Though Thirukumar Nadesan is a well-known businessman, it was the Rajapaksa connection of his spouse Nirupama that captured headlines in national and international media
The Pandora Papers are a series of papers being continuously published since October 3rd 2021 by the Washington based International Consortium of Investigative Journalism (ICIJ).The ICIJ is a worldwide network of 280 Investigative journalists and more than 100 Media organizations from many different countries spanning the globe. The Pandora papers are based on 11.8 million documents uncovered by ICIJ journalists pertaining to secret offshore accounts, “shell” companies and covert business dealings undertaken by some of the rich,famous and powerful persons of this world. The Pandora papers published so far have named and possibly shamed, 35 past and present world leaders as well as over 500 persons comprising celebrities, multi-millionaires, politicians, public officials and ruling dynasty members.
Sri Lanka too has been caught up in the exciting controversy after a detailed article concerning two Sri Lankan personalities by Italian woman journalist Scilla Alecci was published in Pandora Papers. This article was about prominent Sri Lankan businessman and commercial entrepreneur Thirukumar Nadesan and his politician wife Nirupama Rajapaksa.Nirupama is the daughter of former cabinet minister George Rajapaksa and grand daughter of former state councillor Don Mathew Rajapaksa. She is also the niece of Chamal. Mahinda,Gotabaya and Basil Rajapaksa. Nirupama Rajapaksa has served as Parliamentarian and State minister in the past.Scilla Alecci’s article outlined details of several alleged commercial dealings and financial holdings of Nirupama Rajapaksa and Thirukumar Nadesan. It was alleged that the “power couple” had accumulated a fortune worth at least 160 million dollars through questionable means that were hoarded in secret off-shore accounts and converted into hidden assets,. Though Thirukumar Nadesan is a well-known businessman, it was the “Rajapaksa connection of his spouse Nirupama that captured headlines in national and international media. The media went to town with the Pandora papers article. It was reproduced in many newspapers and websites and widely discussed by many media organs.Opposition politicians used it to take pot shots at the Rajapaksa regime. Some insinuated -without substantial proof- that the alleged “ill-gotten wealth”actually belonged to Sri Lanka’s ruling family. The chief opposition SJB called for a probe into the matter.
Pandora Papers Furore
Even as the Pandora papers furore gathered momentum in Sri Lanka, Thirukumar Nadesan wrote a letter to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and copied the missive to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. After referring to their names being mentioned in the Pandora Papers , Nadesan said “I assure Your Excellency that my wife and I are totally innocent and are guilty of no wrongdoings,”. He requested the President to conduct an independent investigation, preferably by a retired appellate court judge. “I am making this request to Your Excellency because my wife and I have suffered heartache and pain of mind. We have been presumed guilty, the presumption of innocence reversed,” stated Nadesan in the letter and went on to point out “It is commonly believed that all persons whose names have been divulged in the Pandora papers are in some way guilty of wrongdoing.”.
Subsequently cabinet spokesman Dullas Alahapperuma told the media that President Rajapaksa had directive the Director General of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption to launch an investigation into the matter. Alahapperuma said the Commission was required to submit a report within a month.“It should be noted that nobody from the current government is named in these papers,” the minister further said. Thereafter some news reports said Thirukumar Nadesan had been summoned by the Bribery Commission.
65 year old Thirukumar Nadesan is a Sri Lankan Tamil of Jaffna origin residing at “Montrose”, 95 Horton Place , Colombo 7. His father was from Araly and mother from Manipay in Jaffna.Known to friends as both “Thiru” and “Kumar” , Thirukumar was born and bred in Colombo and studied at St.Josephs College . He later got a BA (Hons)degree in Business studies from Middlesex University in the UK .Thirukumar Nadesan is a commercial entrepreneur focusing chiefly on Investment, property development and the hospitality industry. He was the Chairman of Hotel Developers Ltd. and Managing Director of Asia Project services Ltd.He was also a director of Lighthouse and Waters Edge Hotels. Nadesan also functions as a freelance business/investment consultant.
Nadesan became a member of the extended Rajapaksa family when he got married to Nirupama Deepika Rajapaksa the daughter of George and Lalitha Rajapaksa.Nirupama as she is generally known is a former United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) Parliamentarian from Hambantota district and ex-deputy minister of Water supply and Drainage. Her father George Rajapaksa was a former MP of Mulkirigala who served s Cabinet minister of Health and Fisheries in the Sirimavo Bandaranaike Government. George died in 1976.
Don Mathew Rajapaksa
Nirupama’s paternal grandfather Don Mathew Rajapaksa was the pioneering member of the family to enter politics during British rule. He became a State Councillor in 1936 representing the Hambantota constituency and was known as the “Lion of Ruhuna”. After the death of DM Rajapaksa in 1945 his younger brother Don Alwin Rajapaksa succeded him in politics. Among DA Rajapaksa’s sons are President Gotabaya, Premier Mahinda and Cabinet ministers Chamal and Basil. Nirupama Rajapaksa is a niece of Mahinda, Gota, Basil and Chamal and not cousin as being reported erroneously in sections of the media.
Nirupama therefore is the link through which Thirukumar Nadesan is connected to the Rajapaksas. Though this relationship has been generally beneficial to him, there have been occasions where it has proved detrimental. The current Pandora papers controversy in which the couple is embroiled in is largely due to the Rajapaksa relationship factor. There have been other instances too in the past.
One such incident was the attack on Thirukumar Nadesan by pro-LTTE elements in Tamil Nadu,India. I have written about this in detail when it happened in 2012. I shall therefore revisit the incident as it may be of interest to readers at the present juncture. Here then is what happened -
Thirukumar Nadesan is a devout Hindu who frequently visits India for religious and cultural purposes.He has been to places of religious significance such as Benares,Gaya and Haridhwar in North India and several places in South India like Thiruppathy. He worships annually at the Murugan temple in Thiruchenthoor each year during “Kandasashdi”and can recite the “Kandasashdi Kavasam”verses.
Thirukumar Nadesan has often been to Rameswaram where the famous Ramanathaswami temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is located.Rameswaram is basically a town where pilgrims and tourists flock.Interestingly both Rameswaram and the Ramanathaswami temple are “connected” to Sri Lanka in belief,legend and history.
The chief deity at the Rameswaram temple , Ramanathaswamy is in the form of a “Shivalingam”. The lingam here is one of the twelve great abodes of Lord Shiva in India known as “Jyothilingams”.These are shrines where Lord Shiva is worshipped as a “pillar of light”.(Jyothilingam).
Among these temples dedicated to Lord Shiva the Kashi Vishwanath temple in North India at Varanasi (Benares) and Ramanathaswami temple in South India at Rameshwar (Rameswaram) are regarded as the most important.Both are revered as holy places to conduct last rites for the departed, scatter or dissolve ashes and observe rituals to propitiate ancestors.
Like many devotees ,Thirukumar Nadesan too had been going to Rameswaram for many years in the past to conduct special poojas and Yagnas for propitiation purposes. He did so in a personal capacity. Thirukumar Nadesan arrived in India on Saturday January 7th . 2012 After an unpleasant past experience it had been the practice to request security from India during such visits whenever he was accompanied by wife Nirupama. The fact that his spouse Nirupama was a niece of President Rajapaksa and was also a Govt. deputy minister necessitated such security. It had always been granted.But on this occasion Nadesan did not make such a request to the Indian High commission in Colombo as Nirupama was not accompanying him and also because it was a personal pilgrimage undertaken for religious purposes.Nadesan checked in at the Chitra Park Hotel in Thiruchenthoor and commenced his religious observances. Thiruchenthoor is one of the “Arupadaiveedugal” or six revered abodes of Lord Muruga or Skanda.It is believed to be the venue of the battle in which Lord Muruga led the Devas and defeated the Asuras.Lord Muruga is worshipped as Senthilaandavan and the temple known as Thiruchenthoor Senthilaandavan Kovil.
While at Thiruchenthoor Nadesan came under the radar of the local Police “Q” branch. The special branch of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in Tamil Nadu is known as the “Q” branch. The “Q” branch set up in 1971 specializes in intelligence gathering and monitoring suspected extremist activity. The “Q” branch was aware that Nadesan’s next destination was Rameswaram.
Nadesan reached Rameswaram at about 3 pm on Monday January 9th and checked in at Hotel Royal Park . The local “Q” branch Police were awaiting him at the Hotel when he arrived. In the evening Nadesan went to the Ramanathaswami temple to worship.He was accompanied by two “Q” branch officers in civils. While exiting the temple a person presumed to be from the press photographed him suddenly. However a uniformed Police Inspector politely sent the photographer away. Nadesan had dinner at 8.30 pm at the Royal Park hotel with six “Q” branch officers as guests. Nadesan left the Hotel very early in the morning. When he went out there were two “Q” branch officers in the Hotel lobby.The Sri Lankan Tamil devotee then proceeded to the residence of a Brahmin priest RC Anandha Dikshithar on Nadutheru in the Melavasal area.
A “Shraaddha”ceremony began at the house at 6.00 am. It was conducted by Brahmin priests on behalf of Thirukumar Nadesan. This involved a “Pinda -dhan” where offerings are made to ancestors in the form of “Pindas”made by Brahmins.The pindas are balls made of cooked rice or flour mixed with ghee, honey and black sesame seeds. The Pindas are offered to the souls of departed ancestors and then dissolved in water.
In Nadesan’s case the “Pinda –dhan” was for three generations of paternal and maternal ancestors. After the ritual at the Nadutheru residence the Sri Lankan Tamil businessman had walked to the beach on the eastern side of the Ramanathaswami temple known as “Agni theertham”(holy water body of fire) and dissolved the Pinda or rice balls in the sea.
Anandha Dikshithar’s Residence
There are 64 “theerthams”or holy water bodies in Rameswaram. Bathing or performing religious rites here earn great merit. “Agni theertham” is regarded as the most sacred among them. Nadesan then returned to Anandha Dikshithar’s residence to continue with the rest of the religious rituals, He was bare –bodied and wearing a verti according to custom.
When Nadesan returned he found six persons at the gate. They had come on three motor cycles and possessed cameras, camcorders and tape recorders.Introducing themselves as being from the press they began bombarding Nadesan with questions.
The “journos” asked questions about the Political situation in Sri Lanka and about the Rajapaksa family.Nadesan politely declined to answer saying he was not a politician and that he was in Rameswaram for a religious and not a political purpose.
Suddenly a mob of about 40 to 50 persons emerged from a pharmacy named “Moon Medicals” across the road. Many in the group were wearing black tee shirts with the portrait of slain LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran or with a picture of a leaping tiger. This rabble virtually surrounded Nadesan and began shouting slogans in Tamil.
They began chanting that there was no place in Rameswaram for Rajapaksa family members when the Sinhala navy was killing Tamil fishermen from Rameswaram. They also screamed that Sinhala govt people who had massacred Tamils in Sri Lanka wont be allowed to enter Tamil Nadu.Black flags and placards were waved vigorously.Nadesan tried to explain but his voice was drowned in the shouting.
Upon hearing the commotion the Brahmin priests came outside.Concerned for Thirukumar’s safety the priests pulled him out of the melee and took him inside the house.Seeing their target escaping some of the rowdy mob tried to hit Nadesan with the flag poles. A few threw their slippers and chappals at him. But Nadesan entered the house safely.
The enraged mob then tried to forcibly enter the house but the priests led by the owner Anandha Dikshithar bravely blocked them for a while and managed to lock the front door from inside. Anandha Dikshithar sustained minor injuries in the scuffle. The mob then threw stones and footwear at the house while shouting slogans and threats of a racist nature.
The Police were informed and cops arrived within 10 minutes at the scene and dispersed the mob. Nadesan was escorted amidst tight security to the Hotel. In a disturbing disclosure one Policeman told the Tamil businessman that he had been officially assigned as Personal security officer but had been ordered to keep away by his superior officer so as to not attract attention.
Nadesan checked out of the Hotel immediately and left for Trichy from where he returned to Sri Lanka. He had been unable to complete the religious rituals or bathe in the “theertham” within temple precincts as intended due to the rowdyism.
The incident however began receiving wide publicity. The leaders of the mob began giving interviews to the media and seemed very proud about what they had done. The tiger and pro-tiger media organs within the Tamil Diaspora publicized the event as a great victory against the Rajapaksa regime.
Nadesan was portrayed as Rajapaksa relative who had tried to conduct a pooja in Rameswaram for the benefit of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his Govt. The demonstration was depicted as a victory for having thwarted
After returning to Colombo Thirukumar Nadesan wrote to the then Indian High Commissioner Ashok Kantha outlining what had happened to him. He also wrote to the then External affairs minister Prof. G.L. Peiris and the then Lankan envoy in New Delhi Prasad Kariyawasam.Nadesan also told sections of the media that there had only been a demonstration and an attack attempt against him and that he was not harmed physically.
Tamil Nadu Police
Meanwhile the Tamil Nadu police began cracking down.Nadesan himself had not made an official complaint but the Brahmin priest Anandha Dikshithar had lodged one with the Rameswaram Police. The Federation of Brahmin priests with a membership of over 500 began exerting pressure on the Police. Public opinion in Rameswaram was horrified at the incident.It had violated the cultural norm of hospitality where a guest was akin to God.
With mounting pressure the Police acted swiftly and began arresting those allegedly responsible.Seven persons including suspected ring leaders were arrested and produced in courts.They were remanded to judicial custody for fifteen days by the Rameswaram judicial magistrate.Police also identified 40 other persons as suspects involved in the fracas.Based on the complaint made by Anandha Dikshithar a case was filed in courts under Sections 506(1), 294(b), 427, 448 and 355 of the Indian Penal code for the offences of criminal intimidation, uttering obscene words, mischief, house trespass and assault. “Deputy Inspector General of Police of Ramanathapuram range Sandeep Mittal told “The Hindu” then that “All those involved in the incident would be brought to book”.
MDMK and NTI “Activists”
Most of the “activists”involved in the incident belonged to the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (MDMK) led by Vaiko and Naam Thamizhar Iyakkam(NTI) led by Seeman.Among those arrested and remanded were “Karate” Palanisamy the state deputy –secretary of the MDMK youth wing and Kan Illango the Rameswaram organizer of NTI.The involvement of Vaiko and Seeman’s followers in the incident came as no surprise because both leaders are rabid supporters of the LTTE and firmly opposed to a united Sri Lanka .
D.B.S. Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org