Whistleblower prevented from leaving for Dubai
Posted on January 24th, 2022

By Shamindra Ferdinando Courtesy The Island

Lak Sathosa garlic scam:

One-time Executive Director of Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA), Thushan Gunawardena says the Immigration and Emigration Department has barred him from leaving the country.

An irate Gunawardena alleges he is being harassed over the disclosure of a massive garlic scam at Lak Sathosa last September.

Instead of prosecuting those responsible, expeditiously, I’m being targeted for ordering the raid that exposed the corrupt lot,” Gunawardena told The Island soon after returning home. The ex-CAA official declared he would be soon filing a fundamental rights case against the Immigration and Emigration Department.

Gunawardena said that the senior officer in charge of the Immigration and Emigration unit at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) in the early hours of Saturday (22) had informed him of the instructions received in that regard. Gunawardena was to board the Colombo-Dubai Emirates flight that departed at 2.55 am, on Saturday.

Gunawardena said that a stock of 56,000 kilos of garlic that had been released by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) to Lak Sathosa, had been sold to a regular Lak Sathosa supplier at about Rs 135 a kilo. The Sathosa management had planned to buy back the same consignment at Rs 445 a kilo and then make it available to consumers at about Rs 540 a kilo. Alleging that the fraud had been perpetrated at Lak Sathosa management level, Gunawardena said the plan had gone awry due to the raid carried on information provided by an insider. Lak Sathosa had sold the stock at such a low price to a supplier on the basis of poor quality in spite of Quality Assurance clearance, Gunawardena said, such fraudulent activities were rampant though never been properly investigated.

Gunawardena said that the government owed an explanation how the Immigration and Emigration Department had thwarted his departure in spite of him carrying a valid passport. I was told the BIA unit acted on the instructions received from their head office at ‘Suhurupaya’ Sri Subhuthipura road, Battaramulla. But, the issue at hand is as my passport hadn’t been impounded in connection with investigations into the garlic scam, there is suspicious of interested parties manipulating the Immigration and Emigration Department.”

Gunawardena said that according to a document that had been received by the Immigration and Emigration unit, he was categorized as a suspect along with five others unknown to him.

The Immigration and Emigration Department 1962 hotline in a recorded message stated that the department could be contacted only on weekdays between 8.30 am and 4.15 pm.

Gunawardena emphasized the political leadership couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility for what was happening with the connivance of lawmakers and top officials. Gunawardena said that he learnt a bitter lesson having had an opportunity to serve as CAA executive. Corruption here is nothing but a way of life. The current dispensation, despite its leaders’ pledges, has done nothing to curtail waste, corruption and irregularities,” Gunawardena said.

Responding to another query, Gunawardena said that he expected the Justice Ministry, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), the Human Rights Commission as well as the Police Commission to inquire into this matter.

Gunawardena claimed that he earned the wrath of both Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardena and State Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna for going public with garlic fraud. Now that the government had prevented him from attending some meetings in Dubai connected with his present employment he was seriously contemplating seeking compensation for loss of business opportunities.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has assigned the Immigration and Emigration Department to Defense State Minister Chamal Rajapaksa. The Immigration and Emigration Department is one of the 31 state institutions that come under the purview of the Defence Ministry.

The Police Department, State Intelligence Service (SIS), Registration of Persons Department, National Dangerous Drugs Control Board and the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (TRC) are among other state institutions coming under the purview of the Defence Ministry.

Gunawardena said that a senior management level official who had been arrested and then granted bail pending further investigations into the garlic scam was reinstated. Recalling he sent in his resignation to Chairman CAA retired Maj. General Shantha Dissanayake in the third week of Sept last year, Gunawardena said government actions couldn’t certainly be compatible with the much-touted policy statement titled Vistas of Splendor.

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