Sunday Times (Sri Lanka)

Rs 10b loss from corrupt sugar deal involving Pyramid Wilmar, Sathosa, and politician­s

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A corrupt sugar import deal involving the government, commodity trading business cronies, the head of Sathosa, a Viyathmaga operative, politician­s, and the Treasury, was laid out in detail in Parliament by National People’s Power leader Anura Kumara Dissanayak­e, who charged that public coffers had been deprived of up to Rs 10 billion in revenues.

Mr Dissanayak­e this week identified the key operatives in the deal as Sajad Mowzoon, a director of Pyramid Wilmar; Sathosa Chairman Nushad Perera, a marketer from the Viyathmaga network allied with Podujana Peramuna; the Finance Ministry, and Trade Minister Bandula Gunawarden­a.

He also named Mr S. R. Attygalle, Secretary to the Treasury and Ministry of Finance, as part of a corrupt group that took the decision to slash duties on sugar from Rs 55 imposed on May 23 to a mere 25 cents on October 13.

JVP leader Dissanayak­a recalled how the Presidenti­al Media Unit had announced sugar would be offered to Sri Lankans at Rs 85 a kilo. It was not to be, he said.

Mr Mowzoon, is a director of Pyramid Wilmar (Pvt) Ltd, a joint-venture of Pyramid Oil Mills and Singapore’s Wilmar Internatio­nal Limited, which trades critical commoditie­s such as palm oil, sugar, and rice among others and is run by the Kuok family that also owns the Shangri-La luxury hotels chain, including the ones in Colombo and Hambantota. In 2019, Wilmar Internatio­nal made a profit of US$2.6 million from sugar, or Rs 485.41 million, from the business, compared with the tropical oils operation’s earnings of US$841.6m.

Pyramid Wilmar is chaired by Madhu Rao, a Shangri-La veteran. Rao was managing director and chief executive of Shangri-La Internatio­nal Hotel Management.

Wilmar Internatio­nal also operates an Indian joint venture, Adani Wilmar Limited, which it says is “the largest refiner and producer of consumer pack edible oils in the country’’.

Mr Dissanayak­a told lawmakers that as he was speaking in the chamber, another sugar shipment of 13,500 metric tonnes was being loaded for Sri Lanka by Mr Mowzoon’s Wilmar.

He made the detailed revelation­s on Thursday, the final day of the committee stage debate of the 2021 budget.

Mr Dissanakay­a charged that the corrupt group diverted to its pockets, its companies, money owed to the Treasury through roundabout ways.

He said that the Shangri-La Colombo had hosted Viyathmaga gatherings at lower rates. “This is the payback,’’ he said.

He was enraged that Nushad Perera held a press briefing to counter his charges in Parliament. “I don’t need press conference­s from the thief,’’ he said. It was Perera who suggested to the President that sugar duty be slashed to 25 cents, Mr Dissanayak­e said.

He pointed to the President lecturing on anti- corruption day that people will not tolerate corruption in Sri Lanka, while he was protecting the corrupt and enabling corruption.

Giving background to the corrupt deal, Mr Dissanayak­e told lawmakers, the duty on sugar was raised on May 23 to Rs 85, claiming that sugar is being used to concoct illegal brews; would help to develop the local sugar industry; and to save foreign exchange. And yet, on October 13, the duty was slashed to just 25 cents. He asked if the Finance Minister had joined the discussion on the duty cut.

Mr Attygalle had gazetted the reduced duty. At the time the Consumer Authority had said 90,000 MT of sugar was in stock and imported at duty of Rs 50.

“So, sugar could never be sold for Rs 85. Sugar is not available anywhere for Rs 85.’’

Then, Sathosa began offering sugar at Rs 85. “The Trade Minister [Bandula Gunawarden­a] said a kilo of sugar is enough for a month for a household,’’ Mr Dissanayak­e said.

Then, on October 27, Nushad Perera, Mr Atygalle and the President had discussion­s with importers, he said.

Sugar imported at Rs 50 duty was available and 25 cent duty sugar shipments were due.

“So it was decided to impose duty of Rs 40. But the Trade Minister said the duty can’t be revoked for another month…not until November 13.’’

The Trade Ministry then decided to impose a licence via the import- export controller, he said.

And the sugar imported at duty of 25 cents was not released from the port between October 30 and November 22.

The government said the Rs 40 duty will be effective November 13. But not so, he said.

Sugar imported at 25 cent duty was released after November 22.

“How did the deal go down,’’ Mr Dissanayak­e asked. “What is Nushad Perera’s connection? The Trade Minister can’t meet the President, but, he is a Viyathmaga member. They make decisions, regardless of the Cabinet,’’ he said.

He detailed the purchases by Sathosa from Sajad Mowzoon, while referencin­g the link to the company operated by Shangri-La Hotels owners.

Mr Dissanayak­e said that for 30 years, Sri Lanka had not brought in a shipment of sugar. But, “on November 2, a shipment of 26,000 MT of sugar was brought in. “Kawda genawey? [who imported?] Sajad Mowzoon,’’ he revealed. “Imported at 25 cents [duty]’’.

In all, 37,000 MT of sugar was imported by Mowzoon’s company.

On December 12, another 25,000 MT are due, from Mowzoon’s Wilmar Trading, Mr Dissanayak­e said. “At this moment, another 13,500 MT is being loaded in India, from Sajad Mowzoon’s Wilmar,’’ he revealed. “About 37,000 MT of sugar already imported, another 38,000 MT due.’’

Annual sugar imports are about 650,000 MT. But, in the two months from October 13, 200,000 MT of sugar was imported, Mr Dissanayak­e said. “For whom is this? Sajad Mowzoon,’’ he thundered.

There is neither sugar at Rs 85 for Sri Lankans, nor the revenue that could have been generated from duties, he said.

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