Life Abroad – Part 50-LANKAN DUPED BRITISH
Posted on October 24th, 2013

Dr.Tilak Fernando

Sri Lankans are reputed to be brainy. Mother Lanka has generated a high proportion of outstanding scholars in multiple of professions out of her 20 million children.

The intellectual acumen of the Sri Lankan brain has enabled many to excel as global scientists, transnational eminent lawyers, medical surgeons (winning Gold Scalpel Awards), business tycoons, as well as international reprobates!

One such Sri Lankan who became globally known as an “international swindler and confidence trickster” was a Tamil known as Michael Marion Emil Anacletus Pierre Saundranayagam (Emil Savundra).

Emil Savundra

Background

Hailing from a legal family in ‘Ceylon’ he was briefly attached to ‘The Ceylon Engineers’ at first. However, during the Second World War, the British declined his entry into the Royal Air Force, despite being in possession of a pilot’s licence!

During the Korean War, when he was of 23 years of age, he embarked on a business career by becoming a local intermediary ‘and became involved in an economic sabotage of an abortive shipload of oil’.

In the 1950s he became implicated with a record level of ‘hush money in business involvements’ in Ghana. Despite such contravention he was not jailed but deported from Ghana to avoid any local embarrassment.

David Frost

In 1954, Belgian authorities accused him of swindling the Krediet bank of Antwerp over a non-existent consignment of rice; he ended up in a Belgian prison.

UK activities

In 1958 he resurfaced again as a middle man for an American company called Camp Bird in dealing with minerals in Ghana.

By that time he had developed shrewd tactics to become a ‘post-war black marketer’. In 1959 he got involved with a coffee beans deal at the expense of the Costa Rican government.

In ‘Ceylon’, of course, the only offence on record was his failure to pay income tax based on his earnings out of some of the economic frauds he had been involved with. He avoided visiting ‘Ceylon’ because of this very reason between 1951 and 1965.

In 1963 Emil Savundra settled down in England when car sales in the UK increased and road networks were being developed further. With hindsight he floated a company named Fire, Auto & Marine Insurance Company (FAM) offering motorists very attractive insurance premiums thus revolutionising the insurance industry in the UK with the help of rudimentary computerisation.

This naturally elevated him to lead a prolific lifestyle until FAM collapsed due to failure of a cash flow situation. The Sunday Times investigative team (Insight) finally managed to track him down and exposed his extravaganza which included racing powerboats and hobnobbing with the rich, powerful and the aristocratic figures of the time.

Beginning of the ‘fracture’

During his first powerboat race, from Cowes-to-Torquay, he fractured his spine. His friends introduced him to a well known osteopath known as Stephen Ward whose name had been coupled with a top model called Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies.

Stephen Ward centered on a sensational real-life scandal in 1963 which exposed Britain’s war Secretary John Profumo for having an affair with Christine Keeler, who simultaneously shared sexual activity with a Soviet naval attachƒ©. At Stephen Ward’s trial which hit headlines in the international press, Emil Savundra was referred to as ‘the Indian doctor’.

Emil Savundra was regarded as one of the first controversial businessmen to use the UK libel laws to his advantage by trying to thwart the Private Eye magazine’s attempt of exposing his derogatory life and business practices.

Emil Savundra being possibly the most noticeably dazzling Asian in Britain in 1962, his Fire, Auto & Marine Insurance Company (FAM) became the biggest out of the six insurance companies that botched in the 1960s and early 1970s.

In May 1966, Savundra suffered a heart attack; he sold his FAM shares to his directors at FAM. The company, led by Stuart de Quincey Walker, collapsed within days leaving its clients uninsured legally and in a predicament! When it affected more than that 400,000 estimated motorists Savundra was pursued by the media who besieged his north London mansion in Hampstead for days.

He fled to ‘Ceylon’. The Government of Ceylon refused to confirm that they would deny any British request for his extradition from Ceylon back to England. He returned to Europe and spent a month in Rome still being pursued by the British press. In January 1967 Emil Savundra re-entered the United Kingdom.

At his trial in 1968, witnesses gave evidence confirming that he had securities worth ‚£540,000 and ownership of ‚£870,000 of ‘blue-chip’ shares underpinning FAM. However, no such securities were available when the company failed! It was claimed that Emil Savundra was transferring FAM assets to a bank in Liechtenstein, an “offshore” institution beyond British control, allowing much greater secrecy. In the end no such funds were ever found.

Dr. Emil Savundra’s mendacious business activities burst into public domain in 1967 out of David Frost’s revolutionary interview on UK’s TV where Savundra became the program’s “victim” and Frost whooshed to the top as a forceful interviewer among millions of TV viewers worldwide.

Frost interview

Facing a live TV audience Savundra appeared secure and confident in his ability to defend his conduct anticipating no problems in handling Frost’s questioning.

During the interview David Frost pointed out to a widow in the audience whose husband had been a customer of FAM and had died of a motor accident three years ago, but her claim had not been honoured up to the time of the interview.

Turning to the widow, confident Savundra said: “Madam if you have not been able to get your claim processed for three years, then please contact your incompetent solicitors and don’t blame me for that, ” which made David Frost go through the roof with anger.

Next, Frost pointed an accusing finger at Savundra and said: “How can you sit her like this as if nothing had happened, when you have traumatised thousands of your customers who had motor insurance policies with your company – FAM? Do you have a conscience at all”?

Emil Savundra seemed to have waited for an opportunity to dress David Front down on the finer points of the law during the debate. He answered without being ruffled, but as cool as a cucumber:

“Mr. Frost, for your information, I have not broken any laws in this country! It is your government who created a thing called Insolvency and another thing called Bankruptcy; all I have done is to follow the rules of the country to the letter!”

What Frost expected during the interview was for Savundra to show repentance and regret before his victims and not defiance by any means. Instead, Savundra helped to provoke the audience on a head-on conduct with David Frost by referring to David Frost as the ‘finest swordsman in England’ and to the audience (which included some of his clients and victims) as “peasants’ while categorically denying any moral responsibility” for what had happened at the collapse of his company.

In his anger Frost finished the show and spoke to the wrong camera before walking off the set, which caused serious uncertainties in the corridors of power in the television world and beyond. The television handling of Savundra by Frost particularly paved the middle ground for Saundra’s right to a fair trial in a British criminal court.

He was arrested subsequent to the TV program and after a very long and an aggressive legal battle between the defendant and the barristers he was sentenced to eight years of imprisonment with a fine of ‚£50,000 in March 1968. However, due to his persistent ill health of diabetes and a heart condition he was transferred to a prison hospital.

In December 1974 he was released from prison just before Christmas mainly due to his poor health. On his way out to freedom a TV presenter, aided by a cameraman, waited for him to emerge out of the prison gates and approached him with a simple question:

“Dr. Savundra now that you are a free man what plans have you for the future”?

Never seen to be lost for words Savundra replied:

“Like the British aristocracy, I am going to live off the wife!” He quipped with a smile.

At the age of 53, he died in Old Windsor, Berkshire, on December 21, 1976 as a “registered banker”.

Later in the USA, David Frost conducted the illustrious interview with the post-Watergate President, Richard Nixon in 1977.

Courtesy: Wikipedia

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3 Responses to “Life Abroad – Part 50-LANKAN DUPED BRITISH”

  1. aloy Says:

    Tilak,
    The version I heard was slightly different. When Emil Soundra was asked how he was able to do it, he immediately said, “it is simple the British peasants fall for the smart guy”. Ironically isn’t today’s situation not the same: the British and the Americans have fallen for the likes of Rajaratnams and the diaspora to believe the sob stories and all sorts of tricks.

  2. Nimal Says:

    My English boss was very suspicious of me after this scandal be cause he had a policy with this Insurance company.He gave Sri Lankans a bad name.

  3. Fran Diaz Says:

    Are there Sinhala people who duped the British ? None, as far as I know.

    Yet the Brits seem to ‘side’ with those who despise and dupe them ! Strange Empire builders !

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