Former Navy Chief faces deadly tides | Sunday Observer

Former Navy Chief faces deadly tides

Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda inched closer to arrest last Thursday, with the Supreme Court delaying the consideration of a petition filed by the former Navy Commander seeking to prevent his arrest by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in connection with the murder of 11 young men alleged to have been abducted for ransom by the Navy in late 2008.

Just one day after he failed to present himself at the CID having been summoned to appear on Thursday February 21, Karannagoda, on Friday February 22, filed a Fundamental Rights Petition before the Supreme Court alleging that he was at risk of an imminent arrest by the CID. The petition was filed on the same day the CID investigating officer, Inspector Nishantha Silva filed a report in the Colombo Fort Magistrates Court naming the former navy commander as a suspect, on charges including conspiracy to commit murder, aiding and abetting murder, concealing information about a crime and making false statements to the police about a crime.

The CID has not presented material in any court that implicates Karannagoda in the suspected 2008 abductions of any of the 11 murder victims or in the extortion of money from their families. The evidence presented against the former Navy Commander by the CID is centered around his alleged role in the murder of the illegally detained youth in May 2009 after he was said to have been notified that their families were aware of the location at which they were being detained.

Karannagoda, in his affidavit and petition in the Supreme Court, written representations through his lawyers to the Attorney General, and in letters to the Inspector General of Police, has denied any role or involvement in the abduction and murder of the 11 youth. Thirteen naval officers under his command have been arrested and charged by the CID in connection with abduction, confining and murdering the 11 victims and extracting extortion money from their families.

Dispelling allegations that the victims were taken into custody by the navy as a part of a covert military or intelligence operation connected to the war against the LTTE, the CID has reported to the Colombo Fort Magistrates Court that all three armed forces, the Army, Navy and Air Force, had certified that no intelligence existed to justify suspecting any of the victims of complicity in terrorist activities.

According to reports filed in the Magistrates Court, several senior naval officers hand-picked by Karannagoda who were questioned by the CID have indicated that the former Navy Commander was consciously complicit in allowing the 11 youth to be killed. They include current Navy Chief of Staff, Rear Admiral J.J. Ranasinghe, Karannagoda’s Military Secretary Rear Admiral Shemal Fernando, former Navy Commander Admiral Travis Sinnaiah and former Director Naval Intelligence Admiral Ananda Guruge.

Former Navy Commander Admiral Travis Sinnaiah, who headed the Navy’s Eastern Command, which included the Trincomalee Naval Base, told the CID that persons had been imprisoned in the ‘Gun Site’ compound of the Trincomalee base, but that Wasantha Karannagoda had directly forbidden him from interfering with these detentions or from causing the search of vehicles entering or leaving the ‘Gun Site’ premises. He told the CID that only former Naval Spokesman D.K.P. Dassanayake and Trincomalee Base Commander Sumith Ranasinghe were authorized to administer these premises under the direct supervision of then Navy Commander Wasantha Karannagoda.

Karannagoda has strenuously denied the allegations made by Sinnaiah to the CID, in letters written to the Navy, Defence Ministry and others, no sooner Sinnaiah’s evidence became public through a report filed in the Magistrates Court by the CID on August 2, 2017.

Another officer, Commodore Wijeya Bandara, told the CID that he had learned of the abduction of five young men who were alleged to be in captivity in the ‘Gun Site’ ammunition storage facility of the Trincomalee Navy base, and had informed Karannagoda of this fact on May 10, 2009. He said that the Navy Commander contacted Trincomalee Area Commander Sumith Ranasinghe, who had denied that such youth were being held in the camp.

Karannagoda, in his affidavit to the Supreme Court, corroborates Bandara’s claim to the CID that he was informed of the abductions on May 10. “On the 10th of May 2009,” his affidavit states, “I received notice of an allegation” that his then Personal Security Officer, Lieutenant Commander Sampath Munasinghe “had abducted certain youth and detained them within Navy premises in Trincomalee.”

The former Navy Commander does not name his informant in his Supreme Court affidavit, but further states that he “was advised that the said Lt. Cdr. Sampath Munasinghe may in fact be guilty of committing the said offence.”

“I also took the precaution of finding out from the Area Commander as to whether the youth were being held at the Trincomalee camp, and I was told no such persons were being so held,” the affidavit states, corroborating Bandara’s account of Karannagoda’s conversation with Commander Sumith Ranasinghe. Commander Ranasinghe has since been arrested by the CID and charged with complicity in the murders. He is currently enlarged on bail.

Karannagoda asserts in his affidavit that “on the same day”, May 10, 2009, “he directed the Naval Provost Marshal and Director Naval Intelligence to investigate the matter.” However, former Director Naval Intelligence Ananda Guruge told the CID that he was only informed of the abductions by the Navy Commander on May 26, 2009, 16 days after Karannagoda had been informed.

According to Guruge, Naval Intelligence had investigated and immediately reported to Karannagoda that the victims had been abducted by Navy officers including Sampath Munasinghe’s roommate, Lieutenant Commander Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi. He said the victims were first imprisoned in a Navy facility on Chaithya Road in Colombo, and later detained at the Trincomalee Naval Base. The former Naval Intelligence Director told the CID that he had informed Karannagoda of these facts on May 27, 2009.

Meanwhile, Karannagoda dropped a bombshell allegation against former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa in his affidavit to the Supreme Court. “I was informed that the allegations” of abducted youth being detained by the Navy “should be formally investigated by the Police,” the former Navy Commander said. “On the 23rd of May 2009, I informed the then Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa of the allegations and recommended the Police investigate the matter.”

Not only have the CID unearthed no evidence that the former Defence Secretary ever initiated a police investigation into this matter at Karannagoda’s request, but there is no material available to corroborate Karannagoda’s allegation that he had in fact informed Defence Secretary Rajapaksa of these abductions.

In fact, the CID has reported that Rajapaksa was only briefed on the alleged abduction and murder of the 11 young men several months after the CID had assumed a role in the investigations. Upon being briefed on the investigations by Deputy Inspectors General Keerthi Gajanayake and Jayantha Kulatillake, and then CID Director Wijeya Amarasinghe, Rajapaksa had ordered in no uncertain terms that immediate and impartial investigations be conducted into the alleged abductions and murders.

On other occasions after investigations had begun, Rajapaksa had intervened to shield the CID from attempts at political interference. In one such instance, persons lobbying on behalf of a suspect in the case had made representations to an extremely high political authority that the CID investigation was a threat to national security and needed to be stopped. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, upon being apprised of these moves, had immediately interjected to protect the CID from political interference and allow their investigations to continue unimpeded.

On May 28, 2009, the cabin shared by Sampath Munasinghe and Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi was opened and searched by the Naval Provost, accompanied by police officers. The search team recovered several NICs, a passport, bank books and promissory notes, as well as nearly 500 rounds of live ammunition and a credit card.

Karannagoda, in his Supreme Court affidavit, recounts how the cabin of Lt. Cdr. Sampath Munasinghe was “opened by the Naval Provost” on May 28, 2009. “Many suspicious materials were found including large amounts of cash, promissory notes and identity documents of other persons.”

Thereafter, Karannagoda told the Supreme Court, Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of the Colombo Crimes Division (CCD) of the Police, met with him at Navy Headquarters “on instructions of the Secretary Defence”, at which meeting the Navy Commander briefed Senanayake.

Karannagoda made a written complaint on that day to Senanayake, which has become one of the most damning pieces of evidence gathered by the CID of Karannagoda’s complicity in covering up the alleged murders of the youth. The letter by Karannagoda makes no mention of abductions, suspected murders, the Trincomalee Naval Base or indeed of any of the information about the victims and their plight that by his own admission he had been made aware of at least 18 days prior. The letter also omits the fact that the searched cabin was shared by two officers, Sampath Munasinghe and Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi, whom the CID has said was known as “Navy Sampath.”

Instead, Karannagoda’s complaint, reproduced here, paints the picture that the Navy had searched a cabin occupied by one officer, Sampath Munasinghe, and had recovered items that give rise to suspicion of illicit financial transactions with the LTTE.

The complaint, dated May 28, 2009, is titled “Investigation into Dubious Money Transactions” and refers to “the discussion undersigned had with DIG Anura Senanayake at the Commander of the Navy’s office. It states “on receiving certain information about Lieutenant Commander MADNS Munasinghe NRX 0945 (known as LCdr MADN Sampath up to the date of 03 February 2009) that he is lavishly spending money not corresponding with the pay that he is earning as a naval officer steps were taken to instruct Naval Provost and Naval Intelligence Unit to investigate into the matter to ascertain the truth of such information and to find out any evidence with regard to the sources of his alleged extra income, if there is any.”

This account is wildly divergent from the picture painted by Karannagoda in his affidavit to the Supreme Court and in his previous statements to the CID and Attorney-General’s Department, where he claims that Sampath Munasinghe was being investigated for alleged complicity in abducting civilians and detaining them at the Trincomalee Naval Base.

The affidavit filed by the former Navy Commander tells of him having been briefed on allegations of abductions, ordering an investigation, reporting the same to Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa expecting the Secretary to inform the Police, his seeking to locate the missing youth, and having “briefed” DIG Anura Senanayake on the investigations. Instead, the complaint casts the items found in the cabin shared by Munasinghe and Hettiarachchi in a very different light. “Being an officer full time engaged in naval duties and drawing a Lieutenant Commander rank officer’s salary, this type of money handling by him creates a serious doubt as to the reasons for such money transactions. Considering some of the recent cases where military officers involved in transactions with the LTTE for monetary gain it has become necessary to investigate into the above transactions to ensure that national security has not been compromised.”

Karannagoda asks the police only to “initiate early investigations into the above said transactions” and offers to hand over the materials recovered from the cabin for investigative purposes.

By his own admission, the Navy Commander had been fully aware of the abduction allegations by the time that he met with and wrote a written complaint to DIG Senanayake of the CCD. His affidavit to the Supreme Court asserts that he even informed the then Defence Secretary of the allegations. Commodore Bandara, Admiral Sinnaiah and former Naval Intelligence Director Guruge have all corroborated the CID’s assertion that Karannagoda had been briefed on the abductions and murders before he met Senanayake on May 28, 2009. Their account is further corroborated by then Navy Chief of Staff, Admiral J.J. Ranasinghe.

Captain J.J. Ranasinghe was told the CID that a friend of his named “Raman”, had informed him that his son had been abducted by the Navy. Thereafter he had informed Commodore Bandara and sought to meet Navy Commander Wasantha Karannagoda to appeal for the release of his friend’s son.

Present at the meeting, he said, were Commodore Bandara, Navy Legal Director Captain Weerasinghe and then Navy Judge Advocate, Deputy Solicitor General and Rear Admiral Shavindra Fernando. J.J. Ranasinghe had noted several National Identity Cards (NICs) and similar items on the desk of the then Navy Commander. It is suspected that these were the items recovered in the search of Munasinghe’s and Hettiarachchi’s cabin.

Admiral Ranasinghe recounted the conversation in the cabin to the CID. He said that Commodore Bandara had said the holders of the NICs had been killed. Admiral Karannagoda had mooted the idea of informing the police of the abductions and murders, he said, only to have Shavindra Fernando respond that telling the police would be inadvisable as it would lead to a problem.

One of the abduction victims, Rajiv Naganadan, had been speaking to his father, Naggaiah Naganadan, over a mobile telephone provided to him by one of his captors. Rajiv Naganadan had told his father that he and his friends were in the custody of Naval officers D.K.P. Dassanayake and Sumith Ranasinghe, and that if these officers were paid a ransom, they could be released.

Naggaiah Naganadan took this information to his close friend, UPFA MP and then Fisheries Minister Felix Perera, in May 2009. The Minister contacted a friend in the Navy, Karannagoda’s Military Secretary Shemal Fernando, and conveyed the information he had received from Naganadan. Fernando had met with Felix Perera, admitted that the youth were indeed being held in the Trincomalee Naval Base, and suggested that the Minister appeal directly to Karannagoda for their release.

Felix Perera told the CID that he did then contact Karannagoda, who undertook to investigate and secure the release of the youth. Perera conveyed the Navy Commander’s assurance to Naggaiah Naganadan who told his son Rajiv, on their next telephone call, that arrangements were underway to secure their release.

According to the senior Naganadan, his son Rajiv had thereafter called him in fear, saying that Commander Sumith Ranasinghe had chastised his captors for allowing the youth to communicate with their parents and for exposing the location at which they were held in captivity. This account was corroborated to the CID by several of the Navy officers who guarded the detainees, who have since made confessional statements about their role in the saga.

The then Deputy Commander of the Trincomalee Base, Lieutenant Commander Krishan Welegedera, told the CID that he too was aware that a hand-picked team was holding captives in an underground bunker of the ‘Gun Site’ section of the base. He told investigators that one night in late May 2009 he saw several dead bodies being loaded onto a truck inside the camp, and never heard of the captives again.

Naggaiah Naganadan did not hear from his son after May 21, 2009. Fearing the worst, Felix Perera on June 17, 2009, formally wrote to Karannagoda requesting his assistance to locate Rajiv Naganadan and his friends.

Shemal Fernando, who had served as Military Secretary to seven Navy Commanders including Karannagoda, told the CID that upon receiving the letter from Felix Perera, Karannagoda had instructed Fernando not to take any action on it, signaling that it was already too late to do anything to save the youth. Karannagoda took fierce objection to Fernando’s statement to the CID. On January 17, 2019,he wrote a letter to the CID, IGP, President and Prime Minister, objecting to the statement of his Military Secretary. The former Navy Commander charged that this was a belated statement by Fernando, who he said “had not made any allegations” against him in his previous statement to the CID given in 2010.

“It is pertinent to mention that the information regarding the abduction of five youth by Lt Cdr Sampath and detaining them at a place known as ‘Gun Site’ in the Navy Camp Trincomalee was reported to me by Commodore Udaya Bandara around the second or third week of May 2009, one month before Hon. Felix Perera’s letter, based on information received from Captain J.J. Ranasinghe,” Karannagoda’s January letter stated.

“As soon as the information received from Commodore Udaya Bandara, immediate action was taken to check from the Commander Eastern Naval Area Rear Admiral S.M.B. Weerasekara by me personally, over the phone, of the presence of the five youth at the ‘Gun Site’ in Trincomalee Navy camp. On his verbal reporting of the absence of the five youth at the ‘Gun Site’ after checking, further investigation on the matter including an internal inquiry were commenced,” Karannagoda’s letter continues.

In his affidavit to the Supreme Court, Karannagoda asserts that he “did take several steps to cause an investigation to take place and to brief my superiors concerning the allegations of abduction and detention of youth in Trincomalee instantaneously on becoming aware of the allegations, well before the letter by Hon. Felix Perera,” alluding to his uncorroborated allegation that he had informed the Defence Secretary of the murders.

“During the inquiry, as it was felt that the investigations were beyond the naval jurisdiction, the matter was reported to the DIG Crimes on 28th May 2009, 20 days before Hon. Felix Perera’s letter,” the former Navy Commander states in his letter. However, there is no indication that Karannagoda at any time provided information to the police about the alleged abductions or murders of youth, only that he had requested an investigation into the financial transactions of Sampath Munasinghe.

Karannagoda told the Supreme Court that CID Inspector Nishantha Silva, who is leading the investigation into the murder of the eleven youth, “has been appointed as the Officer in Charge to investigate alleged offences by persons belonging to the previous regime and to prosecute the said persons for political reasons.”

He names the murders of Lasantha Wickrematunge and Wasim Thajudeen, the “alleged” disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda and the assaults of Keith Noyahr and Upali Tennakoon as examples of investigations conducted by Nishantha Silva for “political reasons.”

Karannagoda’s allegation to the Supreme Court that Inspector Silva’s “interest is to embarrass the former President and/or the Defence Secretary on the basis that the Petitioner is perceived to be a close associate of theirs” is false and misleading.

Nishantha Silva, the Officer-in-Charge of the CID’s Gang Robbery Branch (GRB), has no connection with the investigation into the murder of Wasim Thajudeen, which is being conducted by the Homicide Branch of the CID.

Neither President Mahinda Rajapaksa nor Gotabaya Rajapaksa, nor any of their relations or officials have been named as suspects in any of these investigations, which have resulted in the arrest of several military personnel.

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has in fact served as a cooperating witness for the CID in the investigation into the 2008 abduction and assault of Keith Noyahr, which has led to the arrest of eight Military Intelligence personnel including former Director of Military Intelligence Amal Karunasekara.

Karannagoda has charged that Nishantha Silva “has offered to release suspects under criminal investigation” if they would testify against him or Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He produced to the Supreme Court an affidavit sworn by naval officer M.M.D.A. Yapa dated January 18, 2017 as purported proof of this allegation.

However, Yapa’s affidavit does not state that anyone at the CID offered to release or discharge him in exchange for testimony against Karannagoda or Rajapaksa, nor that he was asked by the CID at any stage to make false statements. Yapa, who was in remand on charges of another white van abduction and murder for ransom alleged to have been carried out by the Navy, only states that he “believed” that if he had made such false statements, he would be released, without stating his reason for this belief.

Karannagoda contends to the Supreme Court that the purpose of the CID seeking to arrest him is threefold. Firstly, “because I served during the last stages of the war and am perceived to be close to the then administration of Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa,” and secondly “to satisfy the pressure from foreign countries to secure arrests and convictions of military personnel for war time offences.” Karannagoda also charges that his impending arrest is “to enable the government to claim at the upcoming Human Rights Council meeting in March 2019 that actions are being taken against military officers.”

“I have demonstrably taken instantaneous and effective action with respect to allegations concerning the abduction of five youth and alleged detention in Trincomalee,” Karannagoda told the Supreme Court. “I state that to the best of my knowledge there has been no reference in the B Reports to the fact that I have committed any offence.”

It was indeed in the Report filed by the CID on February 22, just before Karannagoda filed his petition in the Supreme Court, that the CID reported to the Colombo Fort Magistrate that Karannagoda was a suspect in the murder of the youth, and that the Attorney-General had advised the CID that there existed sufficient investigative material to arrest the former Navy Commander.

The former Navy Commander is seeking that the Supreme Court declare that the CID “has no right to arrest” him, and an order ensuring that CID Inspector Nishantha Silva, Director Shani Abeysekara and Senior Deputy Inspector General Ravi Seneviratne “be not given any promotions in the Sri Lanka Police”, along with an order preventing his arrest.

When the petition was taken up on Thursday, February 28, by a three-judge bench chaired by Chief Justice Nalin Perera and including Justices Priyantha Jayawardena and Murdhu Fernando, Karannagoda was represented by Presidents Counsel Romesh de Silva. Additional Solicitor General Viraj Dayaratne appeared for the CID. At the outset, Justice Jayawardena informed the court that he could not sit on the bench due to a conflict of interest, as he had represented Karannagoda in a previous matter before he was appointed to the Supreme Court.

When Romesh de Silva and Viraj Dayaratne tentatively agreed on March 7 as a subsequent date to take up the petition, de Silva sought an undertaking that Karannagoda would not be arrested until the case is next heard. Such undertakings have been given in the past when Romesh De Silva has appeared before the superior courts to block the arrests of others including Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

However, on this occasion, ASG Dayaratne bluntly refused to provide any sort of undertaking, prompting Justice Jayawardena to ask him from the bench if he would reconsider this position. Dayaratne still refused, and Romesh De Silva proposed to the bench that Dayaratne was under instructions not to provide an undertaking and that “my learned friend would prefer” if the bench would make an interim order preventing Karannagoda’s arrest.

The bench and Dayaratne remained silent, until Justice Jayawardena again prompted ASG Dayaratne to consider giving an undertaking not to arrest Karannagoda. Dayaratne refused, stating that investigations have been completed, that charges are ready to be framed and that he is thus unable to provide an undertaking that Karannagoda will not be arrested.

At this point, Romesh de Silva interjected to say that he was not seeking to prevent the indictment of Karannagoda, and sought an undertaking that his client would not be arrested until the filing of the indictment. Once again, Justice Jayawardena posed the question to ASG Dayaratne, who stated categorically that he could not provide any undertaking that Karannagoda would not be arrested.

The bench then adjourned the hearing until March 7, without any restriction on the CID’s ability to arrest former Navy Commander Wasantha Karannagoda in the interim. The Admiral remains a fugitive sought by the CID.

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