Seychelles Chamber of Commerce chairman Marco Francis refutes Sri Lankan fraud allegations
The prized 'Bourzwa' (red snapper) and other fish much appreciated in the Seychelles. Fraud and money laundering allegations have been made against business partners exporting fish to Sri Lanka from Seychelles. (Gerard Larose, Seychelles Tourism Board)
(Seychelles News Agency) - The Chairperson of the Seychelles Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI), Marco Francis, has categorically denied allegations of fraud and money laundering levelled against him in a Sri Lankan online news site, the Lanka Herald.
The article, dated October 30, states that Francis and his business partner, Czech national Robert Piksa, had "swindled" a number of unidentified Sri-Lankan nationals seeking to do business in the Seychelles.
The article alleges that the duo “cheated many Sri Lankan businessmen promising deals in the Seychelles and obtaining funds, starting from exporting fish to Sri Lanka, opening up offshore companies and bank accounts for money laundering were some of the rackets the duo were allegedly involved in.”
The Lanka Herald, which runs under the payoff line “a website that follows ethical journalism”, does not however offer any details of the alleged wrong-doings, nor does it back up its claims with comments, either from the alleged fraud victims or from authorities in the Seychelles.
Reacting to the article, Marco Francis told SNA the accusations were totally baseless and false.
“This article is totally without justification. Yes, I am a shareholder in a company with Mr Piksa and yes, we export fish to Sri Lanka, but all our activities are above board. I have never indulged in nor will ever go into money laundering. As chair of SCCI I have to put the good name of Seychellois business first in everything I do.”
Francis said he has instructed his lawyer to write to the Lanka Herald requesting a retraction and an apology in as prominent a place on its website as the article occupies, while he will also reserve his rights to further legal action if deemed necessary. He added that he had already approached the Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Seychelles, Rajatha Piyatissa, about the matter.
High Commissioner suspects ‘ulterior motives’
In response to questioning from SNA, the Sri Lankan High Commissioner categorically stated that since he started his tenure in office here, he had not received any complaints from any of his country’s citizens either residing or doing business in Seychelles about Francis, Piksa, or their fish export company, The Blue Lotus.
“I have worked with the two individuals in promoting trade between our two countries, but as yet I have not come across any reports of fraudulent activities on their part,” said Piyatissa.
This is the second time the website has published an article with connotations of money laundering involving Sri Lankans and Seychelles. High Commissioner Piyatissa ventured that there could be ulterior motives at play and said he would bring the matter to the attention of the Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
A ministerial introduction
The second person whose integrity has been put into question by the article is the Seychelles Minister for Natural Resources, Peter Sinon.
“It’s also understood that Peter Sinon the Minister of Natural Resources and Fisheries of Seychelles, a very close friend of Robert Piksa has promoted Piska by attending business meetings with the businessmen from Sri Lanka and other countries to give more confidence in trusting the duo and going in to partnerships,” read the article.
Speaking to SNA, the minister acknowledged that he had indeed introduced Francis and Piksa to some Sri Lankan businessmen, as they were seeking to set up trade with Seychelles in fisheries – an area which falls under his ministerial portfolio.
“They wanted to go into by-catch and I was concerned that our local market would be flooded with by-catch, which would adversely impact on our local fishermen, whereas the Sri-Lankan businesses wanted it with salt and all,” said Sinon.
“So as Minister responsible for fisheries, I attended the introductory meeting and followed up within the limits of my responsibilities but I wasn’t involved in how they conducted their business with each other.”
However, the Minister clarified that he had introduced a brother of a senior Sri-Lankan official to The Blue Lotus partners and that the Sri Lankan side had later complained to him that there were issues.
“They told me there were problems and asked if I could assist and I had advised them to sort out the matter between themselves. They said they would come to Seychelles with all the supporting documents to show me and relevant authorities. I was ready to receive them, but they never did come with those documents. Other than that I have had no involvement in the transactions between the two sides,” he added.
Bank of Ceylon involvement claims
The article also alleges that a “senior official” at the Seychelles branch of the Bank of Ceylon had become involved with Francis and Piksa in fish exportation as well as “working on money laundering businesses”, but unlike its ready naming of Francis and Piksa, the editors did not name the bank official.
In a phone interview, the bank’s General Manager, Ranjith Hatuthanthiri, completely rejected the allegations, saying that in his 32 years’ experience in banking he had previously come across some fraudulent activities and attempts at money laundering, but that these particular allegations were unfounded.
“The Bank of Ceylon is very selective in its business clientele and yes we do hold an account for the fish export company of Mr Francis and Mr Piksa, The Blue Lotus,” he said. “So far, all their transactions have been above board and well within the legal confines of banking. We have absolutely no problem with these two gentlemen and we have not had any other clients approach us with complaints to their regards.”
The Bank of Ceylon Seychelles Branch GM added that the institution has a multi-layered level of security which permits it to identify fraudulent activities and money laundering if ever it occurs in their transactions.