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Rs. 619 M “Dockyardgate”: Two High Ranking Customs Men Caught Out

Aug 28, 2010 3:10:37 PM - thesundayleader.lk
  • Customs Trade Union Demands Letter From P. B.
  • AG Slammed For Ambiguous Advice

By Faraz Shauketaly

A key trade union in the Sri Lanka Customs  has requested that the Treasury Secretary, Dr. P. B. Jayasundara confirms in writing his verbal instructions to the Director General of Customs, Suddharma Karunaratna,  to follow advice of the Attorney General and drop the case against Colombo Dockyard PLC –  a case that has come to be known as “Dockyardgate”.
The General Secretary, Customs Branch of the Sri Lanka Independent Government Trade Union Organisation,  W. M. R. P Wijekoon in a letter to the Director General of Customs has further  called on her to take  action against two senior officers whose conduct in this case has come under scrutiny. In the letter the union alleges that Secretary to the Treasury Dr. P. B. Jayasundara had given a verbal directive  to withdraw the Supreme Court  case against Colombo Dockyard PLC initiated by the Customs Department.
In our previous exposé of the so-called “Dockyardgate” scandal we reproduced the Attorney General’s opinion given to the Director General of Customs on May 10, 2010, which carried a warning that the AG would withdraw the action pending before the Supreme Court against  Dockyard Ltd. This is inspite of the fact that the company had already all but conceded guilt by making a deposit of Rs 95 million with the Customs Department, to be applied against the final determination of the Customs inquiry pending against the company.
There is also controversy over the minutes made on the AG’s letter by three senior Customs officers, one being the Deputy Director General (Enforcement) Z.A.M Jazeel and the other, the Director (Preventive) Thilak Perera, on May 31, 2010 and the final minute dated June 23, 2010 and made by Deputy Director Lalitha Weerasinghe sealing the fate of the case totally disregarding the minute made by the Customs Legal Affairs Unit that questioned the AG’s opinion. These three minutes clearly demonstrate the surreptitious – and hurried action taken to close the case without the knowledge of the new DGC, Mrs. Karunarathna.

The DGC had taken a firm stand on this issue challenging the opinion expressed by the AG Mohan Peiris to withdraw the case. Further the DGC had nullified the improper action taken by three senior Customs men. Customs insiders believe that these three men had acted apparently on the advice of a former Director General of Customs who was removed quite unexpectedly.
The DGC’s letter sent to the AG on August 3, 2010 and reproduced in our last Sunday’s issue clearly demonstrates her stand that goes against the AG’s advice. Her stand is based on the consideration of the colossal revenue losses incurred by the government and also due to sudden deviation of the AG’s stand since the initial advice given by him to Customs on November 4, 2009. The new DGC had informed the AG that the withdrawal of the Supreme Court action at this stage is clearly inappropriate.