Page last updated at 13:08 GMT, Wednesday, 8 October 2008 14:08 UK

Interpol help sought to find Sri Lanka 'fraudster'

By Saroj Pathirana
BBC Sinhala Service

A manhunt with a difference is turning global after a court in Sri Lanka has ordered the police to seek Interpol help to arrest a man in connection with what might have been the largest single cash defraud in the country.

Interpol sign
A global search has started

The founder of Sakvithi Housing Construction, Chandana Weerakumara Ranasinghe, also known as Sakvithi Ranasinghe, is believed to have fled the country.

According to press reports, he is accused of swindling some 9,000 million rupees (48; $84m), though the authorities say correct estimates are not available as victims seem reluctant to complain.

Police is also keen to speak with seven others including a senior media personality, Edwin Ariyadasa.

Missing police officer


The arrest warrant is issued in connection with the activities of the finance company in which thousands of Sri Lankans have deposited their savings.

The court has also ordered the police to summon the governor of the central bank and officials of state and private banks to court.

The central bank earlier told the BBC that the fraud case does not merit a response.

Police spokesman, Senior Superintendant of Police Ranjith Gunasekara says the police has already received more than 1,400 complaints.

He also admits that a police officer attached to the station that investigates the scam has gone missing after being accused of being involved in the finance company.

Endorsements

Inspector of Police Pushpakumara is accused by the victims of forcefully removing the computers from the office where investors' files were kept.

Ajith Cabraal, Governor of Sri Lanka's Central Bank
Central bank governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal is a busy man

Mr Gunasekara tells the BBC that the police are looking for his whereabouts as well as the owner of the company.

Senior policemen, soldiers, a woman athlete, cricket players and prominent social figures are among the victims, according to media reports.

Six people, including the managing director of the company, have been arrested and police expect that almost 5,000 people are affected by the investment scam that invited people to investment money in the company.

The company has also used "high profile endorsements".

"I invested because President Mahinda Rajapaksa's photo was used in newspaper advertisement and he offered very good returns for our money," one victim says.

Central bank governor, Ajith Nivard Cabraal tells the BBC Sinhala Service that he has more serious matters to attend than commenting on the investment scam.

The Central Bank was accused of serious neglect of duty by Sri Lanka's main opposition, United National Party (UNP), an accusation echoed by the parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE).

Former COPE chairman, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, PC, questioned whether the Bank indeed needs a head if he is incapable of implementing the pledges made to the constitutional assembly.

Government responsible

Mr Cabraal, the former COPE chairman says, in December 2006 pledged to take action within two months against such fraudulent companies.

The COPE report together with the pledge from the Central Bank were presented to Sri Lanka parliament on 12 January 2007.

"If after 22 months the Central Bank has failed to implement a pledge give to the country's constitutional assembly, I think the Bank's Monetary Board should be made responsible," Mr Rajapakshe tells the BBC.

The main opposition echoe his view but went steps further.

The UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake, MP, says the finance minister and the government should take the responsibility.

President Rajapaksa holds the finance portfolio and Governor Cabraal was appointed by the president in 2006 despite strong objections from the opposition parties.

Pyramid schemes

The Governor has also failed to take any action against companies that run pyramid schemes in Sri Lanka, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, MP, says.

"Nearly 50-60 young people were imprisoned by the authorities for paying money to pyramid schemes, but the main company still operates in Colombo," he says, adding that Governor Cabraal also pledged to the parliament, in December 2006, that action would be taken within two months against pyramid schemes.

Ajith Nivard Cabraal declines to comment and BBC has failed in its repeated attempts to contact deputy finance minister, Ranjith Siyamblapitiya.




SEE ALSO
Sri Lanka: Country profile
29 Sep 98 |  Sri Lanka


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