Earlier this year, the populace of this country was unintentionally introduced to the company known as Avant Garde, after one of its many floating armouries was found in the Galle Harbour. Since then, Avant Garde has become the catalyst to many theories that sometimes border on downright conspiratorial.
Currently, not only have the company’s operations come under intense investigation, but several high ranking officials have also been called up by the PRECIFAC (Presidential Commission of Inquiry to Investigate and Inquire into Serious Acts of Fraud, Corruption and Abuse of Power, State Resources, and Privileges) to make statements in regard to Avant Garde.
However, as the matter has only just started lifting its head from the murky waters, we’ve compiled a full timeline of events that surround the Avant Garde issue, starting from 2011 to the present, so that you could have a clearer idea of what it is all about.
24 June 2011
- The Avant Garde Maritime Security Services (AGMSS) – a subsidiary of Avant Garde Security Services (Pvt.) Ltd. – is incorporated under the Companies Act (No. 7 of 2007) of Sri Lanka.
- AGMSS enters into a joint venture with Rakna Arakshaka Lanka Ltd. (RALL) to provide infrastructure facilities for international maritime security services.
- RALL is a Government owned business, in collaboration with the Ministry of Defence, and claims to “provide top notch security services to fully address the security needs of the commercial sector.”
- Accordingly, the agreement between Avant Garde and RALL will be valid until 2019.
- AGMSS takes over the maritime operations handled by the Navy as of then.
13 January 2013
- Earliest record of AGMSS in a local newspaper.The Sunday Leader reports a series of discussions between Britain and Sri Lankan authorities to use a floating armoury.
24 July 2013
- The Ministry of Defence and Urban Development (MoD) issues a circular to all Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs), as well as all local shipping agents, emphasising the potential danger of hiring and deploying Sri Lankan Guards for security duties onboard sea vessels, who have not been authorised by RALL.
- MoD gives PMSCs, including their local agents, a deadline by which to plan and repatriate any unauthorised security personnel.
16 August 2013
- The MoD issue another circular, with reference to the previous one, informing all PMSCs to submit the details of all local security personnel hired by them, to the RALL or AGMS offices before August 31.
- Both these circulars inform that RALL is the only organisation authorised to deploy or hire Sea Marshals for the requirements of all PMSCs.
Late 2013 to late 2014
- AGMSS and AGSS continue operations with the blessing of the then government.
08 January 2015
- Common Candidate Maithripala Sirisena is elected as the President of the country defeating Mahinda Rajapaksa, who held his fort for more than a decade. Maithripala Sirisena, together with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, pledge to bring in good governance.
18 January 2015
- ‘MV Mahanuwara’ – a floating armoury belonging to AGMSS – is detained by the police at the Galle Harbour, following information that it carried illegal arms. Police find 3,154 automatic and semi-automatic weapons along with 747,859 rounds of ammunition on board.
- This is the first time the general populace is introduced to the concept of floating armouries. The discovery of the vessel reinforces the interim government’s stance in their newly commenced tenure.
03 April 2015
- Government Spokesperson, Minister Rajitha Senaratne, reveals that the government is conducting an investigation to either establish or dismiss suspicions that AGMSS has been supplying weapons to the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram.
14 May 2015
- Minister Senaratne claims that he was offered a bribe of Rs. 20 million per month to cover up the AGMSS issue. He further said that the bribe had been extended through one of his friends, which is why he had not revealed about the incident before. The minister says that he is in possession of an audio tape proving the attempted bribe.
05 October 2015
- The second floating armoury owned by AGMSS – MV Avant Garde – enters Sri Lankan maritime borders and shows up on Navy radar. After several weeks of monitoring the vessel, it is seized by the Navy.The vessel, arriving from Sudan, is taken to the Dakshina Naval Base in Galle.
- Authorities find 813 weapons aboard the vessel.
22 October 2015
- Court grants permission to conduct investigations on the MV Mahanuwara under the Money Laundering Act.
28 October 2015
- A team of Police officers attached to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to Investigate and Inquire into Serious Acts of Fraud, Corruption and Abuse of Power, State Resources, and Privileges (PRECIFAC) board MV Avant Garde. The unit was sent as part of their investigation on RALL, in order to establish or dismiss the apparent connection between MV Avant Garde and RALL.
04 November 2015
- Law and Order and Prisons Reform Minister Tilak Marapana says nothing illegal had taken place in connection with the Avant Garde floating armoury.
- The Police wanted to please their ‘new masters’ after the regime change and cooked up a case out of unsubstantiable allegations and hearsay, he says in Parliament, adding that “Avant Garde officials had done nothing wrong or illegal and there has been no fraud involved in the floating armoury controversy.”
- Marapana, prior to receiving his portfolio, had legally represented AGMSS Chairperson Maj. Gen. (Rtd.) Nissanka Senadhipathi.
09 November 2015
- Tilak Marapana resigns from his portfolio, following the observations he made in regard to AGMSS the previous week at Parliament.
12 November 2015
- Minister Rajitha Senaratne hints at AGMSS being involved in the recent unrest in Maldives. According to him, the vessel MV Avant Garde had turned off its GPS location system near Maldivian maritime borders, leading authorities to develop reasonable suspicion. However, SL Navy states that there isn’t enough evidence to support the claims.
13 November 2015
- Sri Lanka Navy commences seizing of weapons aboard MV Mahanuwara and MV Avant Garde.
19 November 2015
- Sri Lanka Navy concludes the transfer of weapons to the Dakshina Naval Base in Galle. Weapons which belonged to foreign marshals are found on stock aboard the vessels. Sri Lanka Navy is from now on authorised to handle all storage and issuing of weapons. However, the Navy will not engage in maritime operations.
- Navy finds 53 weapons with irregular serial numbers in the stock of weapons aboard MV Avant Garde. Minister Rajitha Senaratne claims that these belonged to the LTTE.
20 November 2015
- Chairperson of AGSS Nissanka Senadhipathi is summoned to appear before the PRECIFAC. However, he was unable to make an appearance due to several medical conditions. Prior to this, a former additional secretary of the AGSS, Damayanthi Jayaratne, was also brought before the commission.
23 November 2015
- Almost 85 percent of the employed staff at both AGMSS and RALL are relieved from duty. Company heads state that the employees were relieved from duty due to the unsavoury situation the company is currently facing, which had led to severe irregularities in the management and finances of the company.
03 December 2015
- Former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was summoned before the PRECIFAC with regards to the inquiry into RALL, says that the AGSS has not committed any criminal activities.
- Meanwhile, Government Spokesperson Minister Senaratne says that the government will be forced to seek the assistance of Interpol, if Senadhipathi doesn’t make his presence at the PRECIFAC as summoned. However, he added that INTERPOL will not intervene, if Senadhipathi is actually receiving medication overseas.
04 December 2015
- Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in addressing Parliament for the first time since being elected a Kurunegala district MP, defends the operations of RALL. He says that the organisation “built up a successful maritime security service in the Indian ocean region” during his administration.
- He goes on to claim that the current government has “for political reasons embarked on a course of action aimed at completely destroying this successful maritime security service which functioned with the approval of the relevant UN bodies.”
Given that investigations into the issue are ongoing, we intend to keep you up to speed in our Weekly News Roundup on Fridays.