Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake comes with a history of scandals, many leaning towards fraud. However, despite his very questionable conduct, London based ‘The Banker’ magazine has named him the 2017 Finance Minister of the Year for Asia-Pacific.
The Banker has recognized Karunanayake ‘for his efforts to steer Sri Lanka into a new era of economic reform and a change of mindset. “Crucially, Karunanayake secured a $1.5bn International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan programme that the country needed to avoid a balance of payments crisis, replenish reserves and rebuild confidence among international investors,” the magazine said in an article which announced Karunanayake as the winner for the Asia Pacific region.
However, just months back, in September, Karunanayake was in the centre of a fresh controversy where serious allegations were leveled against him by the opposition to the effect that he had imported luxury Prados in 2015 using vehicle permits which allowed only tractors to be imported.
Karunanayake was also accused of pilfering following the privatization deal of Sathosa.
Since assuming duties as the Finance Minister in 2015, Karunanayake is alleged to have ordered the Director General of Customs Jagath P. Wijeweera to grant sweeping duty concessions to his privately owned firm. Wijeweera had flatly refused the demand on the grounds that the country would lose millions of dollars. Because he could not continue to stand undue pressure being brought on him, Wijeweera tendered his resignation in May 2015 to Treasury Secretary Dr. R.H.S. Samaratunga. Though Wijeweera said he was quitting due to “personal reasons,” he confessed to close friends in the Customs Department he could not bear Karunanayake’s interference into fiscal matters not only on behalf of his (Karunanayake’s) private firm but also for other various suspicious businessmen. For his private company Global Park which provides warehousing and logistical services, the Finance Minister had wanted duty concessions running into millions of dollars granted. Karunanayake had also been in the habit of telephoning Wijeweera almost every day to seek duty waivers, withdrawal of fines and other concessions for several businessmen.
In 2010, Karunanayake was charged with aiding and abetting businessman Raj Rajaratnam of Galleon Group, where he deposited US $ 3 million at the Kirulapona Standard Charted Bank Branch without the authority of the Central Bank. The case dragged on for years, and in 2015 under the present government, the Colombo High Court acquitted Karunanayake on charges of money laundering in violation of the Exchange Control Act.