Following a recent New York Times report that revealed a $7.6-million money transfer from a Chinese firm to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s campaign aides during the 2015 presidential election, the ex-leader has dismissed the report as “a smear campaign”.
In a statement on Sunday, Mr. Rajapaksa said: “No contribution was made by China Harbour Co to my 2015 presidential election campaign,” and said the report was “intentionally vague”.
On June 25, NYT published an in-depth report titled ‘How China got Sri Lanka to cough up a port’, which said that large payments from the Chinese port construction fund “flowed directly to campaign aides and activities for Mr. Rajapaksa, who had agreed to Chinese terms at every turn and was seen as an important ally in China’s efforts to tilt influence away from India in South Asia”.
The investigation was based on documents pertaining to a “government investigation”. China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), which allegedly transferred the funds, is a subsidiary of the state-owned China Communications Construction Company Limited. CHEC is currently building a $1.4-billion international financial city on reclaimed land of 500 acres, just off Colombo’s sea front.
The company is yet to respond to The Hindu ’s query, emailed as requested, on June 28. The Chinese Embassy in Colombo too has dismissed the report, as being full of “political prejudice and completely inconsistent with the fact”.
While media reports published in 2015 and 2016 in the local press highlighted the Criminal Investigation Department (CID)’s investigation of the said transactions, little information about the probe is available in public domain.
Following the recent report, State Minister of Finance and Mass Media, Eran Wickramaratne has called on investigating agencies to reveal details, the state-run Sunday Observer reported.
Meanwhile, the Financial Crimes Investigation Division has sought the police chief’s advice to investigate the NYT report, The Sunday Times reported on Sunday.
China’s apparently growing hold over Sri Lanka, both in the southern town of Hambantota and in Colombo, is seen by many as part of the Asian giant’s geopolitical strategy in the region.
Ties between Colombo and Beijing grew stronger when Mr. Rajapaksa was in power for a decade, and drove major Chinese-funded projects.
On the NYT report’s mention of India’s known apprehensions about China’s presence in Sri Lanka, Mr. Rajapaksa, pointing to a reference in former National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon’s book Choices , said that his government’s assurances on safeguarding India’s interests in the island were respected throughout.
Mr. Rajapaksa, who has accused his successor government of ceding more land and power to China, said: “ The New York Times has described me as China’s preferred partner in Sri Lanka. Given what has taken place after 2015, I have no doubt that I am now the preferred partner of India as well.”