Sri Lanka’s public security minister, Tiran Alles, is the first sitting Sri Lankan minister to be identified in the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ Pandora Papers data trove as having offshore holdings.
An ICIJ analysis of the leaked records and U.K.’s public property register shows that Alles, a media tycoon and politician, owns two British Virgin Islands companies that hold properties in London.
The Pandora Papers is a trove of 11.9 million leaked documents obtained by ICIJ that were at the core of a 2021 global investigation exposing the financial deals and hidden assets of politicians, celebrities, business people and criminals in more than 200 countries. The files came from 14 offshore service providers that specialized in setting up shell companies and trusts in tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions.
The funds used to finance the BVI companies came from Alles’ work as a businessman, according to a declaration in the leaked files.
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In 2017, a notary who penned a reference letter included in the Pandora Papers data, described Alles as “a very enterprising and very enthusiastic business entrepreneur” in Sri Lanka and “the pillar of strength behind the success” of Apogee Group, a business consultancy firm, and Ceylon Newspapers (Pvt) Ltd., which owns the Ceylon Today newspaper and other dailies.
Alles did not respond to ICIJ’s requests for comment.
In the 1980s, Alles, now 63, founded telecommunications company Communication & Business Equipment. He entered politics in 2010, after a stint as the head of the Civil Aviation Authority. He was appointed Sri Lanka’s public security minister in charge of the police last year, during the country’s political and economic crisis that culminated with the ousting of former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Leaked files from Overseas Management Company, the financial services provider that administered Alles’ BVI companies, did not identify him as a politically exposed person, a type of client that, due to their prominent position, requires providers to conduct stricter due diligence checks because of a higher risk of involvement in corruption or money laundering.
OMC did not respond to ICIJ’s questions about Alles, citing confidentiality reasons. A spokesperson for the firm said in an email that OMC complies with “all applicable laws” and “maintains a robust compliance program, including due diligence policies and procedures.”
The Pandora Papers documents list Alles as a dual resident of Sri Lanka and the U.K., at a London address that was used as the registered office of Gateway Educational Services (UK) Ltd. In 2006, U.K. corporate records described the business purpose of the London entity as “investment in property for the promotion of nursery education.”
The company appears to be linked to Alles’ Gateway Group, a group of elite private schools founded by his late father. One of the schools provided free tutoring to the son of then-president Mahinda Rajapaksa, according to a 2007 U.S. diplomatic cable published in Sri Lankan media.
The Gateway Group did not respond to questions from ICIJ.
The Pandora Papers connection
Sri Lankan newspapers began reporting about Alles being identified in the Pandora Papers data in early November, after reporters and members of the public found his name in the ICIJ’s Offshore Leaks Database. The public database contains information on more than 810,000 offshore entities that appeared in leaked documents obtained by ICIJ since 2012, which have led to several investigations, including the Pandora Papers and the Panama Papers. ICIJ publishes the names of companies, shareholders, owners and other information included in the files. It does not publish entire sets of records.
Alles told reporters at The Island daily who inquired about the findings that “singling out his name was a mischievous effort to tarnish his reputation.”
There are legitimate uses for offshore companies, such as those owned by Alles. Sri Lankan authorities have not opened an investigation into the politician’s holdings, The Island reported.
The public security minister is one of four Sri Lankan politically connected people identified in the Pandora Papers so far.
In 2021, ICIJ uncovered the hidden assets of Nirupama Rajapaksa, a scion of the Rajapaksa family whose members have dominated Sri Lankan politics for years, and her husband, businessman Thirukumar Nadesan. The leaked records showed that the couple had used secretive shell companies and trusts to accumulate assets worth about $18 million in tax havens, and own artworks and luxury properties in London and Sydney. Nirupama Rajapaksa and Nadesan denied any wrongdoing.
In the aftermath of the revelations, anti-corruption activists in Sri Lanka urged the country’s Financial Intelligence Unit and the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption to examine the findings. Then-president Gotabaya Rajapaksa pledged to launch an investigation but, to this date, the results of the probe have not been made public, according to Sri Lankan media.
The ICIJ investigation also revealed how Ramalingam Paskaralingam, a former adviser to three Sri Lankan leaders, created BVI trusts and companies to hold millions of dollars, invest in a private college, and buy property in the U.K. Paskaralingam did not respond to ICIJ’s repeated comment requests.