Cleaning House: How CID purged the Police of murder-tarred DIGs | Sunday Observer

Cleaning House: How CID purged the Police of murder-tarred DIGs

A Senior Deputy Inspector General of the Sri Lanka Police is currently under investigation by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), for suspected irregularities in the handling of a murder investigation. The IGP transferred Senior DIG of the Southern Province, Ravi Wijegunawardena to Police Headquarters after allegations surfaced of his possible complicity in obstructing the investigation into the abduction and murder of two businessmen.

The investigation into the murder of the two businessmen, Manjula Asela and Rashin Chinthaka, has also been transferred to the CID by the IGP. The Senior DIG has been summoned to appear before the CID next week. While historically the police have avoided investigating and prosecuting their own senior officers, the CID, under its current leadership, has demonstrated a strikingly opposite tendency.

In the five years since the leadership of the CID was assumed by DIG D.W.R.B. Seneviratne in 2012, the CID has arrested, charged or convicted five DIG-grade officers. Each of them found their way into the crosshairs of the CID for one or more charges in connection with murder.

In 2013, while the CID was investigating the murder of businessmen Mohamed Shiyam, detectives led by then Assistant Superintendent, now CID Director Shani Abeysekara, arrested two rival businessmen, Mohamed Fauzdeen and Krishantha Koralage. Under interrogation, the businessmen confessed to the CID that they had contracted DIG Vaas Gunawardena to abduct and murder Shiyam.

On June 10, 2013, despite tremendous political pressure to ignore the evidence against the senior officer, Shani Abeysekara arrested DIG Vaas Gunawardena, who was charged with the murder of Mohamed Shiyam. In November 2015, the former DIG, his son and four police officers under his command were sentenced to death by the High Court for the contract killing of Shiyam. The former DIG has also been charged with threatening to kill Abeysekara, and his wife has been charged with the abduction and assault of an SLIIT student.

On May 17, 2012, Havelock Sports Club rugby player Wasim Thajudeen was found burnt alive in the passenger seat of his car. The CID opened an investigation into the death in 2015 and found substantial evidence that the rugby player had been murdered. Crime scene photographs showed Thajudeen in the passenger seat with his seat belt fastened, giving lie to the explanation provided by the police in 2012 that the rugby player had been driving his vehicle and met with an accident.A fresh post-mortem found signs that he had been beaten and stabbed with multiple weapons.

The CID discovered that Senior DIG Anura Senanayake had personally visited the scene of the incident on Park Road in Narahenpita and was complicit in covering up the murder as a traffic accident. The CID investigated the former Senior DIG’s role, arrested him on May 23, 2016, and charged him with complicity in the murder of Wasim Thajudeen. Senanayake was enlarged on bail by the Colombo Fort Magistrate on June 2, 2017.

The Editor of The Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunge, was ambushed and murdered by a squad of black-clad commandos on motorcycles on Attidiya Road on January 8, 2009. Moments before his death, the CID says, Wickrematunge had hastily scribbled down the license plate numbers of two of the motorcycles ridden by his assailants.

Mount Lavinia Police officers had found the license plate numbers on the notebook on January 16, discovered that they were valid motorcycle license plate numbers, and begun investigations into whether these motorcycles were linked to the killing. According to the CID, then Colombo South DIG Prasanna Nanayakkara, when informed of the investigations stemming from Wickrematunge’s notebook, had immediately summoned the officers to his office in Mirihana, asking that they bring with them the slain editor’s notebook, as well as the Police Information Book containing the entries about the notebook.

Several Mount Lavinia Police officers told the CID that Nanayakkara had taken the notebook into his custody and ordered that the pages in the Information Book containing the entries about the notebook be ripped out and replaced with doctored entries that covered up the existence of Wickrematunge’s notebook and any investigative steps stemming from the license plate numbers written by the victim.

The CID also discovered that Nanayakkara had engaged in suspicious contacts with his relative and Judicial Medical Officer K. Sunil Kumara, at the same time that the latter issued a false post-mortem report that claimed that Wickrematunge had been shot and killed, notwithstanding the absence of any evidence of firearms use at the scene of the crime. On February 14, 2018, the CID arrested Nanayakkara for the destruction of evidence in the Lasantha Wickrematunge murder.

On May 13, 2015, Jaffna resident A Level student Vidya Sivaloganathan was abducted, raped and murdered as she rode to school on her bicycle. The local police were initially reluctant to record a missing person complaint despite repeated pleas by the parents of the child. With the police refusing to help search for the Sivaloganathan, family members and a group of villagers assembled into a search party and fanned out along and around her route to school.

The search party found her bicycle abandoned on the road, and some clothes nearby. After an extended search, they discovered the corpse of the 18-year-old bound disrobed, gagged and bound to a tree with clear signs of sexual and physical assault. Her family tried to contact the police to attend the scene, but could not reach them, with officers arriving only four hours after the body had been located.

The police arrested some local youth. Widespread suspicion in the region that the police were protecting the actual killers of the schoolgirl led to rioting throughout the Kayts region, culminating in a spot visit led by Chief Justice K. Sripavan and IGP N.K. Illangakoon on May 22, 2015. The IGP, after inspecting the progress of the rape and murder investigation, ordered that officers throughout the Jaffna police hierarchy be transferred, and he assigned the murder investigation to the CID.

The CID investigation discovered that then Jaffna Senior DIG Lalith Jayasinghe had directly intervened to secure the release of a key suspect in the murder investigation, Mahalingam Shashikumar alias ‘Swiss Kumar’. After the Senior DIG had assisted ‘Swiss Kumar’ to escape and flee to Colombo, he was located by a CID surveillance team and arrested in Wellawatte.

On July 15, 2017, the CID arrested Senior DIG Lalith Jayasinghe, then the fourth highest ranking officer in the Sri Lanka Police, for aiding and abetting a murder suspect to evade arrest. Jayasinghe was thereafter interdicted by the National Police Commission for his complicity in ‘Swiss Kumar’s escape.

Two months later, on September 28, 2017, a three-judge bench of the Jaffna High Court convicted nine persons for involvement in the abduction, rape and murder of Vidya Loganathan. Seven of the accused, including ‘Swiss Kumar’ were given the death sentence. Judge Illancheliyan, who delivered the unanimous verdict on behalf of the bench, reprimanded the Kayts Police for their having initially delayed and obstructed the investigation, and he praised the CID, especially Inspector Nishantha Silva and Assistant Superintendent Sisira Tissera, for their efforts ‘beyond the call of duty’ in bringing Sivaloganathan’s murderers to book.

In October 2018, a little-known anti-narcotics activist named Namal Kumara sent shockwaves throughout Sri Lanka when he held a press conference and alleged that he was aware of a plot to assassinate President Maithripala Sirisena and former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The plot, he said, was centered around the DIG in charge of the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID), Nalaka Silva.

The IGP immediately tasked the CID to investigate the assassination plot. The elite detectives, however, were unable to find any evidence to substantiate Namal Kumara’s claims of a plot to assassinate the President or Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Kumara had claimed that audio recordings directly linked to the plot had been mysteriously deleted from his Huawei mobile phone, however forensic analysts at Huawei in Hong Kong were unable to recover any such recordings.

As the months wore on, Namal Kumara released more and more salacious recordings, and made more unsubstantiated claims that several other senior figures of the United National Party were involved in the purported assassination plot. The CID discovered that Kumara was a deserter of both the Army and the Air Force. He also announced in November 2019 that he would contest subsequent elections from the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, a claim denied by that party.

While there remains no evidence of a plot to harm the President or former Defence Secretary, what Namal Kumara’s audio recordings did provide to the CID was credible evidence that DIG Nalaka Silva was indeed conspiring to commit murder. The alleged conspiracy, however, was to murder a former subordinate and fellow police officer, Assistant Superintendent Prasanna Alwis. The CID corroborated many of the facts indicated in recordings provided by Namal Kumara, and on October 25, 2018, arrested DIG Nalaka Silva on the charge of conspiracy to commit murder.

With five DIGs having been caught out in just as many years for murder-related crimes by the CID, it appears historically unsafe for senior police officers to be implicated in either killings or the hampering of murder-related investigations, at least while SDIG D.W.R.B. Seneviratne and Director Shani Abeysekara, remain at the helm of Sri Lanka’s premier investigative arm. Seneviratne is slated to retire in April 2019.

With at least one more Senior DIG remaining in the crosshairs of the CID, there can be no question that the culture of impunity that had shielded senior police officers from punishment for high crimes and misdemeanors prior to 2012 is fast evaporating.

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