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CJ steps down from Golden Key case

2014 Jul 30

Chief Justice Mohan Peiris today stepped down from the Bench inquiring into the Golden Key Credit Card Company case stating there was a scurrilous letter being circulated against him and as such he should not hear the case in the greater interest of the judiciary.

At a special hearing held today Chief Justice Mohan Peiris said: “I am doing this in the greater interest of this court, to protect its dignity. This court has been through turbulent and critical times in the past, but now it has stabilized itself. I don’t want the Court to go through any of that in the future.”

The decision comes on the verge of the Golden Key case being concluded with the task force setting a deadline of January 2015 to conclude paying depositors.

“There has been a petition to the effect that the Chief Justice should stand down from hearing this case for reasons of a perceived bias. We have inquired from each counsel present if they have any objections to the CJ presiding on this Bench and they have unanimously said they have no such objections.

However, Counsel Ali Sabry and Faizser Musthapha PC said their clients who claim title to shares of CIESOT (Ceylinco Insurance Employees Share Owning Trust) have expressed concern about the Chief Justice hearing the case. In these circumstances, a new Bench will be constituted and presided by Justice Sripavan and including Justice Rohini Marasinghe,” the Chief Justice said.

The Supreme Court had on May 30 fixed to deliver an order pertaining to the case upon conclusion of the hearings.

The order was to include a decision on the CIESOT trust fund which was earlier alleged to be a mode of perpetuating control of Ceylinco Insurance Company by the Directors of the Company and deposed Chairman Lalith Kothelawala.

During a previous hearing Chief Justice Mohan Peiris called the trust fund a “sham” and said that indictments should be accelerated against two directors of Ceylinco Insurance.

CIESOT is said to possess assets close to Rs.6.5 billion in assets which the Task Force hoped to use in pying the depositors. The CJ said the letter against him was “scurrilous” and ‘nonsensical’ in substance.

“It’s going all around alleging all sorts of things against me. I want to be able to sleep well at night and that sleep is something that I cherish. Therefore I seek your indulgence to recuse myself from hearing the case” he told all counsel present.

Counsels K. Kanag Iswaran PC, Faisz Musthapha PC, Nigel Hatch PC, Nihal Fernando PC, V.K. Choksy, Avindra Rodrigo, Prof. H.M. Zafrulla, Junior Counsel for Romesh de Silva and as well as Deputy Solicitor General Viraj Dayaratne informed Court they had no objection and the Chief Justice could continue to hear the case.

However, counsel Ali Sabry PC and Faiszer Musthapha PC appearing for the ‘ employees’ who intervened on the basis that CIESOT belonged to them informed court that although they in person had no objection, their clients had expressed concern on the fact that the CJ was hearing the case.

The employees are not a party to the Golden Key matter, and their application to intervene was rejected on the basis of a previous Supreme Court order barring any intervention.

The Chief Justice speaking in open court said ‘independence was ingrained’ in him. “I know those who are behind this. I want to send a greater message to them. I have been a firm believer of the principle that we have to do the best for the worst. This will send a greater message to them,” he said.

However, Counsel present said the move by the CJ would create a bad precedent. “The principle is the issue. The fact that a letter can be sent compelling a judge to step down is a very bad precedent. Therefore we urge you to continue to hear the case” counsel for the Task Force V.K. Choksy said. It was further reiterated by all counsel including Nihal Fernando PC and Avindra Rodrigo.

Thereafter the Task Force Chairman Priyantha Fernando told court that the move could derail the entire process of repaying the depositors.

“After years on this case finally we had come to the end of this case having set a deadline of January 2015. Now the entire process can be derailed because economic conditions in the country changes. The value of the assets decrease as time goes by and at the end the depositors will have to suffer. We have all received many threats pertaining to this case and the brunt is taken by our families, but we have to continue with our mission in the greater interest of the public” he said.

Hearing the objections by the Counsel present, the CJ adjourned court for ten minutes and returned to recuse himself from the bench. Hearing was fixed for September 1. (Hafeel Farisz and S.S. Selvanayagam)

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