CID dragnet closing in fast on Health Ministry IG fraud.

imhotep

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  • Mar 29, 2017
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    How the immunoglobulin scam is slowly unfolding at the Magistrate’s court.

    Sacked Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella should consider as one of his many blessings the privilege right still accorded him to order the CID to pay him house calls and offer their special VIP takeaway service as and when he decides to grant them a statement in connection with the massive billion-rupee ‘immunoglobulin’ fraud which had occurred during his tenure at the health ministry.

    After the news broke on Tuesday that a CID team had visited his house on Boxing Day morn and spent two hours recording a statement from him about the immunoglobulin (IG) fraud, a Rambukwella mouthpiece Manoj Gamage told reporters to banish the thought that the finger of accusation was pointed at Rambukwella.

    Gamage, himself a committee member of the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA), assured the media that the CID had not descended upon the Rambuwella household to interrogate him as a suspect but at his own invite to give a statement and provide information on some files which might aid the CID in their investigations. And to make doubly sure the accusing finger was pointed elsewhere, he stated that Rambukwella had been the first to cry wolf when he filed a complaint at the CID office.

    Actually, it was the ‘Citizens’ Group Against Corruption’ that first pipped the post when it filed its complaint on October 1, with Rambukwella lagging a sorry two weeks behind with his complaint filed on October 13.

    What was not clarified, however, was why the former Health Minister Rambukwella, whom the President sacked as the minister in charge of the nation’s health on October 23 but retained in the cabinet as the minister in charge of the nation’s environment, had kept such vital documents vaulted for months without handing them to the CID after it had begun investigations into complaints of allergic reactions developed by patients who had received the IG drug at the Colombo National Hospital on August 22 and at the Matara District Hospital on September 16.

    The Rs. 130 million fraud was the amount paid for 22,000 vials of immunoglobulin supplied and distributed under a billion rupee tender awarded to Isolez Biotech Pharma owner Sudath Fernando, the first accused in this case.

    ‘Immunoglobulin’ is ‘a pooled antibody and a biological agent used to treat patients with autoimmune diseases and infectious and inflammatory states. The ultimate goal is to normalise a compromised immune system.’

    The product, which was said to have been manufactured by Livealth Biopharma Pvt Ltd., India, was imported by ‘Isolez Biotech Pharma AG (Pvt) Ltd’. However, the India-based manufacturer denied having anything to do with this fraudulent activity and has communicated to the NMRA that it has neither manufactured, supplied, nor exported these products to any party. The NMRA had suspended the drug when it was revealed that forged documents had been used to clear Customs. The imported drug later failed quality tests.

    On November 1, CID investigations led to the arrest of the pharmaceutical company owner on charges of importing 22,000 vials of the substandard IG drug with forged papers. When the suspect was produced at Maligakanda Magistrate’s Court on November 15, his lawyer, President’s Counsel Kalinga Indatissa told Magistrate Lochani Abeywickrama in open court that ‘the mastermind behind the immunoglobulin fraud was in the cabinet.’

    Further CID investigation into the 130 million rupee fraud also led to the subsequent arrests of four top health ministry officials, including Supply Director Dr. Kapila Wickramanayake and NMRA’s Chief Executive Officer Dr. Vijith Gunasekera. On December 18, the former Health Ministry Secretary, Janaka Sri Chandraguptha, was also arrested. All have been remanded.

    When the case was called at the Magistrate’s Court in Maligakanda on Wednesday, the first accused, Isolez Biotech Pharma owner Sudath Janaka Fernando, made a dramatic shock announcement through his defence counsel Jaliya Samarasinghe, when he claimed: ‘What the Minister asked me to do, I did.’

    Furthermore, counsel Samarasinghe told Magistrate Lochani Abeywickrama that although his client, Sudath Fernando, had named Minister Rambukwella, the CID had failed to record it. The magistrate directed the CID to record an additional statement from the first accused, Sudath Fernando.

    Deputy Solicitor General Lakmini Girihagama told court the tender was given to the first suspect for one billion rupees. But because he could not find the vials he needed, this stopped at this number. Even though the medicines were brought in as an urgent need, they were received only after five months.

    The counsel for the complainant, Nalinda Indatissa PC said that ‘it was the ‘Citizen Power Organisation Against Bribery, Corruption and Waste and the Union of Civil Organisations’ that first complained about this incident on October 2. Then on October 13, the minister’s liaison officer complained. Whoever was involved, it was a conspiracy to defraud. We need to look into this.’

    President’s Counsel Anil Silva, appearing for the sixth suspect, the ministry secretary, Chandragupta, said, ‘By the time the minister’s letter arrived saying not to pay, the payment had already been made. The minister thus escaped. Now he is trying to save himself by resorting to various means.’

    He said, ‘In that sense, the Minister is extremely fortunate. The CID goes to his home to record a statement. We are arrested on the street. The CID whitewashes the ex-minister while we are remanded.’

    The magistrate observed that it was highly irregular procedure for the CID to have visited the minister’s home to obtain a statement. She remanded all the suspects until January 10th.

    Dr. Rukshan Bellana, President of the Government Medical Officers’ Forum (GMOF), well known for his campaign against corruption at the Health Ministry, was summoned by the CID to appear at its office on December 29 to give a statement to aid the CID investigations. Five hours after giving his statement, he emerged from the CID Headquarters in Fort to reveal to reporters that he had given the names of the three masterminds behind the immunoglobulin fraud to the CID investigators.

    On December 21, with five suspects already in custody, the arrest of the former health secretary, Janaka Sri Chandragupta, on December 18 moved the All Ceylon Medical Officers Association to call for the arrest of Rambukwella as the minister responsible for the corruption-ridden state of the Health Ministry. Police Minister Tiran Alles swiftly responded, saying that Rambukwella would certainly be arrested if there was sufficient evidence against him, but not before.
    There should be evidence,’ Minister Alles said. ‘It will not happen just because the media and political parties demand his arrest. When several suspects were arrested in connection with this incident, several parties were demanding the arrest of the former Health Ministry Secretary, but he was not arrested until sufficient evidence was presented against him. If such evidence is there, the CID will arrest him.’

    True. To deny a person his liberty, even briefly, cannot and must not be done not only in the case of a VIP but in all cases based on the preconceived notions of political parties, the media, or the public but solely on a careful and impartial assessment by the law enforcing authorities whether a prima facie case against a person exists or not, in the same impartial manner a magistrate decides whether to remand a suspect or not. As such, the question whether Rambukwella should be arrested is best left to the law enforcement agencies, acting impartially.

    The immunoglobulin fraud is the latest in the spate of financial scandals, some often resulting in tragic deaths, to have hit the Health Ministry during Rambukwella’s brief one-year and five-month reign.

    It was a period during which the public had lost confidence in seeking treatment at government hospitals, lost confidence in the quality of the medicines prescribed, lost confidence in taking injections at hospitals, lost confidence in eye ops and lenses, in stents, in tender procedures, and in drug procurement. In short, they lost confidence in the entire government medical system and preferred to risk death at home rather than end up dead, undergoing routine operations in state-run hospitals.

    The minister did nothing to assuage the dread in the people’s hearts or to dispel their fears but only aggravated the terror when, on July 19, this year, he callously referred to the amount in Parliament—at a time when public confidence in the government medical service had plunged to its nadir—that ‘if 100,000 enter government hospitals, all 100,000 don’t come out’.

    Of course, it was not the first time Rambukwella had displayed such crass insensitivity to another human being’s death.

    Contd.......
     
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    imhotep

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  • Mar 29, 2017
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    In the last week of June this year, after a pregnant mother of two had died while undergoing a caesarian operation on April 2; after a female principal, admitted for a hernia operation had suffered the same sorry fate and died when given the same defective anaesthetic drug on June 15, the then Health Minister Rambukwella’s response to the allegation that these premature deaths were due to the defective anaesthetic drug was to callously tell TV reporters, ‘even when you bring down 100,000 of an FDA-approved drug, a few can turn out to be defective. That’s normal.’
    Minister Rambukwella’s matter-of-fact cold dismissal of these women’s deaths due to defective drugs as an inevitable risk that must be taken at state hospitals delivered a blow to the people’s confidence and stabbed deep into the unhealing raw wound of the two dead women’s families’ grief.

    The callous infection appeared to have spread to the medical bureaucracy as well. The Chairman of the National Medicines Regularity Authority, Professor S. D. Jayaratne, who has since been removed from his exalted post, held his own press conference following the Minister’s cussed comment on defective drug deaths.

    Jayaratne, the 72-year-old Professor of Medicines, statutorily responsible for ensuring that only the highest quality of medicinal drugs are imported to the island, shrugged off the charge that the Indian company was an unregistered body. “Whether registered or unregistered,” he declared, “has nothing to do with the final result.” And chuckling with complacent glee, he reminded us that death was the common fate of all mankind by referring us all to the tale of Kisa Gotami and the mustard seed, which all Buddhists know by heart. He vainly asked: ‘Can you find a single deathless house?’

    The SUNDAY PUNCH of JULY 23 commented: ‘Is this to be the fallback answer to excuse hence all ministerial lapses or negligence that lead to preventable deaths at governmental hospitals? That fate had stamped on every newborn’s brow, the ordained time of its exit? And that no power on earth could deny the providential will? Or bring it forward or delay exit?’.

    As corruption’s extent at the Health Ministry under Rambukwella’s command, slowly unfolds in Magistrate Lochani Abeywickrama’s Court, perhaps the SUNDAY PUNCH ought to add a new twist to the old Kisa Gotami story, and ask: ‘Could you have found a mustard seed then from an uncorrupt health ministry official’s home’?
     
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    ruchira55

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    ඔන්න ඕකයි බන් ඇමතිවරු පත් කරනකොට ඒ සම්බන්ධ දැනුමක් තියෙන කෙනෙක්ව පත් කරන්න ඕනේ කියන්නෙ. මුන් හිතන්න හැම එකකින්ම ගහන්න පුළුවන් කියල. රාජිතල මල්ලත් පුරෝගත්තා මිනිස්සුන්ටත් උපරිමයෙන්ම කරා.