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Trial at the bar highlights major flaw in Public Property Offenses Act, failure of AG Department

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The trial at the Colombo High Court bar dismissed some of the charges against former finance minister Ravi Karunanayake, fugitive ex-central bank governor Arjuna Mahendran and nine others over the voucher scam. of the Treasury perpetrated on March 29, 2016, due to indictments, said judicial sources The Island yesterday (5).

The former president of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), who is also the adviser to the Ministry of Justice UR de Silva, PC, confirmed the problem.

The trial at the bar consisting of Damith Thotawatte (Chairman), Manjula Thilakaratne and Mr. Izzadeen, by a majority decision, dismissed the relevant charges.

The court rejected a request by public prosecutor Lakmini Girihagama to amend the indictment last Friday (4). Karunanayake’s attorney, Shavendra Fernando, PC, opposed the request made on behalf of the Attorney General. Judge Issadeen said the charges could stand. The Island question, UR de Silva explained that under the Public Property Act (1982), only individuals could be charged. But in the case of the treasury bill scam, individuals and perpetual treasuries (PTL) have been charged, the president’s counsel said, acknowledging it was a matter of serious concern. The first accused were the PTL and other individuals.

The court was told that the word “person” had not been interpreted in the Public Property Act, hence the dispute. The trial at the bar also held that although the interpretation in respect of “person” in the Penal Code could have been used, the Public Property Act made no reference to this. The trial at the bar highlighted a major flaw in the filing of the charges.

Outgoing BASL President Saliya Peiris, PC, was not available for comment.

The indictments were filed during Livera’s Dappula tenure as AG. Sanjay Rajaratnam took over from Livera in May last year.

Lawyer and civil society activist Nagananda Kodituwakku said Friday’s release of treasury bill scam suspects prompted him to inquire with the parties involved.

Attorney Kodituwakku said those accused of treasury bill scam were only acquitted by the HC Trial-at-Bar of some of the charges on the grounds that only natural persons could be charged with theft of public funds and not businesses such as perpetual properties under the Public Property Act. A similar judgment was made by the HC in the recent past and that decision was challenged by the Attorney General and the case is still pending, the lawyer said.

Previously, on December 30, 2017, a Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) headed by Judge KT Chitrasiri, investigated the Treasury Bill scams, identified these suspects as responsible for the fraud and ordered the Attorney General to hire criminal charges against them, says Kodituwakku. Therefore, there was no truth in what was circulating in the public domain that all suspects were released by the court, the lawyer said.

The PCoI was made up of Chairman Justice KT Chitrasiri, the late Justice PS Jayawardene and retired Assistant Auditor General V Kandasamy.

Previously, on December 6, 2021, 11 people, including former MP Karunanayake and Arjuna Mahendran, had been charged.

The three-judge trial said the 11 charges against the suspects could not stand, so they were dismissed.

The AG filed indictments against the suspects for conspiracy to commit criminal misappropriation of treasury bills with a face value of Rs 36.98 billion on March 29, 2016.

The first treasury bill scam was perpetrated on February 27, 2015. The suspects are Ravi Karunanayaka, Arjuna Mahendran, Arjun Aloysius, Kasun Palisena, Jeffrey Joseph Aloysius, Chitta Ranjan Hulugalle, Muthuraja Surendran, Ajahn Gardige Punchihewea and Batugoda Hewa Indika Saman Kumara .

Kodituwakku pointed out that the dismissal of some of the charges regarding the high-profile treasury bill scam should be seen in the context that the AG and the Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) have withdrawn more than 50 cases since the last presidential election.

The jurisdiction of the AG department was raised in Colombo High Court rulings against former Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando and ex-IGP Pujith Jayasundera in the Sunday case Easter.

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