Some of the victims of the forged visa racket to Anchorage in the United States have claimed they paid moneys ranging from Rs 500,000 to Rs 900,000 after meetings with Sports and Youth Affairs Minister, Jeevan Kumaratunga.
However, Mr. Kumaratunga was not available for comment yesterday. A member of his Colombo household said he was away from home.
CID detectives have so far questioned more than 23 victims of the alleged fraud. Whilst one had confessed to having met Minister Kumaratunga to secure a job in Alaska, the father of a victim, a local councillor had alleged he was told by the Minister to make payment to a particular individual.
CID detectives this week raided the residence of a person said to be associated with the racket. From him, detectives have recovered passports and documents to confirm cash payments. These passports and documents had been removed by the person concerned from the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs at dawn, soon after it became known the detectives had arrested eight persons with forged visas at the Bandaranaike International Airport.
The Sunday Times (Insight) of March 5 revealed exclusively how the offices of the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs were used as the headquarters of a multi-billion rupee human smuggling operation to the United States. The investigations by the CID were sparked off after detectives arrested and later detained eight Sri Lankan nationals at the BIA when they were headed for Alaska.
Two close associates of Minister Kumaratunga, a businessman and a member of the National Youth Service Council in Maharagama, were said to be among the kingpins of this alleged racket. They had been assisted by a Nigerian national.
Although it was claimed that the efforts to find employment for Sri Lankans in Anchorage (United States) were an above the board deal, CID investigations so far have revealed evidence to the contrary. They have found that the ?operation to provide employment? had been carried out illegally since no prior registration was obtained from the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment. Moreover, legitimate channels to obtain US visas ? the US Embassy in Colombo or the US Embassy in Nigeria ? had not been resorted to.
Though it had been claimed a third party had undertaken to provide the visa, CID sources say it was the responsibility of those who illegally obtained moneys to find employment to have verified their credentials.
Investigations have also revealed that the lecture hall in the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs had been used to brief prospective job seekers on the procedures to be followed. The mastermind of the racket, though he did not enjoy any official status, had been issued a Double Cab from the Ministry for his private use and has posed off as Director Policy and Research.
Such conduct, detectives said, gave many job seekers the impression that the entire operation was a Ministry-backed exercise. To the contrary, when President Mahinda Rajapaksa swore in a new Cabinet, he had not assigned the subject of employment to Mr. Kumaratunga. Hence, there had been no Government approval for the entire operation.
CID detectives are to question some officials of the Department of Immigration and Emigration. This is to ascertain how batches of passports were dispatched to Nigeria to be stamped with forged visas and how they were brought back. The shipping of passports to a foreign country is subject to stringent Government rules. In respect of foreign employment, only an employment agency officially recognised by the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment is entitled to courier passports abroad after obtaining formal Customs clearance.