United National Party Lawmaker Eran Wickremeratne paid a glowing tribute to courageous Fort Magistrate Ranga Dissanayake in his parliament speech yesterday, saying the judge was the first to stand up for professional police officers who had been the victims of political transfers and attempts to undermine serious criminal investigations by the new Government.
“The only people whose integrity, honesty and professionalism stands between the Government and the cover up of the MiG-deal are Fort Magistrate Ranga Dissanayake and Attorney General Dappula De Livera,” Wickremaratne noted.
Warning that there were already attempts to pressure the magistrate and AG De Livera, the UNP MP and former banker emphasized that Parliament, civil society and the independent press must stand in solidarity with them, and shield them both from undue political interference.
“There is a fear that those two stand between Udyanga Weeratunga and his freedom will be targeted. It is high time that all professionals stood up for those who are doing what is right. The only people whose integrity, honesty, professionalism stands between the Government and the cover-up of a MiG deal, are Fort Magistrate Ranga Dissanayake and Attorney General Dappula De Livera. Already it has been reported that moves are underway to pressure the AG and to transfer or promote Ranga Dissanayake so that a more amenable magistrate could handle Udyanga Weeratunga’s case” Wickremaratne charged.
Speaking in Parliament during the debate on the Airbus corruption scandal that took place during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency, Wickremaratne reminded the House that the ‘MiG-deal’ was also another corrupt deal that had to be investigated.
Wickremaratne said the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Government had “gone after” officers investigating the MiG deal and transferred them. They had been replaced by officers against whom disciplinary action had been taken in the past, the UNP MP clarified. It was the Fort Magistrate who brought all this information to the fore, he added.
Wickremaratne said the Fort Magistrate had “stuck out his neck” to defend professional police officers responsible for the complex MiG deal investigation and the first ever successful extradition of a criminal suspect.
“It speaks volumes for the arrogance and the entitlement of this Government that Udyanga Weeratunga, a first cousin of the president and Prime Minister was so confident that the CID was on his side and would not try to remand him. Never in his wildest dreams did he imagine that a magistrate would risk the ire of someone with his royal blood. But Ranga Dissanayake proved them wrong,” Wickremaratne said.
There are uncanny similarities between the Airbus A350 procurement scandal and the Government of Sri Lanka’s purchase of MiG-27 aircraft in 2006 while current President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was secretary to the Ministry of Defence. Udyanga Weeratunga, first cousin to Mahinda and Gotabaya Rajapaksa is believed to have been the mastermind of the deal that caused losses to the Government to the tune of USD 7 million. GoSL payment for the MiGs was channeled to a shell company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands and subsequently laundered through Weeratunga’s brother-in-law, an FCID investigation has found.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa who signed off on the procurement and reportedly arm-twisted air force officials and engineers to give the decrepit fighter jets a clean bill of health, has also been at the center of the MiG scandal. Since 2015, he has left no stone unturned to stall the investigation into the irregular procurement, and prevent his arrest in the case by filing a Fundamental Rights application in the Supreme Court. For five long years, based on the interim order issued by Justice Eva Wanasundara who subsequently recused herself from the case on personal grounds, Gotabaya Rajapaksa evaded accountability for his role in the MiG-27 purchase. The aircraft deal left a bloody trail, with Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge murdered in daylight in January 2009, only days before he was due to testify against Gotabaya Rajapaksa in a defamation suit the Defence Secretary filed against the newspaper in an effort to stop its reporting on the MiG deal.