SLPP lawyer and former convict dares CID to come after him | Sunday Observer

SLPP lawyer and former convict dares CID to come after him

Ajith Prasanna arrested in October 2017
Ajith Prasanna arrested in October 2017

Attorney and Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) member Ajith Prasanna, who has frequently spoken in critical and derogatory terms of police officers investigating the white van abductions and assassinations during the Rajapaksa era, is the product of a short and turbulent career in the Sri Lanka Army, according to documents unearthed by the Sunday Observer.

In 1995, Prasanna, then a lieutenant, was convicted by a general court martial on two counts of disobeying a superior officer in violation of Section 100 (2)(a) of the Army Act. Both orders disobeyed by Prasanna involved refusing to lead troops into harm’s way whilst he was serving in the 4th Battalion of the Sinha Regiment in Ambepussa, during September 1994.

The first charge was that, on September 23, 1994, Prasanna “willfully disobeyed a lawful command” from his superior officer, Major R.A.A.A. Perera, “to be in charge of a platoon of 50 recruits, who were to proceed to Palaly”. Prasanna had refused to follow the order and remained at Ambepussa.

The second charge was that, on September 24, 1994, Prasanna again “willfully disobeyed a lawful command” given to him by Captain K.R.K.K.T. Bandara “to report to Battalion headquarters in Elephant Pass,” an order he contravened without complying.

The charge sheet was signed by then army commander G.H. De Silva on February 18, 1995. The Court Martial, which is a military equivalent of a high court trial, was held on February 23, 1995. The members of the court, or the judges, were Brigadier M.J. Samarakoon, Colonel M.K. Jayaratne and Majors A.K.P. Wickramasinghe, W.R. Palihakkara and R.P. Rajapathirana.

Prasanna was found guilty of both charges, convicted, and sentenced by the Court Martial in March 1995. In addition, Prasanna’s seniority in the army was docked by 75 places. Just a month prior to the events that saw him get court martialed, then Lieutenant Prasanna was caught by the army being absent without leave (AWOL) for ten days from September 12 to September 21 in 1994, when his fellow soldiers were ordered into battle. After returning to his command, Prasanna had pleaded for redress and was retroactively granted leave on “compassionate grounds,” if not for which he would have been subject to another court martial for violating Section 106 (a) of the Army Act. It was after getting this second chance that Prasanna had disobeyed two direct orders and been court martialed.

While serving in the army, Prasanna entered the Sri Lanka Law College in 1997, and enrolled as an attorney-at-law of the Supreme Court on December 13, 2001 and joined the Bar Association with Member Number P1096, according to official records reviewed by Sunday Observer. Attorneys cannot be enrolled with the Supreme Court if they have prior convictions. Prasanna had suppressed from the Supreme Court and Bar Association all evidence that he had been charged and convicted by an army Court Martial, which is equivalent to a High Court in the civilian system.

The year after taking oaths as a lawyer, in 2002, Prasanna got into more trouble in the army while sitting for his written exam for promotion from the rank of lieutenant to captain. At the exam, he was caught cheating by examiners by keeping unauthorized written materials and notes in his possession. He was treated to a summary trial under Section 129 (1) of the Army Act for “conduct prejudicial to military discipline” and pleaded guilty, earning a reprimand.

After leaving the army in 2007 as hostilities with the LTTE escalated, Ajith Prasanna took to politics. In 2014, he ran for a seat on the Southern Provincial Council on the ruling party United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) ticket. After handing in nomination papers in Galle on February 6, 2014, Prasanna led an unlawful assembly in procession in Galle town, according to police records.

Wearing an army uniform and brandishing a national flag, Prasanna entered into a clash with police officers, assaulting at least one with a Sri Lankan national flag. After the incident was reported to the Galle Magistrates Court, Prasanna got himself admitted to the Durdans private hospital in Colombo, where he was arrested on February 9 by police and placed in remand custody.

After the change in government, Prasanna became an advocate for former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and for military officers accused of involvement in the white van abductions and murders of journalists during the Rajapaksa era. He has distinguished himself primarily through ad hominem attacks on police officers involved in the investigations directed through the media. His attacks have primarily been directed at current CID director, SSP Shani Abeysekara.

For example, addressing journalists outside the Colombo Fort railway station on September 15, 2016, Prasanna stated that Abeysekara’s children were studying overseas, and that the CID under Abeysekara was leaking top secret national security information to the Tamil diaspora to endanger intelligence officers, in exchange for assistance educating his children overseas.

Last month, Abeysekara testified before the Parliamentary Select Committee investigating the Easter attacks, and repeated the allegation by Prasanna, refuting it by stating that not only have his children never been abroad, but that “they have never even seen, let alone set foot on, the premises of an airport.”

At a press conference on November 29, 2016, Prasanna claimed that he was in possession of unspecified evidence that then senior CID officer Shani Abeysekara was in the habit of intimidating and threatening witnesses. On January 12, 2018, outside the Colombo Fort Magistrates Court, he stated to journalists that Abeysekara regularly made up false evidence in order to imprison public servants.

In February 2014, then Army Chief Lt. General Daya Ratnayake severely reprimanded Prasanna for wearing a military uniform while campaigning as a candidate in the Southern Provincial Council elections. Lt Gen. Ratnayake also ordered the Military Police to investigate the incident. However Prasanna who was contesting on the UPFA ticket, was never charged under the Army Act for misusing the uniform.

In October 2017, Prasanna was arrested on charges of unlawful assembly, causing damage to public property, injuring police officers, obstructing law enforcement and violating a court order, after he participated in an unruly Joint Opposition protest near the Indian Consulate in Hambantota.

On May 30, 2018, Mount Lavinia Additional Magistrate severely reprimanded Ajith Prasanna for having made submissions to court, ostensibly on behalf of the eighth Suspect in the abduction and attempted murder of journalist Keith Noyahr, former Military Intelligence Director Amal Karunasekara. After the hearing, Karunasekara had told the court that Prasanna was not authorized to represent him, and had done so without instructions, a violation of the rules for attorneys-at-law.

Despite the reprimand, Prasanna repeated the offence on August 15, 2018, this time at the Colombo Fort Magistrates Court, where he made submissions, ostensibly on behalf of murder suspect “Navy Sampath”, who is in remand for his alleged involvement in the abduction-for-ransom and subsequent murder of eleven youth by a team of elite navy commandos under the command of former Navy Commander Wasantha Karannagoda.

After Ajith Prasanna made submissions on behalf of “Navy Sampath”, the suspect told the court that he had not authorized Prasanna to appear for him. CID Inspector Nishantha Silva, whose ethnicity and alleged “Tamil sounding” name had been attacked by Prasanna in the past, informed the Fort Magistrate of the previous instance in Mount Lavinia wherein Prasanna had appeared for a suspect without authorization.

These encounters have only emboldened Prasanna to escalate his public attacks on the integrity of the CID officers investigating the attacks on journalists and other serious crimes involving military personnel. At a press conference last week, Prasanna alleged to journalists, with no corroborating evidence, that Director Abeysekara had gone to UNP Headquarters “Sirikotha” to meet with cabinet ministers and discuss a plan to falsely implicate Gotabaya Rajapaksa in a number of criminal investigations.

In an ominous threat, he said that there is plenty of evidence against Abeysekara and Nishantha Silva that will be used against them if there is a change of government, and that Abeysekara and Silva have both obtained visas to flee to Australia in that event. According to Prasanna, there is adequate evidence to arrest Abeysekara, Silva and several other officers and charge them with crimes for their mishandling of investigations. Prasanna challenged Abeysekara to take legal action against him if his claims were untrue, and further accused the CID director of being behind the Easter terrorist attacks, although he presented no evidence to support this allegation.