The interviewer, Chairman and the former Editor of Ravaya, Victor Ivan who at the outset said that he was representing Rupavahini sent down dollies to Wickremesinghe who duly dispatched them to the fence.
*Ivan interviewing Ranil
Ivan, a senior journalist who celebrated 25 years in the profession just the other day, was either totally unprepared or was complicit in a puerile exercise deliberately designed to help Wickremesinghe shake off serious charges levelled against him.
To begin with Ivan, read out a prepared question about the controversial Central Bank Bond Issue from a piece of paper, much like a cub reporter. Ranil proceeds to bat for a full eight minutes.
This is quite uncharacteristic of Wickremesinghe who is known to respond to tough questions with questions of his own. For example, he could easily have questioned Ivan’s moral authority to level corruption charges at him, Ranil.
Ranil could have asked Ivan about tax evasion, for example. In 2008 during a meeting with the slain Editor of the Sunday Leader Lasantha Wickrematunge, then Convener of the Free Media Movement Uvindu Kurukulasuriya and then Chairman of the UNP Malik Samarawickrama, Ranil said he had all the information about this issue.
Until the Presidential Election of 2005, i.e. during the reign of Chandrika Kumaratunga, every month without fail the Ravaya would get a notice from the Department of Inland Revenue, requesting payment of an outstanding amount of Rs 14 million.
*Lasantha interviewing Chandrika
When Mahinda Rajapaksa became President, he told Ivan to speak with the Commissioner of Inland Revenue. Ivan sent the Lal Piyasena, the late owner of Dai Lanka, to represent him. Piyasena was told that Rs 2 million had to be paid because payment had been promised by Ravaya. The rest, Rs 12 million, was frozen. Financial Accounts of Ravaya related to the period mention this amount under Liabilities (click here to see the financial accounts).
It is no coincidence that until 2014, Ivan was a big backer of Mahinda Rajapaksa, openly claiming that neither the ex President nor his brothers Basil and Gotabaya were corrupt. Quite in contrast to the questions he put to Ranil about ethnic reconciliation, he insisted that the issue was one of terrorism.
Lasantha knew all this. The then Chairman of the Lotteries Board while on the same flight to Dubai had revealed to Lasantha that ‘Mahinda wanted us to give continuous advertisements to Ravaya because the newspaper had a tax problem’. When all this was brought out, Ranil instructed Lasantha Wickrematunge to follow up. So he knew all about it. He could have forced Ivan out of the attack then and there but didn’t.
This is not the course of action that Ranil took. Ivan could have used the reprieve and bowled some doosras (like Murali) or toe-crushing yorkers (like Malilnga used to bowl). Indeed, on one occasion he took issue with Lasantha for not going on the offensive and has said in black and white that Lasantha’s inability or unwillingness to have done exactly that had been the reason for their friendship ending. Ivan mentions all this in his book ‘Paena Ahinsakada?’ (Is the pen innocent). ( Click here to read)
He refers to Lasantha interviewing Chandrika in early 2006. The interview, according to Ivan, got a lot of pre-publicity including posters put up all over Colombo. Ivan had castigated Lasantha for going easy on Chandrika. Ivan’s position was, ‘when you interview someone for the first time you have to first ask about issues that are already of public concern. Lasantha had essentially used the interview to get Chandrika to attack Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Ivan states that when he brought this up Lasantha had been silent. Ivan says that he was disgusted (hirikithak danuna).
Interestingly, Victor in his first interview with Ranil, tosses a full toss about the Bond Issue, is not ready with any follow up questions. The COPE document which Ranil tried to suppress clearly states that the Governor of the Central Bank Arjuna Mahendran was directly involved in the scandalous transaction. Ivan had a lot of ammunition which he didn’t use. Once Ranil finished his piece, Ivan moved to another topic.
Neither does not question Ranil about serious matters that are already of public concern including the dictatorial manner in which he runs the UNP and most importantly the Batalanda torture chamber. The last is particularly surprising since it was as a result of a Ravaya investigation that the Batalanda Commission was instituted in the first place.
He could have also taken Ranil to task over him threatening newspapers and journalists citing Parliamentary privileges when he was agains the ropes on the Bond scam. Ivan after all was the person who as far back as 1993 almost singlehandedly fought to get this clause removed.
It is impossible to predict what Ranil would have said had Ivan questioned him in the way that Ivan had wished Lasantha had interviewed Chandrika. Ranil could have asked this ex hashish dealer about the Rs 5 million that Ivan pocketed from funds collected to keep the Ravaya afloat.
Only Ivan will know fully why was soft on Ranil, and only Ranil will know why he, Ranil, was soft on Ivan.