Sri Lanka’s to probe into tsunami relief vehicles

July 8,2015 (LBO) – Sri Lanka’s Minister of Finance, Ravi Karunanayake, has initiated an inquiry into the importation of high-value vehicles for tsunami relief and subsequently given to third parties without paying due taxes and depriving the state of billions of rupees, a statement said.

This was brought to light when a vehicle imported for a UN agency to carry out tsunami relief work in 2005 was involved in an accident on June 10, 2015 in Tangalla.

The vehicle had been used illegally, violating Sri Lankan laws.

Instructions has been given to Director General of Customs R Semasinghe to carry out an investigation to find out how a vehicle imported by the World Food Program (WFP) ended up with a third party without paying customs duties and how many such vehicles had been imported on duty free basis to carry out emergency relief operations, but have ended up in private hands depriving the state of due revenue.

It is believed that hundreds of vehicles had been imported duty free and most of them have disappeared and efforts will be made to trace them and recover the revenue that is due to the state.

The minister has also directed the Customs chief to cause an internal investigation to find out of there had been any lapses on the part of the Sri Lanka customs in allowing the UN agency to transfer the possession of vehicles imported duty free into the country and not taking action for over three years to recover taxes due to the state.

The vehicle which met with an accident while being driven by a member of the former president’s security detail has been given to Siriliya Saviya Foundation (SSF) of former First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa.Police investigations have revealed that the WFP had “gifted” this vehicle and another to the SSF.

The legality of this “gift” is also to be investigated with the help of the relevant agencies. Sri Lanka Customs will also work closely with the police who are having a separate investigation.