Thursday, September 17, 2009

Lankan Minister Hizbullah in the dock

By Frederica Jansz
Last week this newspaper exposed Defence Affairs Spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella’s involvement in a multi million rupee fraud. A government owned agency has been defrauded of over Rs. 100 million and the Minister himself stands culpable of having stolen the monies.
This week we have proof that the current Minister for Health, Sports and IT Education in the Eastern Provincial Council M. L. A. M. Hizbullah also stands guilty of a multi million rupee fraud, monies he systematically defrauded together with his wife.
Hizbullah has declined to pay back a multi million rupee loan he obtained from a Ceylinco subsidiary despite having issued countless letters whereby he signed as guarantor for these loans.
Rs. 67 million released
A sum exceeding Rs. 67 million was released to Hizbullah’s wife Sithy Rameeza Sahabdeen between 2004 and 2005 when Hizbullah in his capacity as chairman Airport & Aviation Services (Sri Lanka) Limited asked that a total of Rs 67.5 million, be released to his wife in several stages.
Hizbullah named his wife as chairperson of four different companies to which these monies were released periodically over one and a half years.
The monies were taken from Ceylinco Profit Sharing Investment Corporation Ltd., which was originally incorporated in May 2002 and named ‘Ceylinco Islamic Investment Corporation Limited.’ The name was changed a year later to Ceylinco Profit Sharing Investment Corporation Ltd. There were seven directors of the company including Lalith Kotelawala, Sicille Kotelawala, Daniel Jegasothy, Patan Sirisena, Sunil Jayatissa, Kalukumara Tittawella and Sanka Ravi Wijesinghe.
Massive fraud
An active party to this massive fraud who according to Hizbullah also served as a “partner” in the now defunct companies of which his wife was chairperson was the then Chief Executive Officer of Ceylinco Profit Sharing, Mohamed Razik.
Razik together with the Hizbullahs systematically bled Ceylinco Profit Sharing Investment Corporation Ltd. dry over a period of years — ending the ultimate drain of the company’s resources in July 2007 when Razik was finally replaced as CEO.
When contacted by The Sunday Leader Hizbullah denied having literally “stolen” Rs.67.5 million and absolved himself of all responsibility despite having signed as a guarantor. “I have no responsibility” he insisted, asserting he “merely issued letters” to “help them” secure the millions of rupees.
Asked if, at the time he signed the letters as guarantor, he possessed a sum of Rs. 67.5 million which he could pay back in the eventuality of the companies collapsing he replied “No” adding, “It was not necessary — I only did this as a help and they Ceylinco too stood to benefit as they were partners in my wife’s companies.”
Rs. 93 million due
To date a sum of Rs. 93 million is due to Ceylinco Profit Sharing from the monies “loaned” to the Hizbullahs as “interest” or (profit) — the latter terminology used in such transactions involving the Muslim community. Only a sum of Rs. 5 million has so far been paid back by Hizbullah. And that would seem the be all an end of it as Hizbullah himself clearly has no intention of settling any further dues. “I don’t owe them a cent,” he insists with no qualm.
Hizbullah admitted that all four companies of which his wife served as chairperson “collapsed” and are currently non existent. Asked what happened to the Rs.67.5 million rupees “borrowed” from Ceylinco Profit Sharing he replied “it was all lost.” Asked if he had any intention of paying the monies back he said “No. Why should I? This was not my responsibility.”
“I asked them to regularise matters quickly — they did not — this was done in collaboration with Korean partners who never purchased the required stuff before they pulled out,” he said, asserting that despite the fact the monies had all been loaned purely on his guarantee to his wife he had no clue or control as to how the monies had been spent.
The four companies operated under the names of M/s Serendib Manufacturers Lanka (Pvt) Ltd., M/s Happy Day Lanka (Pvt) Ltd., Green Flowers MFG (Pvt) Ltd., and M/s Serendib Clothing Lanka (Pvt) Ltd.
According to Hizbullah the companies manufactured electric kettles and door closures. The factories he said were situated at Meetotamulla, Wellampitiya while one company M/s Serendib Clothing Lanka (Pvt) Ltd. operated “as the company office” out of an address at Dutugemunu Street, Dehiwela, also, long since vacated.
Letters of recommendation
In the letters that Hizbullah signed as then chairman of Airport & Aviation Services Limited he named his wife as chairperson of the four different companies and requested facilities of between Rs. 3 to 12 million on several occasions.
In one of the letters dated March 15, 2005, Hizbullah writes, “Mrs. Sithy Rameeza Shahabdeen is well known to me and I have no hesitation in recommending, guarantee and indemnity to you (Ceylinco Profit Sharing Investment Corporation Ltd) for a facility of Rs. 12 million. I further take responsibility and hereby agree in case of delay or default by the said Mrs. Rameeza Shahabdeen and or M/s Serendib Manufacturers Lanka (Pvt) Ltd., that I would within 7 days of notice by your good self pay to you in full Rs. 12 million together with any other claim of yours on the said facility.”
The letters of guarantee for the other companies too were identically worded. The letters are dated from May 2004 to September 2005.
Failing to honour these transactions numerous Letters of Demand have been sent to Hizbullah over a period of years by lawyers attached to Ceylinco, but he has not bothered to answer a single.
Action was initiated by Ceylinco only after July 2007 when Razik was replaced by a new CEO, Dr. Rafeek. However Dr. Rafeek too has reached a stumbling block — as many of the files pertaining to these transactions have “gone missing.” Only some photocopies remain. Apart from that, Ceylinco Profit Sharing has not “a cent” left company officials told The Sunday Leader with which to pursue legal action against the Hizbullahs.

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