26 February, 2017
by Ranil Wijayapala
Taking speedy action against those responsible for corruption, misuse, abuse of public assets and those who plundered public assets was the wish of the people of this country when they voted Maithripala Sirisena into power in January 2015 and subsequently, the present Yahapalana Government in August 2015.
The fulfilment of this pledge was the prime task entrusted on this Government and the establishment of the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) was the first step taken by the Yaha Palana government to fulfil that task through a democratically accepted way adhering to the law and order regulations.
The special gazette notification issued on February 13, 2015 with regard to the establishment of the Financial Crimes Investigation Division and the subsequent opening of this special Police Division on February 26, 2015 brought crime investigations in Sri Lanka towards a new dimension as it was the first time that Sri Lanka Police established a specialized Police division to investigate financial crimes committed in the country. The existing Fraud Bureau was limited in scope.
According to the special gazette notification, the new Police Division was established in terms of the Cabinet decision made on January 21, 2015 and on February 12, 2015 in accordance with the approval of the Minister in charge of Public Order.
Through this gazette notification, powers were vested in this Police Division to investigate grievous financial crimes, corruption and massive unauthorized projects, crimes against public funds and property, grievous crimes against national security, public finance, health and environment, unlawful enrichment and misuse of official powers, money laundering and funding of terrorists and illegal transactions.
The FCID which started its prime role of investigating grievous financial crimes referred to it from February 26, 2015, is completing two years of operations today (February 26) creating a major impact in Sri Lankan society.
The prime task before them is to recover all public assets plundered by politicians and the unlawfully earned assets of individuals.
Though these efforts by the FCID have been criticized by certain elements as a political witch hunt it has proven beyond any doubt that it has no political agenda behind the investigations and they are conducting investigations only on complaints referred to this Division by the Inspector General of Police, considering the validity and the relevance of the complaint.
Even the complaints directly received by the FCID are investigated after getting approval from the IGP. The FCID has become a Police Division specialized in resolving and investigating financial crimes but not a Division that conducts investigations after going behind people.
In its two years existence the legality of the FCID was also challenged before the court saying that it was established by the IGP without the approval of Parliament.
But this argument on the FCID was dismissed by the Fort Magistrate, Lanka Jayaratne on October 24, 2016 giving a landmark judgment saying that IGP has the authority to form a separate investigative body under the Police Ordinance, for special purposes.
This landmark judgment on the legality of the formation of the FCID cleared all barriers created by critics of the FCID to take action against those responsible for grievous financial crimes committed in the country. But, like any other Police Division it too has to act within the legal framework of the country.
The due legal process it has to follow also proves beyond any doubt that it has to function within the legal framework.
Like the way complaints are referred to the FCID with the approval of the IGP any legal action against any respondent of any crime has to be filed by the Attorney General’s Department after the respective case is referred to the IGP upon completion of investigations by the FCID. Only the Attorney General decides how to proceed with the case in the High Court after the IGP refers that case to the Attorney General.
FCID records indicate that out of the 322 cases referred to it for investigations they have completed investigations into 74 cases and indictments have been filed on 12 cases. They are being heard at different High Courts in the country.
Only 38 people have been arrested during investigations into these complaints.
Among the cases now being heard in the High Court include the case against former Minister Johnston Fernando for the fraudulent use of the Rs.5.2 million from the Cooperative Wholesale Establishment and the case against former Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa for using Rs.2.99 billion for Divineguma Isurumath Housing project without due approval.
The FCID during its first year in operation had received 230 complaints and had completed investigations on 35 cases.
This is a clear indication that FCID has firmly established its roots systematically, within the legal framework of the country and has earned the confidence of the people for conducting investigations within the legal framework.
According to a senior FCID official who spoke to the Sunday Observer on condition of anonymity, due to the complex nature of investigations that require excessive documentary evidence, unlike in other crime investigations, the FCID has not been able to show the progress expected by the people.
“Justice hurried is justice buried. To do justice we have to investigate properly and do it within the legal framework of the country and in most of the instances we need to get the support of other countries to complete these investigations.
When we seek assistance from other countries for our investigations some countries respond speedily, some countries respond slowly and some do not respond at all.
The completion of these investigations also depend on their assistance. But we make sure that these investigations are done properly and also speedily,” the official added.
He said that those who complain about the efficiency of FCID investigations have to consider those factors too when criticizing the slow progress of the investigations.
Though the FCID investigations have not been able to see an end at court hearings or put any person in jail, it has made a huge impact in the society with regard to the use of public funds and legal framework.
Public officials handling state funds now think twice when allocating funds for any project or other activity, as they are now aware how much they would have to suffer if they make any mistake when using public funds, or misuse public assets without following stipulated procedures.
Therefore, these public servants are compelled to think twice when releasing public funds or assets on the directive of politicians.
The politicians in turn, have to follow proper procedures when making any request for the use of public funds or assets for any project or event.
This situation has created a sense of accountability among public servants as well as politicians.
The extensive nature of the investigations by the FCID officials into complaints referred to it, not only help unravel the people behind those financial irregularities and crimes, but also help to unravel many more irregularities, misuse and abuse of public money and assets.
The investigations conducted into the CSN TV channel is one such, which could unravel many more assets relating to these transactions running into billions of rupees.
Through these investigations the FCID has been able to confiscate assets running into billions of public funds misused or abused during the previous regime. For instance, three houses and the three lands which were said to be owned by former Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa have been confiscated.
The house and land in Oruthota, Gampaha, worth more than Rs. 50 million, the house and land in Browns Hill, Matara, worth Rs.50 million and the land and house in Malwana worth Rs.200 million have already been confiscated, and the Pugoda Magistrate has directed the property said to be owned by former Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa and Thirukumar Nadesan to be sold by public auction and the income remitted to the Treasury. Apart from this, more than Rs.1 billion assets belonging to the CSN TV channel have been identified to be frozen when investigations are completed in this regard.
The FCID makes use of certain sections of the Penal Code, including, sections 386, 389,390 and 400, the Money Laundering Act, Terrorism Financing Act of 2006, and Suspicious Transaction Reporting Act, to file action against those found responsible for fraud, misuse and abuse of public assets.
According to FCID officials, these Acts and sections of the Penal Code are being effectively used against the people responsible for these crimes and no new laws were introduced to take any action against them.
The FCID considers each and every case referred to them for investigations, irrespective of the amount of public money or assets misused or abused, and investigations are conducted based on documental evidence and through the interrogation of suspects involved in these cases.
Cases such as, the MiG deal running into US $ 14 million involving former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa are still under investigation, and the FCID, through the Fort Magistrate’s Court has obtained a warrant order to issue an INTERPOL blue notice to arrest Udayanga Weeratunga, former Sri Lankan Ambassador to Russia, who is evading arrest by the law enforcement authorities.
Like seeking Interpol assistance to arrest suspects in the MiG deal investigation, the FCID is also seeking Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) from many other countries to ensure that the investigations are conducted properly.
The FCID has asked for Mutual Legal Assistance from 23 countries so far, in support of ongoing investigations.
The Attorney General’s Department, Justice Ministry and the Police Department are involved when taking MLA from other countries, after entering into agreements with those countries to utilize their support to fulfil those investigations, while teams from the FCID have visited several countries to conduct their investigations.
Since the subject of conducting investigations into financial crimes needs expertise knowledge on the subject, it has utilized the service of the officials with good international exposure to direct the officials and the Police officers conducting the investigations on the proper lines. Their knowledge on financial crimes investigations are regularly updated and improved by giving them international exposure and training.
The FCID, now functioning under Senior DIG Ravi Waidyalankara, under the direct supervision of the IGP, has a staff of 120 including, a Senior Superintendent of Police, two Superintendents of Police and two Assistant Superintendents of Police.
They are making a collective effort to complete these investigations referred to them, fully and fulfil public expectations by bringing to book those responsible for grave financial crimes committed against public funds and the country’s assets