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Lalith, Anusha sentenced

Former Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunge and former Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) Director General Anusha Palpita were today found guilty of misappropriating Rs. 600 million of funds belonging to TRC over Controversial Sil Redi (fabrics used by devotees to observe sill) distribution case and they were sentenced to three-year-rigorous imprisonment by Colombo High Court.

While handing out a lengthy judgment, High Court Judge Gihan Kulatunga maintained that the prosecutors have proven the accused's guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The High Court Judge further maintained that the accused had committed this offence dishonestly with the intention of gaining undue advantage to a particular candidate during the 2015-Presidential Election.

While observing a political motivation had led the accused to commit this offence, Lalith Weeratunge and Anusha Palpita were ordered to pay a compensation of Rs.50 million each to the TRC in lieu of losses incurred contrary to the Telecommunication Act.

Each accused were further ordered to pay a fine of two million rupees and in default of the payment of fine they will have to serve additional one year imprisonment.

This is the first time, a High Court delivered a judgment regarding an indictment filed by Attorney General pursuant to the investigation carried out by FCID.

The Attorney General had filed indictments against former Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunge and former Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) Director General Anusha Palpita under three counts, in connection with a criminal misappropriation of Rs.600 million belonging to the TRC funds during the 2015-Presidential Election campaign. They were found guilty of all charges.

The Attorney General had filed indictments against the two accused on three counts of committing a criminal misappropriation funds amounting to Rs.600 million at TRC while spending for a ‘Sil Redi’ distribution program in contravention of the Telecommunication Act, No. 25 of 1991 Act during the period of October 30, 2014 to January 5, 2015. The prosecutors alleged that the funds referred to had been remitted to a bank account maintained by Secretary to the President.

At a previous occasion, the Attorney General decided to drop charges which had been filed under Public Property Act against the two accused.

In his judgment, the High Court Judge observed that on December 5, 2014 a sum of Rs.600 million had been remitted to a bank account maintained by former Secretary to the President through the intervention of Anusha Pelpita, without obtaining Board of Directors’ approval (TRC).

‘Evidence given by a secretary attached to the TRC had proved that the Board of Directors’ approval was not obtained regarding this transaction. It has been revealed that this transaction had been done through a method called ‘circulation’ in which no written approval was given to remit concerned funds,’ the High Court judge added.

While observing that he cannot agree with the defense contention that the Sil Redi distribution program was a long-time process, the High Court Judge maintained that this program had been initiated with the intention of gaining undue advantage to a particular candidate in an urgent manner.

According to the defense contention, distribution of Sil Redi comes under the expenditure of President. The defense was of the view that due to non-sufficient funds at the President’s expenditure, they were tended to seek financial assistance from TRC. The court is of the view that they should have sought funds through a supplementary estimate to meet financial requirements without following irregular and illegal process.

The accused were charged under section 386 of the Penal Code for dishonestly misappropriating a sum of Rs. 600 million.

Former Election Commissioner Mahin da Deshapriya, former President’s coordinating Secretary (Religious Affairs) Ven. Vatinapaha Somananda Thera are among the persons who had been named as the witnesses.

Deputy Solicitor General Thusith Mudalige appeared for the prosecution.

President’s Counsel Kalinga Indatissa with counsel Kanchana Rathwatte and Niroshan Siriwardena appeared for the accused.

UPDATE:

Meanwhile, President’s Counsel Kalinga Indatissa appearing on behalf of former Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunge and former Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) Director General Anusha Palpita who were convicted of misappropriating Rs. 600 million of funds belonging to TRC over Controversial Sil Redi distribution case today informed that the defense is expecting to file an appeal in the Court of Appeal challenging the judgment of Colombo High Court to convict his clients.

Defense counsel today sought a date to pay off the fine and pavement imposed against the accused. Accordingly, the High Court set September 20 to pay off the fine and compensation.

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