Previously Colombo Telegraph exposed a series of irregular and prima facie fraudulent financial transactions by Foreign Ministry’s Secretary Ravinatha Aryasinha and Sri Lanka’s current Ambassador to London, Saroja Sirisena. We now have further evidence of the duos fraudulent ‘cooking of books’ while Sirisena was Ambassador to Vienna which has cost the Sri Lankan tax payers an arm and a leg.
Previously Colombo Telegraph exposed how Aryasinha approved in a highly irregular manner an elective surgery for Sirisena in the USA for the cost of 66,284.65 US dollars. Aryasinha also approved a exuberant amount of EUR 3152, supposedly for an ‘economy class’ ticket between Vienna, Austria and Salt lake City USA.
Now Colombo Telegraph is in a position to reveal that this was done in an absolute fraudulent manner by both Aryasinha and Sirisena by presenting fake quotations for the air ticket.
On August 16, 2019 Aryasinha had given a blanket approval for the purchase of an economy class ticket. Sirisena rather than sending three quotations for the cheapest tickets available had manipulated the ticket prices to show a higher cost for the ticket.
Colombo Telegraph is in possession of the quotations obtained by the Sri Lanka Embassy staff in Vienna on behalf of Sirisena. The first quotation on Delta Airlines / KLM travelling between Vienna and Salt Lake City on 27th August and 7th September was priced at EUR 1,299 return. The Second quotation on Delta/ Air France to fly on 27th August and 6th September was priced at EUR 1,293 return. A third quotation on Austrian Airlines for flights on 27th August and 8th September was priced at EUR 1676 return.
These three quotations were on full fare economy class and therefore is not even the lowest possible airfare. However even such a highly priced economy class ticket could have been purchased at EUR 1,293 to travel on the dates desired by Ambassador Sirisena.
However instead of sending these three quotations to Colombo, Sirisena has instructed the Embassy staff to obtain a screenshot of a web search which showed a ticket which had cost over EUR 3000. Aryasinha by a fax dated 23rd August 2019 has granted Sirisena approval to purchase an ‘economy class ticket’ for the cost of Euro 3152. Therefore when a ticket was available for EUR 1,293 Aryasinha has readily approved the purchase of a ticket for EUR 3152.
Aryasinha who had served for over ten years in Brussels and Geneva in recent years cannot be ignorant of an average price of an economy class ticket from a key European capital to the United States. Even the prices in the three quotations are on the high end for an economy class ticket which average around EUR 1,000 or less during August which is not a peak season for travel between Europe and the USA. Rather it seems both Aryasinha and Sirisena deliberately misrepresented the cost of the air ticket, as the records of the quotations obtained by the Embassy clearly shows. A proper investigation, if ever carried out will show if this was deliberately done by the duo for Sirisena to travel on business class while having approval for an economy class ticket or even a more sinister objective of defrauding public money for their own enrichment. Either way this evidence itself would suffice to call for a criminal investigation into both these officers. As President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has just announced a task force to build a ‘virtuous and disciplined society’ it would be interesting to see if that work starts closer to home.
With regard to the medical procedure for Sirisena that cost Sri Lankan tax payers USD 66, 285. Colombo Telegraph has now reliably learnt that Sirisena had the option of doing this procedure in Austria. The Embassy had in fact obtained an appointment for her with one of the best ophthalmologists in Austria. She had visited this doctor once to obtain a ‘certificate’ stating that she needs to undergo surgery. However she made the embassy officials cancel the second appointment and insisted that this elective procedure needs to be done in the USA. If this procedure was done in Austria it would have saved the Sri Lankan tax payers this large sum of money. Further Sirisena’s current husband is a UK citizen and a doctor by profession. As his spouse, Sirisiena would have benefited from that status in Austria, as a fellow EU country or had this procedure done free of charge in the NHS of the UK.
Colombo Telegraph is aware of the type of medical procedure performed on Sirisena. While it is not necessary to reveal details since it is a private matter, Colombo Telegraph can confirm it was a benign, non-essential, non-emergency requirement.
Notwithstanding the technicalities of the procedure, the manner in which she has sought approval and how it had been granted by Aryasinha are bizarre and extremely irregular.
An officer familiar with foreign ministry said that the normal procedure is for a fax to be sent to the attention of the Director General of the Human Resources and Mission Management Division. On receiving such a request the Director General would study the matter to determine of its feasibility in line with the Financial Regulations of the Government, Public Administration and Foreign Ministry Circulars and the circumstances of the case. Some of the aspects the DG/ HR & MM would observe are; if the medical procedure is an emergency, a medical necessity or an elective one, whether the procedure has been recommended by a doctor who is in the panel approved by the Ministry and whether the procedure is to be carried out by such an approved medical personnel.
As the Ministry circulars instructs even serious conditions such as bypass surgery, kidney transplants and ‘laser beam treatment,’ will not be considered for reimbursement.
If the matter is not an emergency then the feasibility of the medical procedure being carried out at the location where the officer is stationed will be given priority and if that is not feasible it will be considered to bring the officer back to Sri Lanka or look at the option of a third country.
A third country is of course considered when officers are stationed in difficult stations such as Iraq or Afghanistan and not when they are in first world countries such as Austria. It is only in the rarest of rare instances that approval maybe given for such a procedure to be done in a third country. For example an officer stationed in Iraq may be approved to travel to Dubai rather than returning to Sri Lanka. In any case when considering a non-essential procedure, DG/ HR & MM is duty bound to check if the officer had sent at least three options along with quotations for their costs. A senior source at the Ministry sarcastically said that by this precedent, Aryasinha may approve for an officer serving in Ottawa or Kathmandu to go see a doctor in the French Riviera next time they have a headache.
Documents seen by Colombo Telegraph can reveal that none of the above considerations were made with regard to granting approval for Saroja Sirisena’s requests. Instead of sending a fax from Vienna to the attention of Director General of the Human Resources and Mission Management Division, she had sent emails on 08th and 12th August 2019 directly to the personal email of Ravinatha Aryasinha. Instead of DG/ HR & MM giving his opinion, having considered all of the above on the possibility of accommodating her request, Aryasinha has directly instructed him to grant approval for the expenditure of USD 66,284.65 for the medical procedure and for the air ticket worth EUR 3152 based on the email received to his personal email.
The money had been sent to the Sri Lanka Embassy in Vienna to be made to the University of Utah. This is highly irregular since the normal procedure would have been to send the money to the Embassy in Washington DC or the Consulate in Los Angeles for a payment made in the USA. Further it is beyond all accepted procedures and guidelines in circulars to pay this money as an advance. Medical bills and receipts need to be shown in order to reimburse even the smallest of medical expenditure.
Though the total responsibility of approving these irregular transactions falls with Aryasinha, the Chief Accountant of the Ministry, the Audit Unit and Director General of the Human Resources and Mission Management Division also need to be answerable to these alleged fraud.
On two previous occasions Colombo Telegraph offered Aryasinha and Sirisena opportunities to respond to these allegations. Instead Aryasinha abused his power as the Secretary to issue an official response of the Ministry of Foreign Relations to cover up what is in fact is a serious accusation about his personal conduct and possible involvement in financial irregularity against the state and become the judge in his own case. In doing so it has now become the official position of the Ministry that there had been no irregularity in these transactions. It’s not clear whether this media release defending Sirisena were approved by the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
The pair have used their huge media influence to prevent reports of their misconduct going public and to garner an editorial in the Daily Mirror newspaper this week containing Sirisena’s resume and calling to the exposures of her financial improprieties as vicious attacks against her. However it was Daily Mirror newspaper that first published a gossip column about her abuse of power in the gossip section of their newspaper front page.
Await the next instalment on the Saroja-Ravinatha saga about prima facie fraudulent and wasteful expenditures approved by Ravinatha Aryasinha to accommodate Saroja in the lap of sheer luxury during her short but costly tenure in Vienna.