether there was any political patronage.