Truth becomes the first victim of the alleged ‘assassination plot’ | Sunday Observer

Truth becomes the first victim of the alleged ‘assassination plot’

Sensationalist headlines and misinformation continued to dominate the news cycle about an alleged ‘plot’ to assassinate President Maithripala Sirisena and former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, following the claim made by one-time police informant Namal Kumara, who calls himself the ‘Operations Director’ of the Anti-Corruption movement.

Screaming headlines last week, that the CID had informed the Colombo Magistrate’s Court last Tuesday (25) that an Indian national who had been arrested at Kumara’s residence in Mawanella had claimed the existence of a plot to assassinate the President. But the media claims did not bear out in the CID’s official progress report on the investigation filed in court (B 10744/18).

The reports took on a life of their own, leading to hysterical claims by the pro-Rajapaksa Joint Opposition about a national security threat and frantic calls for a parliamentary debate on the alleged conspiracy. News of the Indian national’s arrest and alleged awareness of a plot to assassinate the Sri Lankan head of state made big news in several Indian media outlets, based on the erroneous reports about what transpired in Court last Tuesday.

It was when the reports began to reach fever pitch following the media reports that the Indian High Commission finally broke its silence on the issue.

A spokesperson for the High Commission said, the arrested Indian had a history of mental disturbance since 2000. The Indian High Commission had immediately alerted counterparts in India to conduct a background check on the individual arrested in Colombo soon after news of the arrest broke, sources from the mission said. Preliminary inputs indicated that the individual concerned was not in good mental health, sources from the High Commission noted. This information had already been shared with Sri Lankan authorities, the sources added.

Media Minister, Mangala Samaraweera followed up, slamming the disinformation campaign, setting the record straight about what actually transpired in Court last week, and urging reporters to be more cautious about how matters pertaining to the official court records were reported in the media.

In fact, the CID B Report submitted to Court last week makes no mention of an assassination plot revealed by the arrested individual found to be in possession of an Indian Passport and National ID documents. The Sunday Observer reliably learns, the information contained in some of the news reports had been a result of journalists eavesdropping outside the door to the Magistrate’s Chambers, while the CID was providing an in camera briefing.

In its extensive report of the latest facts pertaining to the alleged plot to assassinate Sri Lankan VIPs, the CID explains that Namal Kumara, had complained to the Warakapola Police on September 19, that an individual who was only conversant in English and Tamil had arrived at his home in Karada, Thulhiriya. When the police complaint was made, the person left Kumara’s residence. However, Kumara alerted the CID by telephone the next day (20) that the same individual had shown up at his residence again. That very evening, the CID dispatched a group of officers to Kumara’s residence. On September 21, when Thomas visited Kumara’s home again, CID officials arrested him under Section 5 (a) (i) and (ii) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The CID reported to Court that the suspect was being detained at the CID headquarters in Fort, Colombo, and further inquiries were being conducted. He will be detained for a period of three months.

Marceli Thomas, who hails from Thiruvanathapuram, Kerala, was currently residing at Tewatte, Ragama, the CID inquiries have revealed. The suspect has told the CID during interrogation that he had felt there was a threat being posed on the lives of several VIPs on the basis of media reports he had analysed following the revelations made by Namal Kumara, authoritative sources told the Sunday Observer. Police Spokesman Ruwan Gunesekera has since confirmed that this was Thomas’ only reference to an assassination plot so far. SSP Gunesekera said, Thomas had told CID officials that he had visited Kumara’s residence in order to inquire about the revelations. Thomas had arrived in Sri Lanka in 2017, the Police Spokesman revealed.

CID has also found in Thomas’ possession a UNHCR asylum seeker certificate, a medical certificate, a Last Will, notes made in English and containing several vehicle numbers, an ID issued by Indian Inland Revenue, several SIM cards and USB drives. He currently resides in Sri Lanka without a valid visa. The CID has also informed Court that Thomas had applied for political asylum and upon being rejected, has continued to remain in Sri Lanka without a valid visa. He claims to have fled India out of fear of an NGO based in that country. He has been making a living out of tutoring in English and Accounts and also living off aid from churches in the country, CID investigations have revealed.

The Sunday Observer learns that the Judicial Medical Officer has advised that Marcel Thomas is subject to a mental health examination.

The involvement of the Indian national, no matter how dubious his claims or credentials, has given new impetus to the Joint Opposition MPs, who are now pointing to an ‘international conspiracy’ involving the Indian Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). There have been frantic attempts made since by pro-Rajapaksa media organizations to paint Thomas out to be an agent of RAW. This finds resonance with the former President’s supporters, after Mahinda Rajapaksa himself told The Hindu newspaper in March 2015 that his election defeat in January that year had been engineered by RAW. Mahinda Rajapaksa told Suhasini Haidar of The Hindu that ‘RAW and Western agencies’ had worked together to secure the defection of Maithripala Sirisena and others from his Government.

Further muddying the waters with regard to the sensational inquiry is the claim by some media outlets that a sniper gun in the custody of the Terrorism Investigation Division had gone missing. However, upon publication of these claims, the CID called for an inventory of weapons in the possession of the TID and found that there had never been a sniper in the Division’s official armory.

As the sensationalism gathers momentum, the CID is also grappling with Namal Kumara’s own claims that have been subject to constant change. At his original press briefing on September 13, Kumara claimed that TID DIG Nalaka De Silva had suggested the assassination of President Sirisena and former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. At the briefing, Kumara released several audio recordings which pointed to a clear power struggle between DIG De Silva and several other senior police officials. During this press conference, Kumara said he was in possession of recordings of DIG De Silva ordering the attempts on the life of the VIPs, but said he would not be releasing those recordings because they could affect the country’s national security.

Making a subsequent media statement, following 10 hours of grilling by the CID, Namal Kumara pledged to turn over the rest of the recordings to the CID. However, in media interviews provided since, Kumara claims that he had deleted these recordings in a hurry, after an alleged call to intimidate him by DIG De Silva.

According to the information provided to the CID, Kumara recorded these alleged conversations secretly during meetings with the TID DIG. The meetings had taken place in a vehicle, with Kumara seated in the back seat. They are not recordings of alleged telephone conversations between Kumara and the DIG.

The man accusing TID DIG Nalaka Silva of the plot to assassinate the VIPs is a self-proclaimed police informant since 2017. He also claims to have been a member of the Presidential Task Force on Drug Prevention since 2015. Kumara claims to have been recruited for awareness raising programmes in remote regions of the country by the Director of the Task Force, Dr. Samantha Kithalawarachchi.

In a series of interviews, Kumara revealed that DIG Nalaka de Silva had made several payments to him for information that assisted the TID to nab suspects in the Digana violence, and the attack on a Rohingya refugee safe house in Mount Lavinia.

“For providing information to the TID about the raid on the Rohingya safe house and the violence in Digana, I received two payments of Rs 500,000,” Namal Kumara, who calls himself the executive director of the anti-corruption force, told the Sinhalese weekly newspaper. “Cheques written in favour of Nalaka De Silva were given to me,” he added.

Both Kumara and DIG De Silva have submitted themselves for voice tests at the Government Analysts Department. Investigators believe the results of those tests will be vital to carrying forward the investigation.

In an ironic twist, President Sirisena, who recently admonished the CID for arresting senior military officials without proof to file indictments against them, was forced to hand over the investigation of the alleged plot to assassinate him to the same agency within days.

Despite facing political fire in recent weeks, the CID remains the country’s most skilled investigating agency, and the Sunday Observer learns that shortly before his departure for New York, President Sirisena expressed his full confidence in the integrity of the Department as he handed over the sensitive probe to the elite agency. Undoubtedly, the complainant appears to be a highly dubious character. And, there are fairly strong indications that the alleged conspiracy could be an attempt to ‘take out’ DIG De Silva from his position as head of the TID, since he has recently earned the ire of several top cops with alleged attempts to put their phones on surveillance. Still, the CID must treat the investigation with the gravitas it deserves given the plot purports to target the country’s First Citizen.

The race to politicize the alleged plot and the media’s search for sensational headlines, jeopardizes this process, as the police must then spend its time debunking misinformation or investigating wild goose chase trails. 

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