A London-based financier, Nilanka Rajapaksa, has bought 49 per cent of Rivira Media Corporation Ltd., a member of the Richard Pieris Group of Companies, fuelling speculation that the deal had the backing of the government.
Well informed sources said the deal had been struck after Richard Pieris Chairman, Dr. Sena Yaddehige, concluded weeks of confidential negotiations and finalized the Rs 100 million transaction under which control still remains with Richard Pieris.
Dr. Yaddehige yesterday confirmed the deal and said that the buyer, a Lankan who had been living abroad for a long time, expected to do other business with the Richard Pieris Group in the future.
He said that Richard Pieris would continue to manage Rivira. Responding to the question of whether they would continue to manage the newspaper publishing company, he said ``absolutely.
Asked why a buyer would take a minority stake in a company that was not yet in profit, he said ``that s a question you must ask him. I can t speak for him.
The sources said the buyer, a close associate of Sanath Gunatillake, then media advisor to President Kumaratunga, first entered the scene in a big way during the CBK presidency.
Subsequently he bought one acre of Colombo-7 land adjoining the Japanese Embassy on Gregory s Road which was under the purview of JEDB.
The sources revealed that the Rs. 100 million consideration had been utilized to settle an NDB loan taken by Rivira which publishes two Sunday newspapers, the `Rivira and the `The Nation in Sinhala and English, a Sinhala astrological weekly, and `Bottom Line, and English business weekly coming out on Wednesdays.
The last Richard Pieris annual report revealed that the publishing company, which owns a modern press operating at Maligawatte and has offices in Maradana, had posted a Rs. 65 million loss in the year ended March 31, 2006.
Both the Maradana and Maligawatte premises are rented.
Political sources denied claims the deal had been influenced by the government.