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Anti-corruption advocates demand action against Sri Lanka elites

Nirupama Rajapaksa, Thirukumar Nadesan, Ramalingam Paskaralingam, Ranasinghe Premadasa, Sri Lanka, Rajapaksha

World

Anti-corruption advocates demand action against Sri Lanka elites

Anti-corruption advocates are demanding immediate action against ruling Rajapaksha family and ruling elites in Sri Lanka. Writes Scilla Alecci

Anti-corruption advocates are demanding the Sri Lankan government take action after Pandora Papers exposed the hidden wealth of a former government official and a businessman tied to the ruling Rajapaksa family.

Activists from Transparency International Sri Lanka and others have made a united call for an investigation into the financial dealings of Nirupama Rajapaksa, a former deputy minister, and her husband, Thirukumar Nadesan.

Together, they have urged the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption and the country’s Financial Intelligence Unit to act after the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reported how the couple held at least $17 million worth of assets in secretive offshore trusts. Nirupama Rajapaksa and Nadesan deny any wrongdoing.

The ICIJ investigation, based on a leak of 11.9 million, records also showed how Ramalingam Paskaralingam, a former adviser to three Sri Lankan leaders, created trusts and companies in the British Virgin Islands to hold millions of dollars, invest in a private college, and buy property in the U.K. Paskaralingam did not respond to ICIJ’s repeated comment requests.

Now in his 80s, Paskaraligam ー also known as “Paski” ー was more powerful than any minister during President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s government between 1988 and 1993, according to The Sunday Times, ICIJ’s partner in Sri Lanka. Even then, most large projects passed through him, the report said.

“The biggest revelation in the Pandora Papers … is the sheer magnitude of the facilitation architecture for capital flight,” a spokesperson for Transparency International Sri Lanka told ICIJ.

The investigation “comes at a time when the economy is doing very badly, resulting in severe hardships to the citizens,” the spokesperson said. “In this context, news of unexplained wealth held offshore hit close to home.”

Last month, Sri Lanka declared an economic emergency as food prices surged amid the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. Mounting foreign debt and an estimated 9% decline in tax revenue collection have beset the economically fragile nation, according to a 2021 report by the World Bank.

Despite that, the Sri Lankan government recently approved a controversial tax amnesty which would allow individuals with undisclosed assets and income to avoid penalties and prosecution if they disclose their wealth and pay 1% in taxes.

Transparency International advocates and a political group in the opposition have also requested government agencies to release Nirupama Rajapaksa’s asset declarations for the years she served as an elected official. Last month, the election commission notified the opposition group that it’s under consideration.

“We are acutely conscious that the actual amounts of wealth hidden offshore would be so much more than this [reported by ICIJ] – and it remains a massive problem for developing nations such as Sri Lanka,” the Transparency International Sri Lanka spokesperson said.

With the help of financial service providers in Singapore and other financial hubs, Rajapaksa and Nadesan bought luxury homes in London and Sydney, and artworks using shell companies in low or zero tax rate jurisdictions, the leaked records show.

In one document, Nadesan’s advisers noted that one of his entities’ source of funds was consultancy services for foreign companies doing business with the Sri Lankan government.

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