PTL’s Rs. 10.5 billion frozen in Central Bank

Perpetual Treasuries Ltd (PTL)’s two bank accounts amounting to Rs. 10.5 billion — containing its profits from the questionable bond transactions — will remain frozen till January 2018 after the Supreme Court this week rejected PTL’s Fundamental Rights petition challenging the Monetary Board’s suspension of its primary dealer licence and the blocking of its accounts.

An aggregate of Rs 10.5 billion in cash and bonds is contained in the two frozen accounts at the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL). The next logical step would be to launch civil action to recover the losses incurred by the Employees’ Provident Fund “due to collusive action between some employees of the EPF and PTL,” a legal source said.

The Bench comprised Chief Justice Priyasath Dep and Justices Buwaneka Aluwihare and Nalin Perera. Deputy Solicitor General Milinda Gunatilake with Senior State Counsel Shahida Barrie and Dr Avanti Perera appeared for the Attorney General, the Monetary Board and the Central Bank.

Legal sources told the Sunday Times that both, the Government and the EPF could use Section 56A of the Registered Stocks and Securities Ordinance of 1937 (as amended) to pursue civil action to recover losses caused to them on market manipulation. This can be done by summary trial before a Magistrate, and the sentence is both a jail term for those involved and a fine that is twice the amount of the losses suffered by the Government/EPF, after the losses are quantified.

The Monetary Board in terms of regulations made under the Registered Stocks and Securities Ordinance and the Local Treasury Bills Ordinance suspended the primary dealer licence of PTL from July 6, 2017. This prevented the company from carrying out business and other activities as a primary dealer for six months. Its petition said the Monetary Board had made the order without having carried out a proper inquiry into its affairs.

The monies reside in two accounts at the Central Bank and are accruing a low rate of interest under the ‘Standing Deposit Facility’ of the CBSL. Under the CBSL Act, however, civil action can be taken by the Government or the EPF. In the face of criticisms regarding PTL’s engagement in primary and secondary dealings, the CBSL initially issued a directive to freeze the company’s electronic and hard copy records relating to all transactions. The regulator then conducted an on-site examination.

According to the restrictions placed by the Monetary Board, PTL must submit all expenses of directors, legal fees, dividends on a weekly basis under the signature of the company’s CEO and get approval for continuing in business. The company cannot access the frozen accounts. The Commission of Inquiry (COI) that was subsequently established unearthed additional evidence. It found that telephone records related to transactions had been deleted despite the previous order to preserve them.

In July, a further step was taken to suspend the primary dealership. This included the suspension of bank accounts used to effect these transactions and which contained most of the profits earned in 2015 and 2016, legal sources said. The COI, which has resumed sittings, will convene again for another session to present evidence emerging from telephone analyses. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe under whom the Central Bank comes is also due to appear.

Meanwhile, the Securities Exchange Commission suspended PTL’s activities in the capital market soon after CBSL issued its directives, Director General Vajira Wijegunawardane said. It can no longer deal in corporate debt. But there are no restrictions on its dealing in shares. Soon after its bond gains, PTL dumped large amounts of money into National Development Bank (NDB). At present, PTL holds 7,632,593 shares or 4.45 percent while Perpetual Equities Limited has 3,482,872 or 2.03 percent.

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