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Corrupt dealings in Hambantota hospital construction

 An investigation into a money laundering case involving an Australian medical company has revealed details of alleged corrupt dealings during the construction of the Hambantota General Hospital in Sri Lanka.

Australia’s ABC Media Network has given a long description of the investigation into allegations of corruption in a personal protective equipment contract with Australia’s Canberra-based Aspen Medical Company.

The ABC’s Four Corners program investigating the company has established that Aspen Medical has been embroiled in a top-level money laundering investigation after its involvement in a multi-million-dollar hospital project in Hambantota, Sri Lanka.

The company is under investigation for money laundering in connection with the construction of the Hambantota District General Hospital in 2012.

The company had obtained formal Australian government support through an $18.8 million insurance guarantee from the then-Export Finance and Insurance Corporation on the basis that the company had been hired to "supply equipment and associated medical design and infrastructure for the hospital".

When inquired by the ABC’s Four Corners program, the company has refused to answer the question as to whether the medical supplies were made on behalf of the hospital. However, they have said in a statement that the contract was awarded to a subcontractor.

Aspen’s first transaction of $ 2.1 million in Sri Lanka has been made to Sabre Vision Holdings, a British Virgin Islands registered company. The transaction has come to the attention of the Sri Lanka Police.

The company was owned by Nimal Perera of Sri Lanka and has close ties to the Rajapaksa family in Sri Lanka, the investigation has revealed.

In 2016, he confessed that he had collected money for Namal Rajapaksa and as a result Namal Rajapaksa was arrested.

When police investigating the hospital deal first questioned Mr Perera about the source of unexplained funds that had arrived in his personal bank accounts, he told them it was an Italian businessman whose identity he could not substantiate with an address or a phone number.  

When inquired about Sabre Vision Holdings, he told the police he did not "know anything about" the company, and added that he believed "the company could be related to his Italian friend". 

It was only when police received corporate documents from the British Virgin Islands that they learned the company was not owned by an anonymous Italian businessman, but by Mr Perera himself.

Pressed by Four Corners about why he had lied to the police, Mr Perera said: "No, I don’t want to answer, sorry." 

Mr Perera confirmed he had never worked in the health sector and said that he had nothing to do with Aspen Medical. He had worked as an agent for EN-Projects, he said. 

In 2013, Sabre Vision Holdings received hundreds of thousands of US dollars that had been paid out in a global bribery scheme orchestrated by EADS, the parent company of aircraft manufacturer Airbus.

Airbus’s campaign of kickbacks in Sri Lanka, and around the world, became the subject of a deferred prosecution agreement between Airbus and Britain’s Serious Fraud Office and, in January 2020, Airbus paid $US4 billion to settle the corruption investigation with French, British and US authorities.

Aspen Medical said it had not received "any requests from any government agency or court of law anywhere in the world" regarding the hospital project but would support any such inquiries.

It added that the Airbus scandal only became public in 2019, years after its payments to Sabre Vision Holdings.

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