South African type controversy in Sri Lanka
(October 28, 2015, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) “I and my family members have no secret accounts in Dubai banks,”said the Rajapaksa ‘Crown Prince’ Namal when the media published reports about a secret account in a Dubai bank of a son of a VVIP. The media reports stated that the Sri Lankan Government had sought details of that account from the Dubai Government, while seeking assistance from a Dubai Court. The reports claimed that the Dubai bank in question had refused to freeze the VVIP son’s account. On the contrary, Attorney-at-Law J.C. Weliamuna who assists to detect details of this account rejected such media reports claiming such were false. He said publication of such false news could hamper the investigations. It is now clear that those news reports had caused a hindrance to the investigations regarding that secret bank account. Therefore, eyebrows are now raised as to whether those news reports were published at the instigation of some interested parties to mislead the probe.
Almost every country that is probing such secret bank accounts of prominent politicians is faced with obstacles of that nature. There are many examples in that regard. A similar story emanated from South Africa last year. It is as follows: “The mystery Gigaba bank account” – “The Mail & Guardian was reliably informed that State security agents probed the account opened in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, when Gigaba was still public Enterprises Minister.
State Security Spokesperson Brian Dube on Thursday denied that there was ever any investigation, but three highly reliable sources confirmed that there was such a probe. They are:
- An intelligence agent with intimate knowledge of the issue, but not allowed to speak to the media;
- A member of the country’s national executive, who refused to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter and described the probe as ‘an informal investigation’; and
- A senior executive of a government entity who was briefed about the investigations. He also asked not to be named.
Gigaba’s spokesperson, Thabo Mokgola, on Thursday said the minister had no knowledge of such investigations and ‘denies any knowledge of the account’.
However, a source close to the minister said Gigaba had told those close to him that attacks on him were politically motivated, given his high profile and position in government. Gigaba apparently told State security agents that the account was opened by one of his officials without his knowledge. But banking and security insiders have indicated that it is difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to open an offshore account using a person’s name without their knowledge, and that this could amount to fraud.
The member of the national executive told the M&G that the Home Affairs Minister was first alerted to the investigation against him ‘some time last year’ and that he is yet to see ‘any proof’ that the account indeed exists. But Gigaba apparently told the State Security Agency to make sure that whoever opened the offshore account in his name must ‘face the music’. ‘How could anybody go to Dubai and open an account in his name?’ asked the national executive member. ‘He has no offshore account and has never asked anybody to open it. What money is to be stashed outside the country?’ He apparently said he was willing to take responsibility should he be found to have done something wrong, but that he needs to be protected if someone has done wrong using his name. Those sympathetic to Gigaba claimed that the allegations and the investigations are part of a wider plot to smear the minister.
Before 2007, Gigaba – a past ANC Youth League President – was seen as part of former President Thabo Mbeki’s rising young stars and inner circle. Mbeki appointed him Deputy Home Affairs Minister in 2004. But after Mbeki was defeated as party leader by Zuma in 2007 and ousted as the country’s President in 2008, Gigaba – and a few of the so-called Mbeki sympathizers – survived and he became a minister of two crucial portfolios in the Zuma Presidency.
Like most other countries with cordial relations with the United States, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has significantly improved its systems to detect and combat money laundering since 2001. And, like other countries in the Middle East, the UAE is particularly sensitive even to the accusation that funds passing through its territory could end up funding terrorism. Banks in Dubai have customer due diligence requirements not unlike the know-your-customer provisions in South Africa: a new account requires positive identification, proof of address and proof of the source of income”.
At present, the demand for secret bank accounts in Swiss banks has reduced. That is because Swiss banks have entered into agreements with America and the European Union regarding secret accounts. The non-payment of tax on issues regarding terrorism by America led the European Union to appeal to Swiss banks to provide details of secret accounts held by those in their countries. As a result funds hidden through the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation in Swiss banks by world famous politicians surfaced. Among them were Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Tunisian President Ben Ali and Syrian Leader Al Ashad. The others included some past and present politicians in India. Therefore, most of today’s Leaders are reported hiding plundered money in banks in Dubai and Singapore.
When President Maithripala Sirisena went to attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York, US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived to meet him in the company of the Financial Intelligence Chief who is probing the issue of stolen money hidden in overseas banks by top men in the then Rajapaksa administration. “Don’t worry, we will help to trace the monies that were stolen from your country”, assured Kerry to Maithri.
( Upul Fernando is a senior Sri Lankan journalist works for the Ceylon Today, where this piece was originally appeared)