In 2007, journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge published a series of exposes about a murky arms procurement that has since come to be known as the ‘MiG deal’. The articles resulted in Lasantha and his newspaper being sued for defamation over his reporting on the alleged involvement of then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the transaction involving mothballed MiG-27 bombers in Ukraine. Friends and family have long suspected that the reporting and legal battle may have cost the outspoken journalist his life.
Years later, FCID investigations have vindicated The Sunday Leader editor, proving his reporting was factually accurate down to the tiniest detail, even though the fearless reporter never got his long awaited day in court to face off against the country’s most powerful man
In 2000, the Chandrika Kumaratunga Government awarded two tenders for the purchase of six MiG-27 bombers to Singapore-based arms dealer DS Alliance, which was represented by its director ‘Lee Thian Soo’, who went by the name ‘T.S. Lee’.
Under the contracts between the Sri Lanka Air Force and DS Alliance, the latter would acquire the aircraft from Ukrainian state-owned arms exporter Ukrinmash and resell them to the Air Force, at a price of approximately US $1.2 million each.
Half these aircraft were ill-fated. One crashed, months after it was acquired, in August 2007 near the Katunayake airport, killing its Ukrainian pilot. A second was damaged, and a third destroyed, when the LTTE attacked the Katunayake airport in 2001.
By January 2006, the Air Force Commander, Air Vice Marshal Donald Perera had placed on record that the air force should give up on MiG-27 aircraft and modernise its fleet by considering options available from several other countries, including the United States and Israel.
The following month, however, the Commander was to make a u-turn, following a sudden meeting summoned by Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
That meeting, held at the Defence Ministry on February 6, 2006, was for Rajapaksa’s cousin, Udayanga Weeratunga, and his business associate Dmytro Peregudov of Ukraine, to pitch MiG-27 aircraft to the air force once again.