02/03/2024, 13.39
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Minister remanded in Colombo over Immunoglobulin scandal

by Melani Manel Perera

The former Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella was questioned for 10 hours and remanded into custody in connection with fake papers involving a batch of vials that failed quality tests. The scam cost US$ 415,000 to a country whose health care is on the verge of collapse.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Former Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella was taken into custody last night in Colombo by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in connection with a scandal over the importation of substandard immunoglobulin injections.

Rambukwella, the current Minister of the Environment, appeared before the Maligakanda Magistrates Court yesterday in compliance with a summon and was remanded this morning until 15 February after more than 10 hours of questioning.

The arrest came in the wake of increased pressure from civil society groups and health care sector unions in the past few days.

In October 2023, the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) reported that false papers were submitted for customs clearance involving a batch of vials containing human immunoglobulin that later failed quality tests.

The product, which was allegedly manufactured in India by Livealth Biopharma Pvt Ltd, was imported by a local pharmaceutical company, Isolez Biotech Pharma AG (Pvt) Ltd.

The Indian manufacturer, however, denies any involvement in the fraudulent activity.

Some 130 million rupees (about US$ 415,000) were misappropriated in the operation through the unlawful procurement of 22,500 vials.

Seven other suspects are implicated in the case, including a former Secretary of the Ministry of Health.

Over the past few years, drug purchasing scams have had a serious impact in a country like Sri Lanka where the economic crisis has made it hard to supply medical drugs.

After the latest scam came to light last October, Rambukwella was moved to the Environment Ministry in a cabinet reshuffle, replaced at Health by then Minister of Industries Ramesh Pathirana.

This “was the first time that a cabinet minister of a government was arrested for corruption while in office,” reads a statement by the Citizen Power Against Bribery, Corruption and Waste campaign. “Civil organisations and human rights activists fought together for many days to bring about this.”

Some activists detained on Wednesday during the protests at the CID were released on Thursday.

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