- President and wife return gifts after ‘Sunday Leader’ exposé
- Rs 21.3 million gifts ordered for the first couple disappear
By Nirmala Kannangara
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has ordered a full scale investigation into the ‘gifts’ presented to him and the First Lady by the National Gem and Jewellery Authority (NGJA) at the ‘Jewels Sri Lanka 2010’ exhibition last week, following the exposé of NGJA Chairman Anil Koswatte’s extravagant expenses in The Sunday Leader last week .
Last Thursday, President Rajapaksa returned to the NGJA chairman the jewellery he and his wife received on December 10th and December 11th respectively when they officially graced the opening of the gem and jewellery exhibition. The President asked one of his close aids to get a valuation of the gifts and return them to NGJA Chairman Anil Koswatta and get a receipt from him
He has since ordered the Environment Ministry under whose purview the authority functions, to hold a full scale inquiry into the alleged misappropriation of public funds by Chairman Anil Koswatte as pointed out in our lead story last Sunday, ‘A Gift Fit For A King.’
Prior to returning the gifts, twenty four hours after the story broke, the President had summoned Anil Koswatte to Temple Trees and warned him not to tarnish his name. The stern admonishing of Koswatte was done in the presence of the All Island Gem Miners and Dealers Association (AIGMDA) office bearers, with whom the president was having a meeting.
Highly placed sources confided to The Sunday Leader that Rajapaksa had warned Koswatte saying, “I have never asked you for any gifts. As such I warn you not to tarnish my name.”
Anil Koswatte meanwhile sent The Sunday Leader a written response denying public funds were used to purchase gifts for the President and the First Lady. He then followed his letter with a telephone call insisting he had spent over Rs. 98,000/- from his ‘personal funds’ on jewellery he purchased from Stone & String which gifts he gave the President and Mrs. Rajapaksa as well as seven other VVIPS at the official opening of the gem and jewellery exhibition.
He said he had only gifted a Blue Sapphire Silver Cufflink to the President, seven Ruby cufflinks to VVIPs and a Ruby/ Pearl Necklace set for the First Lady.
“I purchased nine gift items for the Chief Guests and other VVIPs who participated at the exhibition from Stone ‘N’ String to the value of Rs. 98,949/- using my personal funds but not from NGJA funds,” Koswatte claimed.
Quizzed as to why he spent his personal monies to purchase and give gifts at an official function Koswatte was unable to give us a coherent reply.
Koswatte sent us an invoice by Stone & String to The Sunday Leader together with an NGJA internal invoice to prove that the gifts were purchased from his personal funds.
But the question that arises is why Stone & String issued the purchasing invoice to Anil Koswatte, in his capacity as Chairman NGJA and why the NGJA thereafter issued an internal invoice to accept the receipt of the said items as well as put in a footnote to show that the payment was made from the Chairman’s personal funds.
Meanwhile, Security guards at NJGA told The Sunday Leader that the Supplies Division Manager together with other senior officials altered some documents believed to be those pertaining to the purchase of the golden gifts and other misappropriation of state funds. They charged that this was done on the instructions of Koswatte.
A security guard at the NGJA speaking on the condition of anonymity told The Sunday Leader that Supplies Manageress Yvonne Mallawarachchi although having left the office around 4.30 pm as usual had came back to office in a three wheeler at 8.15 p.m. and rushed to her department hurriedly.
The security notebook indicates that the Supplies Department keys had been handed over to Mallawarachchi at 8.15 p.m.” sources said.
“Since we are security guards and have no authority to check as to why she came back and question her as to why she wants the department keys which has never happened earlier, the security guard room has given the bunch of keys to her without any hassle. When I checked the security book, the keys had been taken by Mallawarachchi at 8.15 p.m. and had been returned at 9.35 p.m. Although she came in a three wheeler she left the office at 9.40 p.m. in an NGJA vehicle registration number NA 3573 with the Chairman’s secretary,” he said. Following the tip off from the NGJA about Chairman Koswatte removing the original documents of the transaction, three senior officials from the Environment Ministry had gone to the NGJA last Thursday and had removed all files pertaining to ‘Jewels Sri Lanka 2010’ exhibition.
The Environment Ministry has appointed Working Director NGJA Mr. Samarakoon to head the investigation in to the scandal. When contacted Samarakoon told The Sunday Leader that an inquiry is going on to ascertain whether there had been any misappropriation of NGJA funds and that he was not in a position to give details until the conclusion of the investigation.
The real story of this saga is yet to come out. If the President only received a pair of cufflinks and his wife a Ruby/ Pearl Necklace, then what happened to the multi million rupee gem studded golden replica of President Rajapaksa and a diamond studded golden necklace ordered from Nityakalyani Jewellers.
The two items alone are valued at 21.3 million rupees while no estimate of the value of gifts ordered for the other VIPs are available.
Anil Koswatta who is said to be a close associate of the President’s trusted coordinating secretary Gamini Senarath, told The Sunday Leader that he totally denies ordering anything from the Nityakalyani jewellers.
However, when Manager Nithyakalyani Jewellers Wellawatta Mr. Raja was once again contacted by The Sunday Leader last week to find out their involvement in making the gem studded golden replica of President Rajapaksa and a diamond studded golden necklace for the First Lady. Raja he got very agitated. He again did not deny the jewellery firm had indeed been commissioned to make a “golden gift” for the president and his wife and that they had been sworn to secrecy by Koswatte but said he was not ready to give any further information claiming that he was not bound to disclose these details to the media.
“You maybe from the media but you have no right to question us on this matter. It is left to me to disclose any details or not” Raja said and then went on to threaten The Sunday Leader journalist saying, “I can take legal action against you for this.”