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‘No evidence’ in corruption cases claims Sri Lankan president

Sri Lanka’s president Ranil Wickremesinghe claimed there was “no evidence” to prosecute many who were accused of corruption during his predecessors’ regime, stating that cases were only “filed against a few”.

Responding specifically to questions regarding corruption under the govenrments of both Mahinda and Gotabaya Rajapapksa, Wickremesinghe said, “during our Government, cases were filed against a few but there was no evidence against others”.

“If there are fresh evidence, anyone can  submit these to the newly formed independent commission,” Wickremesinghe continued.

He continued to deflect questions relating to stolen assets and corruption, claiming that even the richest person in the world wouldn't be able to help pay off Colombo’s accumulated debt, which has seen an economic crisis ravage the island.

“If you look at our debt, I don’t think we can do that even if we go to the richest person in the world,” he said. “We have taken that much debt. If someone says you can take back the money that one or two persons took out of Sri Lanka and solve this, that is utterly false.”

Wickremesinghe was speaking at an event organized by the United Youth Union in Colombo.

According to a transcript from the president’s office, a member of the audience asked "It is because the Rajapaksa stole money that we are in this situation today, so what happens to the money that belongs to the people? Nothing has been done to recover it and what can be done to prevent the next government from doing the same?"

“As a nation, we are burdened with a substantial amount of debt, prompting my request for an extension until 2042 to repay these loans,” added Wickremesinghe in response. “Therefore, claims suggesting that a single individual or a select few can resolve this issue are entirely unfounded, “he said. “To address concerns related to corruption and financial mismanagement, we have established a new commission.”

Wickremesinghe also told the Sri Lankan parliament that the country hopes to avoid repaying debt till December 2027 with talks on restructuring so to repay them in the period running up to 2042

“We are in discussions to restructure all debt including foreign debt,” he said. “We hope to end these discussions in the near future. We hope to get relief from paying debt from January 2023 to December 2027. We will then repay this debt from 2027 to 2042.”

Corruption was known to have been widespread under the Rajapaksa regime, with members of the family themselves embroiled in several reported business deals.

Earlier reporting by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) revealed in the Pandora Papers how members of the Rajapaksa family stashed millions of dollars in anonymous offshore trusts and shell companies. 

The papers revealed how Nirupama Rajapaksa and her husband Thirukumar Nadesan hid millions from law enforcement during the armed conflict through investments in luxury properties across the world, offshore trusts, and opulent artwork. The ICIJ estimated that as of 2017 the offshore holdings of the couple were valued at approximately $18 million. At the time, the median annual income in Sri Lanka was less than $4,000.

Under Wickremesinghe too, there are cabinet who have been explicitly named in the Pandora papers. The present Public Security Minister Tiran Alles was named in the Pandora Papers, confirming he has two firms registered in an offshore tax haven. Currently, no investigations have been taken up by the Sri Lankan authorities to investigate the possibility of tax evasion or money laundering.

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