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UL-HelloCorp deal opens can of worms

Sri Lanka’s flagship carrier, SriLankan Airlines (SLA) had fully outsourced its call centre operations in 2009 to HelloCorp, despite the controversial entity submitting a higher bid for the contract, the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into irregularities at SriLankan Airlines learnt last week.

HelloCorp, initially set up as a subsidiary of Expolanka Holdings PLC in 2002 was first acquired by NR Consultancy (Pvt) Ltd in 2012 and its shareholding was transferred to Gowers Corporate Services (GCS) a year later. Both NR Consultancy and Gower Corporate Services are fully owned entities of Namal Rajapaksa, the son of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Namal Rajapaksa is currently on trial at Colombo High Court on charges of allegedly acquiring the HelloCorp call centre using laundered money through GCS and NR Consultancy (Pvt) Ltd.

At the time of the takeover of HelloCorp by GCS, SriLankan Airlines was headed by Nishantha Wickremasinghe, brother of former first lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa and Namal Rajapaksa’s maternal uncle. The Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) firm also then had an existing business agreement for coordinating services with SLA.

Testifying before the commission, witness SLA General Manager of Commercial Services and Support Services, Panduka Weeraratne said that while HelloCorp and SciCom, were selected as the finalists to run call centre operations for SLA, HelloCorp was finally awarded the three-year agreement despite offering a higher bid. While SciCom quoted Rs. 445 million, HelloCorp’s offer was Rs.28 million higher at Rs. 473 million.

A subsequent Board Paper submitted through the Head of Finance to the SLA Board had stressed the importance of an outsourced call centre (with four SLA staff and 126 outsourced contract staff) and highlighted that the outsourced operation would reduce staff by 50% and bring in Rs 77 million cost savings.

However, witness Weeraratne failed to produce any documentary evidence as to how such conclusions were arrived at prior to submitting the Board Paper or any later evaluations done. He further said that a 10-member team appointed in awarding this contract to an outsourced company of which he was a member, developed a Request For Proposal (RFP) and received responses from 10 vendors of which five companies were shortlisted following a marking scheme based on various factors.

According to investigations reported to court before the case went to trial, the ownership of HelloCorp was acquired through laundered money, using a trove of false invoices and documents to prove that NR Consultancy had sufficient avenues of income. Accordingly, Namal Rajapaksa had taken over HelloCorp through GCS by using his two close female associates as proxies.

In 2013 — during the period the HelloCorp transaction took place — the directors of GCS were Ornella Iresha Silva, a former Private Secretary to Namal Rajapaksa and Nithya Senani Samaranayake, the controversial air hostess attached to SriLankan Airlines, who was released to work in a ‘mysterious role’ at the Presidential Secretariat at an exorbitant salary. Samarasinghe is currently a member of the Colombo Municipal Council, elected on the SLPP ticket.

Directors and key executive staff of NR Consultancy were Lakshman Namal Rajapaksa (Holder of all shares), Nithya Samaranayake (Director), Ornella Iresha Silva (Legal Officer), Sudarshan Ganegoda (Director), Sujani Bogollagama (Chief Executive Officer), Dilrukshi Mahanama (Accountant) and Vasitha Pinnawala (Project Officer). The five-member PCoI consisted of Retired Supreme Court Justice Anil Gooneratne (Chairman), Court of Appeal Judge Gamini Rohan Amarasekara, Retired High Court Judge Piyasena Ranasinghe, Retired Deputy Auditor General Anthony Harold and Sri Lanka Accounting and Auditing Standards Monitoring Board Director General Wasantha Jayaseeli Kapugama.

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