Government in overdrive with US assistance: Search for ‘stolen funds’

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A US official is in Colombo to coordinate high profile ongoing asset recovery operations undertaken by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration.

Director General of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) President’s Counsel Sarath Jayamanne yesterday said the US official coordinated training programmes involving his outfit and related work. PC Jayamanne said so when The Island inquired from him about the recent US State Department announcement that Sri Lanka would receive US assistance in this regard.

PC Jayamanne succeeded Dilrukshi Dias Wickramasinghe in late Oct. 2016 following her sudden resignation after an incident where President Maithripala Sirisena took the CIABOC to task.

The State Department Spokesperson on Dec.5 declared that since 2016, the US government had assisted in Sri Lanka’s anti-corruption efforts to improve the functioning of the legal system and civil society and to enhance good governance. The spokesperson said programmes included the provision of a Resident Legal Advisor to provide anti-corruption and asset recovery training, and support to the CIABOC.

PC Jayamanne said that on the basis of the State Department statement Sri Lanka had been erroneously categorised as one of the four most corrupt countries by a section of the media. The DG, CIABOC said that the US had offered assistance consequent to Sri Lanka’s request last year. Ukraine, Tunisia and Nigeria had been named as other recipients of US assistance, he said.

The US official works with the Attorney General’s Department as well as Presidential Task Force engaged in anti-corruption work.

The Island sought an explanation from the Public Affairs Section of the US embassy in Colombo on Dec. 11 regarding State Department categorising Sri Lanka among a group of countries selected to receive US assistance to combat corruption. In spite of repeated reminders, the following questions went unanswered:

(a) Has the State Department examined treasury bond scams perpetrated in Feb 2015 and March 2016 before offering special assistance to Sri Lanka, including provision of Resident Legal Advisor, Colombo?

(b) As the State Department has revealed allocation of USD 115 mn annually for global anti-corruption activities, could the embassy reveal the allocation for Sri Lanka?

(c) What is the status of Rs 1.92 bn (USD 13 mn) USAID project meant to strengthen accountability and democratic governance in Sri Lanka against the backdrop of the country being named as one of the four countries which required US assistance to tackle corruption?

Although the proposal didn’t materialize, the UK, too, in mid-2016 offered to station some personnel in Colombo in support of CIABOC.

PC Jayamanne explained how Nigeria had benefited from US-led assistance to recover stolen funds. Nigeria and Sri Lanka had been at the recently concluded inaugural Global Forum on Asset recovery (GFAR) co-hosted by the US and the UK in Washington. Jayamanne said that initially Nigeria would receive USD 300 mn from Switzerland. PC Jayamanne was on Sri Lanka’s delegation along with other senior Attorney General’s Department officers.

Following GFAR, international news agencies quoted Nigerian Attorney General and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami as having said at the Chatham House, London, that he had signed two agreements, on behalf of Nigeria, with Switzerland and the United States of America, respectively, for the return of USD 621 million in looted funds.

According to agencies, former head of state, late General Sani Abacha and the former Bayelsa State Governor, late Diepreye Alamieyeisegha were responsible for illegal transfers.

Jayamanne stressed that Sri Lanka’s desire to secure international assistance in asset recovery operations shouldn’t be construed as a failure of the domestic mechanisms. “Some investigations do require international assistance and expertise,” he said.

The media has revealed that the stolen funds currently in the custody of the US were stashed away in the United Kingdom (USD 1.6m and 21.7m Pounds), France (USD 145m) and Jersey (USD 299m) respectively.

Jayamanne said the World Bank, too, had been involved in the initiative. Referring to an international conference in Austria he had participated several months ago, Jayamanne explained the stand taken by some that recovered money should be utilized subjected to strict international scrutiny.

(Source: The Island – By Shamindra Ferdinando)