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Strange Case Of The Printing Press

Jun 26, 2010 4:30:10 PM - thesundayleader.lk
  • Inland Revenue claims Rs 2.8 million from directors
  • Employed director faces music on his own
  • Ranil Wickremesinghe appointed new board

By Faraz Shauketaly

The printing company set up by President Ranasinghe Premadasa for the United National Party (UNP)  did not pay its dues to the Inland Revenue and the directors have now been noticed to appear before court. The Commissioner of Inland Revenue is claiming Rs 2.8 million in unpaid taxes and levies together with penalties. In the process, the Department appears only to have served notice on just one director who was employed by the company as a professional printer.

The Inland Revenue are pursuing a claim of Rs 2,845,728 in respect of Turnover Tax and Defence Levies. The claims are being made from inception to the closure of the company. During this period, the company had a total of 11 directors on their board. For reasons best known to the Inland Revenue, only two directors have been noticed to appear – Noel Selvanayagam, one time Chairman of the United Publishing House (Pvt) Limited and the professional printer employed by the company Chandana Ameratunga.

Right of reply from Bodhisiri Ranasinghe

Publishing House Pvt. Limited came into being in April 1996. It had as its subscribing shareholders, President’s Counsel Razik Zarook and Lakshman Athukorala, an accountant and qualified company secretary, who now lives in the Philippines. Razik Zarook confirmed to The Sunday Leader on Friday, that he was a shareholder by proxy for the UNP and made it clear that the share was not held for his own beneficial interest.

At the time the board of directors consisted of Razik Zarook (Chairman), Lakshman Athukorala (Director/Secretary), C. Ameratunga, Joel Selvanayagam, J.B.L. De Silva, Irwin Weerackody and Bodhisiri Ranasinghe. Business and Industrial Consultants Limited of Colombo 8 were the original company secretaries who were replaced in May 2006 by Lakshman Athokorala who is a qualified company secretary, also serving as a director.

Late April 1998, Ranil Wickremesinghe in his capacity as Leader of the UNP, asked Razik Zarook and the rest of the original Board of Directors to step down. In keeping with the request made by the Head of the de facto controlling shareholder ( i.e. the UNP for whom Razik Zarook says he was acting) Razik Zarook, Joel Selvanayagam, J. B.L.  De Silva, Irwin Weerackody and Bodhisiri Ranasinghe resigned. Athukorala and Ameratunga who remained on the board were joined by Noel Selvanayagam and the late George Pelpola of Gampola in May 1998.

Inland Revenue demand for Rs. 2.8m

The company was then chaired by Noel Selvanayagam and Ameratunga continued to run the technical side, being a qualified printer. He alone of the others was not seen as political rather he was the professional side of the business having gained his qualifications in the United Kingdom.

In a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between United Publishing House and a company called WIDAC Printing Pvt Limited of Daisy Villa Avenue Colombo 4, it was agreed that United Publishing House would cease operations by 1st February 2000 and that WIDAC would purchase the business.
In the MOU were details of how much WIDAC were to pay: Rs 9.5 million out of which they were to pay a sum of Rs 900,000 to LOLC and a payment of Rs 200,000 per month for five months to end in June 2000. The balance of Rs 7.6 Million was due to be paid on or before July 15th 2000.

The MOU also provided for WIDAC to move the machinery to any other location (from the Premadasa Centre where it had been housed) and also permitted any representative from United Publishing accompanied by a Director of UPH to inspect the status and condition of the machinery regularly – until such time as the Rs 9 Million payment was completed.

Notice to Noel Selvanayagam about removal of press

The MOU was signed by Noel Selvanayagam and Lakshman Athukorala for U.P.H. and P.S. Wijayanayake for WIDAC.

Heidelberg SORZ press serial number 531761 was removed from The Premadasa Centre, at San Sebastian Hill, Colombo 12 on April 22, 2000. It was taken away without a written order or a Gate Pass, according to a note sent to the Chairman, Noel Selvanayagam on April 24, 2000.
October 2000, 3 months past the completion date agreed in the MOU, the sum of Rs 2.1 Million had been paid which left Rs 7.4 Million outstanding.

The plight of Ameratunga highlights the pitfalls of agreeing to serve as a company director without having control of a company and without having the necessary indemnities from the shareholders. Ameratunga who served as a director was a paid employee who is now faced with the prospect of having to pay the Inland Revenue as when one serves on the Board of Directors of any company, one is individually, jointly and severally responsible for the payments of taxes and levies, EPF and ETF to the authorities.

Noel Selvanayagam confirming takeover by WIDAC Printing

A time when the war was on it was particularly galling to note that a company whose beneficial ownership is claimed to have been held for the UNP simply did not even pay the Defence Levy.

At various Working Committee meetings, the Party Leader has been asked to confirm what happened to the monies paid by WIDAC for the press. According to members of the Working Committee, the Leader has never answered those questions or provided any response despite promising to do so.
We sent an e-mail to Ranil Wickremesinghe via Malik Samarawickrama asking for his comment. At the time of going to press we had not received a response.

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Faraz Colombo
Date: Fri, Jun 25, 2010 at 1:26 PM
To: malik@p***.com
Cc: fjansz <fjansz@***.com>
Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe MP
Leader of the UNP
c/o Mr Malik Samarawickrama
former Chairman, UNP


Mr Malik Samarawickrama
former Chairman
United National Party

Dear Mr. Wickremesinghe and
Mr. Samarawickrama,

We are writing an article surrounding the United Publishing House / Visura and in that connection would like to ask you the following:

1.  You appointed the various Boards of Directors to United Press. What steps did you take as the custodian of the UNP investment in the Press to ensure that all dues were paid including dues to the Inland Revenue?
2.  Payments were received from Widac Printing. What happened to those monies?
3.  Were they accounted for in the accounts of the UNP?
4.  The machinery was removed prior to the payment being completed. Was the balance ever paid? If so where are those monies accounted for?
5.  If the balance was unpaid what steps were taken to recover those monies?
6.  Why is it that only Noel Selvanayagam and Chandana Ameratunga are faced with paying the Inland Revenue Rs 2.8 million? in respect of Turnover Tax and Defence Levies and penalties?
7.  As the de facto custodian of the UNP investment in this venture did you not take any action to be accountable to your membership for these funds?
If there is anything else you would like to state please do so.

Thank you

Yours Sincerely

Faraz Shauketaly
The Sunday Leader Newspaper

cc: Editor, Sunday Leader