- Mayurapathy Sri Bathrakali Amman Kovil’s frequent visitors include the rich, powerful and political elite
- Millions of rupees have allegedly been embezzled from the Kovil’s funds
- Several cheques of various sums bearing the seal of the Kovil have been issued
- In an unrelated event, FBI had indicted Kovil’s Chief Trustee in an alleged international racketeering conspiracy involving bribes of Indian govt. officials
- Allegations of bribing authorities for a favourable investigation
The Hindu Kovil is a symbolic structure which brings human beings and divinity together. A sacred house for gods, it represents the good, evil, human and divine. In Sri Lanka however, one historic Kovil has also become a symbol for embezzlement, as suggested by two of its duelling trustees.
The Mayurapathy Sri Bathrakali Amman Kovil, located on Havelock Road in Colombo is a sacred Hindu temple visited by hundreds of faithful devotees across the country. The temple’s frequent visitors often include the political elite of Sri Lanka as well as the rich and powerful. The historic Kovil’s maintenance and management is entrusted to a board of trustees which includes nine members.
In 2014, the board arrived at a decision to renovate and reconstruct the temple. More than five years later, the temple’s renovations have not been completed, as the management faced the challenge of limited funding.
As expenditure for renovations mounted, two trustees of the board decided to purchase a land with their combined personal funds in 2015. The land which was equally split between the two trustees was then used as a storage facility to house the equipment and renovation related utilities of the Kovil. However, the two trustees have locked horns over the property on Maya Avenue, Colombo as well as millions of rupees which have allegedly been embezzled from the Kovil’s funds.
The Daily Mirror spoke to both trustees, board member Mr. A. Ramachandran and Chief Trustee Mr. P. Sunderalingam to inquire into the issue, which has now left faithful devotees of the Kovil concerned.
“At the time as we struggled with the funding for the renovation of the Kovil, we acquired this land with personal funds. We also reached an agreement that for a period of two years, my share of the land could be used for storage of goods related to the renovation,” Mr. Ramachandran speaking to the Daily Mirror said.
As the requirements for funding grew, the half of the land owned by the Chief Trustee was then mortgaged to a third party for Rs. 25 million. This sum was supposed to manage the shortage of funds required for the renovation. However allegations have surfaced that the Chief Trustee defrauded Ramachandran, failing to repay the loan as well as the interest.
According to Mr. Ramachandran, the initial complaint was lodged with the Wellawatte Police against Sunderalingam for failure to return Ramachandran’s share of the land, after the lapse of the agreement in September 2017.
Speaking to Daily Mirror, Chief Trustee Mr. Sunderalingam denied the charges against him, stating that the claim had been completely settled. “A case has been filed with the District Court of Colombo to discharge the said mortgage bond,” Mr. Sunderalingam said.
However, a fresh complaint was made against the Chief Trustee on the violation of agreements and failure in repayment of loans in February 2020 with the Colombo Crime Division (CCD). Meanwhile, Mr. Sunderalingam commented that the CCD has no authority to accept this complaint, as the Division is only mandated to handle financial cases amounting up to 10 million rupees only.
This isn’t the first instance where the Kovil’s funds were found to be misappropriated. In April 2019, the Kovil has sent a letter signed by its President and chief Trustee to former minister D. M. Swaminathan, demanding the repayment of Rs. 20 million. They stated that a sum of Rs. 20 million was borrowed by Swaminathan, adding that repeated attempts to contact him over the repayment of this sum had rendered futile.
"In 2014, the board arrived at a decision to renovate and reconstruct the temple. More than five years later, the temple’s renovations have not been completed, as the management faced the challenge of limited funding"
Swaminathan, a member of the Kovil himself, has responded through his attorney that such a transaction never took place between him and the Kovil’s management. Furthermore Swaminathan’s attorney rejected all allegations levelled against him, stating that his client owed no monies whatsoever to the Kovil.
According to regulations of the Kovil however, no individual member can loan or dispense Kovil funds arbitrarily. The issuing of a cheque from the Kovil’s account requires a resolution of all trustees of the Kovil including the treasurer’s consent. Members allege that even if such amounts were dispensed from the Kovil’s account, there has been no resolution about these transactions from the members. Several cheques of various sums bearing the seal of the Kovil have also been issued, which have been produced as evidence. When questioned about these instances, Mr. Sunderalingam denied all such reports stating they are completely false. “There are a lot of other stories going on as well, none of it is true,” he said.
In an unrelated event, the Chief Trustee has also been named as a defendant in an alleged international racketeering conspiracy involving bribes of government officials in India, to allow the mining of titanium minerals. The indictment was filed by the United States Department of Justice following an aggressive investigation of corruption conduct by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
According to the US indictment the six defendants, have been charged with conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, among other offences. As alleged in court documents an Indian National Periyasamy Sunderalingam alias “Sunder” of Sri Lanka was indicted in the $18.5 million titanium mining scam.
The incident which was reported in the Daily Mirror April 4, 2014 edition, suggested that the defendants, under the cover of multiple fronts had, on multiple occasions, met Indian officials, including an Indian Chief Minister at the time, to discuss the project and also authorised payment of at least $18.5 million in bribes to both State and Central government officials in India to secure the approval of licences for the project.
The Daily Mirror questioned Mr. Sunderalingam on his involvement of the above incident, which he vehemently denied. “This was not even a case in Sri Lanka, but Hyderabad. They have mistakenly put my name,” he said.
Both parties charge that the other resorted to intimidation and threats, since the problem arose. Both parties also allege that their counterparts have bribed authorities for a favourable investigation.