In a move that smacks of political interference in the judiciary and rampant conflict of interest, Colombo Telegraph learns that former Supreme Court Justice Eva Wanasundera – now Chair of the Bribery Commission will soon close the bribery case against former AG Mohan Pieris and current Court of Appeal President A.H.D. Nawaz.
In 2018, the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) had charged former Attorney General Pieris, and then Court of Appeal Judge A.H.M.D. Nawaz, a former Deputy Solicitor General at the AG’s Department, and former Lanka Electricity Company (Private) Limited (LECO) Chairman M.M.C. Ferdinando for preparing an erroneous Attorney General’s report to avoid taking legal action against irregularities committed by the LECO Chairman while purchasing of lands for LECO in 2010.
Charges were filed Pieris and Nawaz under case number 87741/01/18 at the Colombo Chief Magistrate’s Court, but the case is now before the Supreme Court after Mohan Pieris filed a writ to stop the Magistrate’s Court proceedings.
The matter came up before a bench headed by then Supreme Court Justice and law college batchmate of Premier Mahinda Rajapakasa, Eva Wanasundera. At the time, Counsel for the State passed some documents to Justice Wanasundera and indicated that she had dealt with the matter before and may not wish to hear the matter. Those documents were not made available to any other Counsel at the time.
It later transpired that while she herself was functioning as Attorney General, Justice Wanasundera had made a minute in the file in a bid to prevent the matter being referred by the AGs department to the Bribery Commission. This was despite reports available to her at the time which demonstrated that there was a corrupt exercise of power by the duo, who had attempted to block a criminal investigation into corruption at the Lanka Electricity Company, in order to protect certain individuals close to then President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime. In fact, investigations into LECO later proceeded, and those responsible were indicted by the High Court of Colombo.
Despite Wanasundera’s involvement in the case as attorney general, she proceeded to issue a stay order restraining proceedings in the Magistrate’s Court, a clear conflict of interest, since one must not act as a judge in a matter one has been involved in in any other capacity.
However, now the story has got much murkier.
This year, the Petitioners Peiris and Nawaz filed a motion in the Supreme Court seeking the matter of the writ to be called on 10th March 2021.
The matter was taken up in open court last week and lawyers for Nawaz and Pieris informed court that the Bribery Commission – now chaired by retired Justice Wanasundera – had agreed to withdraw the Magistrate’s Court case against the duo.
For reasons best known to her, as attorney general, justice of the Supreme Court and now as Chair of the Bribery Commission, Eva Wanasundera has gone the extra mile to protect Pieris and Nawaz (the latter especially). In doing so, Wanasundera has acted with a clear conflict of interest.
The Supreme Court matter is now to be called on 26th March, in order that lawyers for Peiris and Nawaz can move to amend the Court’s stay order on the Magistrate’s Court. The removal of the stay order – which prevents the case being taken up at the Magistrate’s Court at all – will then enable the Wanasundera’s Bribery Commission withdraw its case against Peiris and Nawaz. Peiris now serves as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s UN Envoy in New York. While Nawaz was appointed President of the Court of Appeal by the President despite facing corruption charges in a lower court. Both Peiris and Nawaz enjoy the patronage of those in the highest echelons of power in Sri Lanka.
It is a sad day when the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption is itself corrupt. As the Latin maxim goes quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will guard the guards? (By Janakie Mediwake)