The former chief executive officer of the debt riddled SriLankan Airlines and his wife have been arrested, after a corruption scandal involving the French aerospace company Airbus revealed the couple may have accepted millions of dollars in bribes.
The arrests come after Britain’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) found alleged corruption in dealings between Airbus and Sri Lankan Airlines date back to between July 2011 and June 2015. SFO found that Airbus had paid $2 million to Priyanka Wijenayakathe, the wife of the then Sri Lankan Airlines executive Kapila Chandrasena.
It is alleged these bribes were given by Airbus with the aim of securing a multi-billion-dollar aircraft deal. Investigators in Britain have accused Airbus of bribing associates in order to "obtain or retain business or advantage". As a result in January, a French court had fined Airbus €3.6 billion (USD $4 billion).
Wijenayakathe reportedly accepted the bribes in order to “influence” SriLankan Airlines to purchase 10 aircraft from the Airbus in 2013, during the previous Rajapaksa regime. The order of 4 such aircraft was subsequently cancelled, leaving Sri Lanka to pay a penalty of $154 million.
The allegations come in the midst of Sri Lanka's national carrier struggling financially. It was reported that the airline had accumulated losses of USD $1.24 billion.
As a result, Chandrasena and his wife have currently been remanded in custody.