Sri Lanka’s opening of the ‘Lotus Tower’ in Colombo was marred amidst claims from the president that the Chinese company behind the construction disappeared with more than $11 million of the funding.
The 356-metre tall structure was opened on Monday in a grand ceremony with several Chinese officials, including the ambassador to Sri Lanka, present.
However, in his address at the ceremony, Sri Lanka’s president Maithripala Sirisena claimed that Aerospace Long March International Trade Co. Ltd, (ALIT) a Chinese firm chosen to be one of the contractors, had disappeared along with Rs. 2 billion - worth more than $11 million.
“In 2016, we found ALIT had disappeared. We investigated into this and the Sri Lankan ambassador in Beijing went to the address of ALIT personally on my instruction to find there was no such company,” Sirisena said in a speech. “This is the money we could have spent for development of this country, for education, and medicines of patients.”
“The initial deposit of Rs. 2 billion paid to this company by the Sri Lanka Government is also unaccounted for and no one knows what happened to it,” claimed a presidential press release.
His claims sparked a reaction from former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, who said Sirisena’s remarks were “a horrendous insult to China”.
“This insulting statement was moreover made in the presence of the Chinese Ambassador,” he added. “We can understand why the government would want to sling mud at the political opposition on the eve of a decisive presidential election. But to publicly insult a major world power that has always been friendly and helpful to Sri Lanka, is unconscionable.”.
There has been no official response from China as of yet.