In a disturbing revelation, controversial Indian business magnate Dinesh Pandey, who owns and controls the Singapore based Somap Group and the India based SAAMAG Group failed to disclose to investors, that a multi-million-dollar takeover of the Anilana Hotel chain in Sri Lanka included dubious local financing and licensing renewals that were arranged by senior officers of the Sri Lankan military.
The murky deal (according to a senior management source in Anilana Hotels), was signed off by the Sri Lankan Defense Secretary, retired General Kamal Gunaratne. It should be noted that the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) and its top brass have been complicit in the brutal crackdown on mass protests in Sri Lanka over the past month.
Mr. Pandey and his brother Pramod Pandey orchestrated the deal with General Gunaratne during Somap’s takeover of Anilana Hotels in 2018 with the assistance of the then majority shareholder of the Hotel Chain, Asanga Seneviratne. The well-known Sri Lankan business tycoon has been involved in several controversies in the country’s national cricket and rugby associations.
The issue of the Sri Lankan military controlling hotels and restaurants in the country’s interior as well as the eastern coastline, has been a hotbed of contention with Tamil human rights groups. Amnesty International condemned the Sri Lankan military for taking over Tamil owned civilian residential and commercial properties which include many hotels and restaurants.
In January 2021 the United Nations Human Rights Chief, Michelle Bachelet, recommended sanctions against Sri Lankan senior military officials (including General Gunaratne) and referred the case to the International Criminal Court in The Hauge.
It seems the Pandey brothers are not taking risks with their investment in the Anilana Hotel Group. The senior management source at Anilana Hotels further claimed that Pramod Pandey “has been secretly funneling hundreds of the thousands of dollars to the Laya Hotel Group as protection money to make sure that Anilana hotels have army protection in case any of our properties are threatened by protesters”.
It’s important to note the Laya Hotel group is fully owned by the Sri Lankan Army. The source went on to say that “Mr. Pandey is particularly concerned about the Anilana Hotel in Pasikuda which has a high number of ethnic Tamil employees.” The protests have seen hotels and other landmarks owned by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, his family members and senior military officers, attacked and burned down by angry mobs over the past month.
Employees of the Anilana Hotel in Pasikuda, who were afraid to give their names and speak to the media about this story did confirm that several Army personnel arrived at the hotel last month, removed their uniforms, and are now wearing civilian clothes. One Tamil employee at the hotel claimed that “Mr. Dinesh’s daughter Ada was here three weeks ago and had meetings with a captain in the army who is staying at the hotel and he is the boss of the other soldiers here”.
The Pandey brothers’ partner General Gunaratne, who in his position as the top official at the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense, recently gave ‘shoot to kill’ orders against street protesters throughout the country.