the weather’ with Dilith after deleted arranged meeting
* COPE wants former SEC chiefs to unravel ‘mafia’!
Controversial investor Dilith Jayaweera who wilted under a barrage of questions raised by the media at a meeting earlier this week at first denied the existence of a stock exchange mafia influential enough to remove two SEC Chairpersons under a year, but then made some comments which clearly implied its existence, forcing him to then blame the regulator for not taking timely action and sending offenders to jail, which ironically was what the SEC was trying to do!
"If the wife of the President’s Secretary (Ms. Indrani Sugathadasa) cannot keep the job and if a best friend (Thilak Karunaratne) of the President who played marbles growing up together cannot keep the job, then there is a big problem," Jayaweera said when pressed by the media to comment on the resignation of two chairpersons of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in less than a year citing pressure from an influential group of investors, which the Parliamentary watchdog COPE now calls a mafia.
Jayaweera eloquently presented and then defended his views at the meeting with the media, but under the barrage of questions, he contradicted himself or gave vague answers, which made the entire presentation patchy. Questions which were asked from him over and over again was ‘whether or not an influential group of people forced the SEC chairpersons to resign?’ and ‘was there a stock exchange mafia?’
Is there a mafia? "There is a mafia, in the US, in Japan, in the fish market, in parliament, in the country and even in this room," was Jayaweera’s answer. Where influential investors behind the resignations of the SEC chairpersons? "No. The President appointed them to the SEC and no one can influence the President in such a manner as to have them removed," Jayaweera said. Were Ms. Sugathadasa and Karunaratne incompetent? Jayaweera praised their competence and integrity. Was the President at fault for appointing people who could not withstand pressure? Jayaweera said, "No, it’s not that". Then why did they resign? "I really do not know but if there is an influential mafia like you say there is then we are all in trouble," Jayaweera told journalists.
He then faulted the SEC for not investigating the market offences sooner, punishing offenders with jail terms, thus joining a group of people who have openly advocated for tougher regulation, although Jayaweera said he did not want an overregulated market. He also said SEC officials with vested interests had misled the two chairpersons.
Defending activities of his investment arm in the stock exchange, Jayaweera at one point said "Api ekata gahana ayojekayo newei." (We are not investors who colluded to play the market), which was exactly the type of behaviour the market was well aware of and the SEC was investigating.
Jayaweera said his presentation to the President at a recent stakeholder meeting was based on his views and those of likeminded investors, although he was not representing a group of people. In the presentation, he blamed the media and the SEC for being anti-government for creating a fear psychosis in the market.
"I got the opportunity to speak and I took the chance. I was the only one who prepared a power point presentation because the brokers’ association sent me a letter they had wanted to handover to the President, but their demands were so childish and worthless (laduru, bala illim). It is sad that innocent investors have to rely on such brokers to safeguard their interests. I had to do the best I could to get my views across. There were also others who spoke."
He was asked why he, with less than three years experience as an investor was selected to give a presentation, was it because he was a high net worth investor with influence?
He said that technically, he was not a high net worth investor since all stock exchange investments were via his investment vehicle Divasa Equity. When asked whether he was influential, he said yes! The advertising agency Triad cofounded by him ran two successful campaigns for the government, he said.
Four broker firms broke away in disgust from the association last year after the first meeting with the President resulted in the exit of Ms. Sugathadasa and SEC Director General Malik Cader. This year, another firm pulled out of the association after the meeting with the President, which also resulted in the resignation of an SEC chairman.
These broker firms have commended the SEC’s regulatory stance and for this, are being accused of being anti-government by a group of investors and their crony brokers who are being investigated for market offences and/or hurting because they cannot offload dud stocks they had bought when they played the market.
Jayaweera said he was critical of Karunaratne telling the media about the investigations and that he quit because of pressure from an influential group of investors, because it created negative perceptions about the stock exchange and the country. But when journalists pointed out that the SEC never made the investigations public and that it was those being investigated who criticised the SEC in the media and via emails over the investigations, Jayaweera said simply said "Yes, that is a valid point."
He repeatedly said both Ms. Sugathadasa and Karunaratne resigned for reasons other than pressure from an influential group of people close to the government.
"How would Dilith know? Was Dilith the SEC Chairman? Was Dilith in my shoes?" asked former SEC Chairman Thilak Karunaratne speaking to The Island Financial Review yesterday in a brief telephone interview. "How can Dilith know what kind of pressures I had to face? Certain people were asking me to leave and I received so many calls asking me to leave."
Karunaratne did not say anything further on the matter but he did take the opportunity to commend the staff at the SEC.
"I want to contradict Dilith’s comments about the SEC staff misleading me. The SEC staff is the best I have worked with, they are educated, enthusiastic and committed. They all supported me 100 percent. I knew what I was doing because I have been an investor in the stock exchange for a long time, so no one can mislead me. I took decisions in concurrence with the other members of the Commission and the staff. The SEC staff was superb! It was a privilege to have been associated with them."
Jayaweera had said Defence Secretary Deleted Rajapaksa had only arranged for him to meet with Karunaratne and that no pressure was exerted to stop any investigations. Jayaweera said he had received four or five letters from the SEC inquiring into certain transactions dated two years ago. Jayaweera said the investigations never came up with his meeting with Karunaratne. "We certainly did not talk about the weather!" was what Karunaratne told us when asked about Jayaweera’s comments regarding their meeting.
Market analysts pointed out that certain names are being whispered as to who these high net worth investors and their crony brokers are. "We all know them, but because of the legal implications I cannot name them, the SEC cannot name them, the CSE cannot name them and your newspaper cannot publish them!" one market analyst told us. "I could tell you how the market was played I could even tell you which broker’s bank account needs to be checked. But there is a law and the law must deal with this," he said.
Meanwhile, UNP MP Dr. Harsha De Silva said Jayaweera’s interaction with the media was a pleasant surprise and a welcome move in a country where transparency was nearly non-existent with the government still continuing to withhold information on EPF investments in the stock exchange. However, he said Jayaweera’s comments regarding the Defence Secretary enforced the idea that some probably did enjoy a degree of influence.
UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake told The Island Financial Review that COPE would summon both Sugathadasa and Karunaratne in a bid to understand the pressures they had faced and from where the pressures had come from. "This is a public matter and must not be kept in secret for any longer," he said.
Karunanayake on Tuesday proposed a motion in Parliament enabling COPE to summon the two former chairpersons of the SEC. "Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa was very favourable to this motion," he said. "We need to unravel this mystery."