Former Navy Commander Ravindra Wijegunaratne recommended the purchase of an extravagantly priced Russian ship in August 2017 to President Maithripala Sirisena just days before he received his promotion to the rank of Chief of Defence Staff Colombo Telegraph can now reveal.
Wijegunaratne, then Commander of the Navy informed President Sirisena that they should purchase the Russian frigate at a colossal cost of USD 135 million plus a further USD 7 million to train personnel to man the vessel in August 2017.
The then Navy Commander gave the purchase Sirisena was agitating for despite the fact that three separate reports from senior Navy officials had explicitly discouraged the purchase, on the basis that it was too expensive and of little use to the Sri Lanka Navy at that point.
The total cost of the Russian vessel would have amounted to nearly USD 200 million, Colombo Telegraph learns.
President Sirisena and his alleged middle man Kili Rajamahendran (Maharaja) were desperate for the Russian ship deal to go through, in spite of the Navy’s reports discouraging the purchase.
Wijegunaratne realised the desperation when Sri Lanka’s then Ambassador to Moscow Saman Jayasinghe and Lanka Logistics Chairman Lalith Liyanage were strongly pushing the purchase of the Russian vessel.
Wijegunaratne went against three of his own Navy committees to inform the President that the Russian frigate was a good ship and that USD 135 million was a good price for the vessel Colombo Telegraph learns. Wijeguneratne made his observations in writing about the Russian vessel it is learnt.
Only days later he was promoted as the most senior military officer of the land by President Sirisena.
He has continued to get six month extensions on his contract ever since. He has been a strong favourite of President Sirisena ever since he green-lighted the Russian ship procurement. Similarly the Navy commander who served just before Wijegunaratne got his marching orders because he strongly opposed President Sirisena’s plans to purchase the Russian vessel.
Wijeguneratne who was arrested in connection with harbouring the mastermind and ringleader of a naval abduction racket accused of abducting detaining and finally killing 11 young men has retained his position as Chief of Defence Staff, in spite of the charges lodged against him, and the fact that he remains a suspect currently out on bail.
He is also alleged to have attempted to intimidate a key witness against him in the abduction case shortly before his arrest by the CID.
Wijegunaratne has also made recent visits to Moscow following which he has taken a publicly antagonistic position on Sri Lanka’s military cooperation with the United States. This quickly made him a hero on the Sirasa/MTV network. The Maharaja group also saw its dreams shattered when the Russian ship deal fell through after high level interventions and warnings that the Russian company which would handle the transaction Ropsboronexport was under US sanctions. It is a well-known fact that Maharaja’s preferred “political expert” Dr Dayan Jayatillake was also strongly recommended to President Sirisena by the Sirasa Network as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Moscow in the hope of pushing the ship deal through. (By Tilakasiri Bandara)