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IS UPALI WIJEWARDENA STILL ALIVE?

Currently, an interesting account, centered on the resurrection of Upali Wijewardena, is doing the rounds on the internet. Upali Wijewardena, who disappeared during the early eighties, was at that time the number one entrepreneur in Sri Lanka. Although neither an audio recording of his voice nor a likeness of him is made available to give credibility to the story of his return from the dead, skeptics are invited to access the website that is carrying the story through skype or email to rid themselves of any doubts assailing them.
Owning and controlling a business empire which included journalistic publications such as the ‘Island’ and ‘Divaina’ newspapers, chocolates such as ‘Delta’ and ‘Kandoz,’ toilet commodities, electrical equipment and a host of other industries including assembling of motor vehicles, the ‘Upali Fiat’ car Upali Wijewardena became a tycoon of the highest magnitude during the period which saw the advent of open economy to the country.

Upali possessed helicopters and private aircrafts and, in addition, cocoa estates in Malaysia. His disappearance, which created a huge uproar in the country, occurred with the disappearance of his private jet while flying over the strait of Malakka. The event was engulfed in mystery due to the non-availability of radar information. Even Western powers as well as other international organizations volunteered and intervened to assist in the search for the missing man, utilizing the advanced technology available at the time. However, despite all efforts, nothing conclusive regarding his disappearance could be revealed.

His wife, Lakmini Wijewardena, and other family members inherited his assets, and about ten years after his disappearance, the wife remarried, her second husband being Nimal Welgama, a wealthy businessman, the present , Chairman of Sri Lanka Telecom. According to what is reported on the internet, Upali had been a drug baron. Although he had somehow managed to survive the aircraft crash, he had to live incognito to elude the clutches of US authorities as he was in their wanted list.

According to the internet, to avoid capture, he had fled to Mexico with a Malaysian wife, seeking refuge there. Assuming the name ‘Ralph Cairo,’ he had become a successful purveyor of narcotics in his adopted country. However, arrested by the Mexican authorities, resulting from an act of betrayal, he was convicted and sentenced to 45 years of imprisonment in that country. The internet further goes on to say that when Upali in his impoverished circumstances had tried to make enquiries regarding his assets in Sri Lanka.Welagama castigated him.

Upali Wijewardena’s former wife. LakminiWelagama has made the following statement concerning the story appearing on the internet:

“ Upali Wijewardena’s position had been that no negotiations or discussions should be conducted with the LTTE. He acted and his newspapers functioned so as to be in accord with this stance. Even today we are of that opinion. Consequently, it is apparent that his tragic end is the outcome of an anti Sinhala and anti Buddhist conspiracy. It is within the realm of possibility that rumour-mongers who spread this kind of ridiculous stories do so with the objective of gaining financial benefits. Also, NGOs operating in this country are bent on silencing the voice of Sinhala Buddhists. Another possibility is that the person or persons responsible for such contemptible and malicious fabrications are mentally unbalanced.

I am absolutely certain that Upali Wijewardena is no longer among the living. I do not intend to institute action against the perpetrators of this criminal act of disseminating loathsome falsehoods to degrade the good name of Upali Wijewardena. However, I am in no doubt that retribution would visit them in this birth itself.”  

Given below is a summary of a letter published by Mr. Nandasena Sooriyarachchi of ‘Rivira’ newspaper on the disappearance of Upali Wijewardena, based on the writer’s own experiences:

Upali Philip Wijewardena

It is worthwhile examining the reasons for the acceptance of Upali Wijewardena by the populace of our country with so much affection and devotion.
When JR captured power through 1977 elections, he had realized that the economic policy of the outgoing PM, Mrs. Bandaranaika, had oppressed the people. At the time, JR knew only a few people who were worthy to be appointed as his advisors. In this scenario, he appointed. Upali Wijewardena, one of his relatives with a Masters Degree from the University of Cambridge, as his economic advisor.

By that time, Upali was already a well established businessmen and industrialist. He had started his business in a small way, producing small items such as chocolates and toilet soap. But prospering rapidly, he had ventured into the sphere of automobile manufacture, notwithstanding the stringent import restrictions in force at the time.
When he became JR’s economic advisor, it was to serve the country without claiming any remuneration for his services.
“Upali took the first step of building the economy of the nation by becoming the Director General of the Katunayaka Free Trade Zone. It was at about this time that Upali decided to start publishing Sinhala and English versions of a daily newspaper which could be used to uplift the flagging spirit of the nation. Certain American experts on journalism, who visited Upali, predicted that the maximum number of copies that could be sold of a newly introduced newspaper was 25000. But belying their predictions, on the day ‘Island’ and “Divaina’ were launched, over 250,000 copies of each were sold. It is a fact that the whole country welcomed those newspapers, and with their arrival it was as if the country woke up from a deep slumber. Revival and preservation of Sinhala Buddhist culture became the mission of every Sinhala man and woman. And it was Upali Wijewardena, and none other, who brought about the transformation of the psyche of the Sinhala race.
Upali’s disappearance plunged the whole country in grief and practically everyone mourned over his loss. Further, it posed a serious challenge to those in power too. This situation prompted JR to dispatch the Deputy Minister of Defence, Lalith Athulathmudali, to Malaysia on a fact finding mission related to the tragedy. His findings were only that the Malaysians were not in any manner whatsoever implicated in the tragedy.



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