Former Chairman of Lanka Sathosa, Kiran Atapattu yesterday told the Presidential Commission that Minister Rishad Bathiudeen and his public relations officer Abdullah pressurised him to make an illegal payment of Rs.549 million to Liverpool Navigation (Pvt) Limited in July 2015.
He said the Liverpool Navigation owner and Minister Bathiudeen were close friends and in April 2015, they had imported a large volume of rice. He said the consignment was bought to Sri Lanka in more than 1,600 freight containers.
He said Liverpool Navigation had only functioned as a clearing agent but sent an invoice of Rs.549 million.
“All ships arrived on April 10, 2015, and the shipping companies demanded demurrages, a charge payable to the owner of a chartered ship on failure to load or discharge the ship within the specified time. So I paid them that amount because they had already provided us with a service,” he said.
However, being a clearing agent, Liverpool Navigation had also asked Sathosa to pay demurrages and it was illegal. “We had to pay demurrage only to shipping companies and they agreed to provide us an Rs.42 million discount and I prepared the cheques by July 30, 2015,” he said.
While Atapattu was about to give the cheques away, Minister Bathiudeen's public relations officer Abdullah came into his room and asked him not to pay the money to the shipping companies. "Abdullah wanted me to pay Liverpool Navigation to which I refused. Abdullah insisted that I should cancel the cheques. As I refused, he left the room. Then I paid demurrage to the shipping companies. Abdullah returned half-an-hour later and rang Minister Bathiudeen and gave me the phone. The latter asked me what personal issue I had with Liverpool Navigation and I said none. However, I was stubborn that I cannot pay Liverpool Navigation illegally."
Due to intense pressure, (witness) Atapattu fell ill and was admitted to a private hospital in Colombo on August 1, 2015.
During his absence, the then Ministry Secretary S.S. Miyanwala was appointed as Acting Chairman of Lanka Sathosa and on August 8, 2015, he had approved a payment of Rs.100 million for Liverpool Navigation as demurrages which was illegal, the witness told the commission.
"I had already paid demurrages to shipping lines whereas I don't see any particular reason to pay Liverpool Navigation this huge amount of money," he concluded. (Yoshitha Perera)