- Call for law enforcement agencies to act more responsibly with greater scrutiny
- Thank judiciary and AG’s Dept. for delivering justice at last
By Nishel Fernando
Two private sector tourism leaders, who had been caught up in a legal battle for over two years initiated by the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID), yesterday called for law enforcement agencies to act responsibly and with great scrutiny as their short-sighted actions carry massive consequences.
Tourism industry veterans Nilmin Nanayakkara and Mervyn Fernandopulle, who represented the private sector on the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) board, were arrested by the FCID in 2016 on alleged irregular transactions under the previous regime.
The FCID had alleged the former board directors were among board signatories for the release of Rs.5 million for a Pirith chanting ceremony during the 2015 Presidential election, for which the funds apparently never got released.
They were caught up in a lengthy legal battle for over two years until the Attorney General decided not to proceed with the case, last December.
Speaking to media during a press conference jointly organised by Sri Lanka Associations of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) and The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) in Colombo, Nanayakkara and Fernandopulle shared the hardships and the public humiliation they had to go through due to the actions taken by the FCID in 2016.
While acknowledging the hardships and difficulties that Nanayakkara and Fernandopulle had to undergo, Tourism Development, Wildlife and Christian Religious Affairs Minister John Amaratunga commended the independence of the judiciary for delivering justice to the duo.
Nanayakkara acknowledged the continuous support extended by Amaratunga publicly on several occasions to him and Fernandopulle. He went on to deliver an emotional speech on how his reputation got tarnished while his family members also had to go through a tough time due to unwarranted actions of law enforcement agencies.
“No matter how much power you garnered, when you investigate into something, you have to look from both sides. They (FCID) should have considered what would be the situation that they would be in, if a family member of theirs had to go through such a situation,” he said.
Nanayakkara emphasised that he was appointed to the SLTPB board by the then minister in-charge of tourism, Basil Rajapasksa, as he was the SLIATO Chairman at that time and SLIATO members recommended him to be appointed to the post.
Nanayakkara recalled that as a SLTPB director, he had not taken a penny from the agency except for a cup of tea offered at board meetings.
“We have invested our time, energy and even sometimes our own money. We engaged with the SLTPB whole heartedly due to our admiration for the industry, and not due to any personal gain. We didn’t take a cent from the SLTPB. Even I have contributed the incentive I was receiving for participation in SLTPB board meetings to the SLTPB welfare society,” he elaborated.
Nanayakkara shared with the audience that he was not only humiliated at the remand custody, but certain individuals also attempted to make financial gains from his misfortune after he was released on bail spending 8 days behind bars.
“My troubles didn’t end when I was released from the remand custody. Certain low-class individuals in the industry attempted to steal my foreign clientele by calling me a thief. These were the same people who I taught and helped to set up businesses,” he said.
In addition, he said that his business had to suffer as he was unable to attend the World Travel Mart (WTM) in 2016 which he had attended every year.
Speaking of the alleged irregular transactions, he said, “In 2016, we were taken to remand custody, not because of any allegations that we had abused any of SLTPB funds for our personal gain or misused them, but in fact based on allegations that we attempted to misuse the funds.”
Nanayakkara noted that there were several reputed individuals who suffered the same ordeal, though he declined to reveal their names.
He pointed out that both he and Fernandopulle were taken into custody as suspects and were also released as suspects.
“The case filed against us was finally withdrawn on December 13, last year, stating that the case wouldn’t proceed forward. However, there was never a case filed against us as the accused,” he stressed.
Nanayakkara and Fernandopulle expressed their gratitude to the judiciary and the Attorney General’s Department for delivering justice at last.
Pix by Nimalasiri Edirisinghe