With Election Looming, Sri Lanka’s President Says Chinese Tower Contractor Disappeared with Funds

On September 16, during the opening of the 356-meter Lotus Tower in Colombo, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena alleged that one Chinese contractor working on the project had disappeared with $11 million in state funds. Sirisena said that in 2012, under his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s state-run Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (TRC) had deposited the funds with Aerospace Long-March International Trade Co. Ltd, one of the main contractors. However, according to Rajapaksa, Sri Lankan authorities discovered in 2016 that “there was no such company.” Aside from the contribution made by TRC, the remaining 80% of the overall $104.3 million financing cost was provided as a loan from the Export-Import Bank of China. Sirisena’s comments come as Sri Lanka prepares for a presidential election on November 16. His main opponent will be Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the brother of Mahinda Rajapaksa. He has said that he “will set the record straight and restore the relationship to where it was”, adding, “I suppose the thinking was if we upset China, the West would come to us with endless bags of gold… But the bags of gold never materialized.” There are legal challenges to Rajapaksa’s candidacy, related to an alleged misappropriation of funds and uncertainty over whether he has renounced his U.S. citizenship.