Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka's Justice Minister Orders Investigation into Alleged $250 Million Bribe in X-Press Pearl damages negotiations -

The Justice Minister of Sri Lanka has formally requested an investigation into allegations of a $250 million bribe paid to a party involved in compensation negotiations for the X-Press Pearl fire

Sri Lanka witnessed its worst marine environmental disaster in May 2021, The XPress Pearl container ship’s fires, explosions and partial sinking near the coast of Colombo.
The XPress Pearl ship caught fire and partially sank near Sri Lanka in May 2021.
Sri Lanka witnessed its worst marine environmental disaster in May 2021, The XPress Pearl container ship’s fires, explosions and partial sinking near the coast of Colombo.

13 April, 2023 | 18:45 p.m.

Staff Writer

Sri Lanka's Justice Minister, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, has recently made a shocking revelation about an alleged $250 million bribe paid by the insurance company to an official linked to negotiations concerning compensation for the X-Press Pearl fire incident. The supposed payment was made to influence the course of justice, according to Rajapakshe. The money was reportedly transferred to a bank account situated in London. However, the veracity of this information has yet to be confirmed, as the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) is investigating the matter at the minister's request.

The X-Press Pearl ship carried 1,486 containers, out of which 81 contained hazardous chemicals, 349 had epoxy resin, and 6,700 metric tons of plastic and other substances. The fire continued for several days, causing one of the worst marine chemical disasters in history. The ship eventually sank deep into the Indian Ocean, causing marine pollution along 750 km of Sri Lankan coastline and beyond.

The expert committee appointed by the Marine Environment Protection Authority has assessed the damage caused by the X-Press Pearl fire to Sri Lanka's marine and coastal environment. According to their findings, the disaster caused $6.5 billion in environmental damage, including the cost of beach cleaning, waste management, and other environmental damages resulting from the accident. Despite the severity of the incident, legal action has been delayed, raising concerns about the involvement of certain parties in ongoing deliberations. The delay in legal action has also raised questions about where the case should be filed. The Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) suggested that the case should be filed in Sri Lanka, as the incident occurred within the country's territorial waters. However, the Attorney General's Department has recommended that the case be filed in Singapore, where X-Press Feeders is based. When asked if he had a different opinion, the Minister of Justice stated that he would not express a contrary opinion.

Salvagers prepare the remaining sections of the MV X-Press Pearl to be lifted off the seabed.
Image courtesy of the Marine Environmental Protection Agency (MEPA).

However, two years after the incident, Sri Lanka has yet to submit its environmental claim of $6.4 billion to the P&I club, the insurer of the X-Press Pearl ship. Despite this delay, the Attorney General's Department has assured that action is being taken in regard to the legal case related to the X-Press Pearl disaster. A statement issued by the parliament on April 6 noted that legal action must be initiated within 45 days, highlighting the urgency of the matter.

The legal case for compensation may have already been impacted due to the poor handling of the case by Sri Lankan Authorities. The fact that the expert committee was not allowed to visit the site raises questions about the validity of their assessment of the damage caused by the X-Press Pearl fire. Furthermore, allowing the removal of part of the shipwreck may hinder the ability to gather further evidence for the legal case, potentially weakening it. The allegations of a bribe being paid to interfere with the investigation add another layer of complexity to the situation. All of these factors could have a detrimental impact on the outcome of the legal case, particularly if it is taken up in the courts in Singapore.