Fighting economic crime during the pandemic: a Sri Lankan perspective

Published date10 February 2022
Date10 February 2022
Subject MatterAccounting & finance,Financial risk/company failure,Financial crime
AuthorAsanga Abeyagoonasekera
Fighting economic crime
during the pandemic: a
Sri Lankan perspective
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
The Millennium Project, District of Columbia, Washington, USA
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to understand the dual crisis in Sri Lanka duringthe pandemic. The
health crisis was followed by democratic backsliding which directly impacted the f‌ight for economic crime. The
pre-pandemic political commitmentto f‌ight corruption is assessed with the pandemic environment and the policy
decisions by the Government. Sri Lanka was a detailed case study of how politicians exploited the pandemic
environment to suppress democracy and move their semi-autocratic agenda forward. However,Sri Lanka was
not the only nation that faced such autocratic sentiments losing the democratic values. This paper discusses
recommendations for improving the resources and investment to address economic crime in Sri Lanka.
Design/methodology/approach Secondary data was used for the analysis introducing a theoretical
framework referringto the work of Michel Foucault and Francis Fukuyama. The secondary data was used to
developan argument aligning political science witheconomic crime.
Findings The Government disciplinary project launched during the pandemic directly impacted Sri
Lankan democracy and structuralchanges made to the constitution. The heavy militarization was a signof
departure of long-cherished values of democracy in the country. Political clientelism backed by nepotism
interfered with judicial independence and the f‌ight against economic crime. Many accused,including those
responsible for thelargest corruption scandal, were not punished. Thetrust def‌icit has widened signif‌icantly
between authoritiesand the public on f‌ighting corruptionin Sri Lanka.
Research limitations/implications There are more factors for democraticbacksliding than what is
presented in this paper. The economiccrime environment in Sri Lanka has many dimensions and the paper
only highlightsa few areas limiting to the secondary data available.
Originality/value The paper discusses a unique perspective on how a pandemic could be misused to
strengthen the autocraticrule and make structural changes to a nation, including constitution amendments.
The pandemic environmentwas used to commit economic crime and suppress public opinion projectingthe
health crisisin the lockdown environment.
Keywords Sri Lanka, Economic crime, Democracy, Pandemic, Autocracies, Political clientelism
Paper type Viewpoint
"In order to see perfect disciplines functioning, rulers dreamt of the state of plague,Michel
When assessing the Pre-Pandemic Economic Crime Environment in Sri Lanka, the island
nation went through the largest corruptionscandal in its recent past, the Central bank Bond
Scam(Sirilal and Shihar, 2019).The total value of the bond scam was in rupees billions [1],
and a book was published with the title The great bond scam Cover-up (Cabraal, 2019),
authored by the present Governor of the Central Bank Ajith Nivard Cabraal. At the time of
the bond scam, Central bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran faced the Presidential
commission of inquiry. The accused Governor was not a Sri Lankan citizen (Pothmulla,
2017), where he left for Singapore to avoid arrest. The Singaporeanauthority has domiciled,
protecting the accusedSri Lankan Governor from the previous and the present regime.
Journalof Financial Crime
Vol.29 No. 2, 2022
pp. 764-769
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/JFC-01-2022-0009
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