Leaked audio tapes intensify Avant Garde scandal

Minister Rajitha Senaratne

Explosive revelations about the ongoing Avant Garde controversy continue to shake the ruling Government, with new audio tapes emerging yesterday that appears to implicate a senior aide to Minister Rajitha Senaratne as accepting a Rs. 5 million bribe from the chairman of the private maritime security company in the dock, Nissanka Senadhipathi.

Minister Senaratne, who is presently overseas, then released an audio recording to counter the first recording that appeared on the news and gossip website, lankaenews.com, which purportedly shows that same aide informing Senadhipathi that the Minister had refused the money.

The second recording appeared on Minister Senaratne’s verified Facebook account, with the title “Proof of Rajitha’s innocence: Audio tape proving that Rajitha Senaratne refused the money sent by Nissanka Senadhipathi”.

In both audio tapes, Senadhipathi is speaking with Dr. Sayuru Samarasundare, present chairman of State Pharmaceuticals Corporation, an institution that comes under Minister Senaratne’s Ministry. Dr. Samarasundera also served as Chairman, National Aquatic Research Agency (NARA), when Senaratne was minister of fisheries in the Mahinda Rajapaksa cabinet.

In both audio tapes, the person alleged to be Dr. Samarasundera refers to Senadhipathi as ‘machang’. In the first audio tape released on the website, Dr. Samarasundera admits to having received the Rs. 5 million from Senadhipathi.

The controversial Avant Garde Chairman then asks Dr. Samarasundera whether he had “pocketed” the money meant for Senaratne, who he says was flaying him in the media for having given millions to another cabinet minister. Dr. Samarasundera denies the charge. Senadhipathi appears irked in the first audio tape released on the website about the fact that Minister Senaratne was claiming the Avant Garde chairman had offered him money and begged him to get the cases against the security company dropped. “Did I ever say that?” Senadhipathi demands of Dr. Samarasundera who then promises to find out what was going on from the Minister and get back to the Avant Garde chairman. Before ending the conversation, Senadhipathi also asks the State Pharmaceuticals Chairman if he had “managed to get a car” and indicates he would solve the problem for him. He then obtains a private telephone number for Dr. Samarasundera which the latter provides before the conversation ends.

Daily FT has since attempted to reach Dr. Samarasundera on that number, but a message indicates the line is no longer in use.

In the second audio tape released by Minister Senaratne, Senadhipathi appears to be disappointed and resigned to the fact that Senaratne had refused the Rs. 5 million. “He has refused to take the money. I will come and give that money back to you,” Dr. Samarasundera is heard saying in the second recording.

“So he says I have supplied weapons to Boko Haram? It’s okay. We will see one day,” Senadhipathi says in the second ‘counter’ recording released yesterday. The Avant Garde Chairman then tells Dr. Samarasundera: “I understand there is nothing you can do at this point,” to which the latter responds, “yes, Machang, I was also trying because you are all my friends.” Senadhipathi then says: “Yes you did everything you could.”

“Protect your position,” Senadhipathi advises Dr. Samarasundera in the audio released by Minister Senaratne. “You can never say how long these political positions will last.”

The damning tapes are the latest installment in the ongoing Avant Garde scandal that has shocked the nation and rocked the newly installed Government to its core. The private company appears to have reached out to potential emissaries at all levels of the new Government, Daily FT learns from authoritative sources. Aides to several Ministers in the current UNFGG Government are reported to have received extravagant gifts including vehicles from vested private interests. Minister Senaratne himself has alleged that several key ministers are presently carrying out a contract on behalf of the powerful private security firm. Details of these transactions are also expected to emerge in due course as the scandal continues to unfold, Daily FT learns.

Yesterday’s audio release that first appeared on lankaenews.com, was scheduled for release last week, during a press conference by the Avant Garde Chairman. However, Senadhipathi cancelled the briefing a few hours before it was scheduled to begin in Thalawathugoda, citing ill health after abdominal surgery. Reports indicated Senadhipathi had been strong-armed into cancelling the press briefing by powerful officials within the Government.

Under Sri Lankan law, offering a bribe is also a criminal offence. Briefs are being prepared for the tapes to be submitted before the Bribery Commission for investigation into the offer of the bribe by Senadhipathi as well as the Avant Garde chairman’s charge that a senior administration official allegedly accepted the cash.

(Source: Daily FT – By Dharisha Bastians)