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News

Sumathipala's day of reckoning looms

Thilanga Sumathipala, the president of Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC), faces an anxious week

Charlie Austin
Charlie Austin
05-Jan-2004


Thilanga Sumathipala: is his dream about to die?
© AFP


Thilanga Sumathipala, the president of Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC), faces an anxious week. A long and complicated legal battle is drawing to a close, and on Thursday (January 8) Sumathipala will appear before a Sri Lankan court.
Sumathipala, who is also the chairman of the state-owned Sri Lanka Telecom, has been caught up in passport scandal after allegations that Dammika Amarasinghe, an alleged underworld figure, traveled to England to watch the 1999 World Cup as a guest of the cricket board, apparently on a false passport.
Sumathipala is also alleged to have authorised the release of £1500 in travellers' cheques to Amarasinghe from the cricket board's coffers. Last week, a Criminal Investigations Department (CID) team obtained a court warrant and raided the SLC headquarters in Colombo in search of accounting documents.
Should Sumathipala be charged on Thursday it may shatter his dream of heading the International Cricket Council (ICC) when it is Sri Lanka's turn for the rotated presidency. That has been a personal and oft-stated ambition, which he had looked certain to achieve thanks to a formidable power-base of support in neighbouring Asian countries, especially India.
Wisden Comment by Charlie Austin:
No-one, whether friend or foe, can deny that it was Sumathipala that sent board revenues soaring in the late 1990s. On the cricket side he has also presided over several notable achievements: the construction of the Dambulla International Stadium, a frenzy of developmental activity in country areas, the launch of a new provincial tournament, and a new intensive international programme for the Sri Lankan A team.
Sumathipala's fate is not clear. If you believed every word printed by the Sunday Leader, the newspaper that broke the story, then his future is bleak. They claim that CID sleuths have uncovered a mountain of incriminatory evidence in the last month: travellers-cheque stubs, memos and letters, and visa documentation, to add to the original explosive testimony from a former crony of Amarasinghe that first linked Sumathipala to Colombo's mafia.
However, the newspaper's claims have to be treated with caution. The manner in which they have pursued Sumathipala is more akin to a witch-hunt than balanced investigative journalism. News articles have been clouded with comment, and you cannot entirely rule out Sumathipala's claim that he is the unfortunate victim of a malicious political conspiracy.
Nevertheless, Sumathipala is clearly facing the biggest fight of his career. Those who have followed his meteoric rise closely, as a self-made and highly successful businessman and cricket administrator, will still back him to emerge from scandal for his canniness and determination is legendary but the next few days will be crucial to his future.