Navy abduction for ransom case : Promoting suspects earns widespread criticism | Sunday Observer

Navy abduction for ransom case : Promoting suspects earns widespread criticism

Former Navy Spokesman D.K.P Dassanayake was confirmed in the rank of Commodore by the Sri Lanka Navy on September 27. Dassanayake had remained in the rank of Temporary Commodore for over three years granted to him on April 8, 2016, depending on continuous service extensions to remain in the force. Ideally, he should have been confirmed in the rank within a period of one year but the numerous legal hurdles that came his way had prevented it.

A momentous occasion for the military man last week was however marred by the fact that Dassanayake to this day continues to be one of the main suspects in the prolific Navy abduction case.

Dassanayake is accused of aiding and abetting the enforced disappearances of 11 youth between 2008 - 2009 perpetrated by an alleged abduction for ransom racket gang consisting of officers from the Sri Lanka Navy.

While Dassanayake was arrested by CID sleuths in July 2017, it was the hurried notes kept in a diary by a mother of one abducted youth that led investigators to him. Sarojini Nagananthan the mother of abducted youth Rajiv Naganathan had kept diligent notes of several secret conversations she was able to have with her son following his abduction. Rajiv along with five other youth was abducted on September 17, 2008. It is Rajiv Naganathan that first mentions Dassanayake.

Being held at Chaithya Road, a place locally known as ‘Pittu Bambuwa’ after his abduction, the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) found that Naganathan calling his mom through a borrowed phone was able to identify those holding him captive as his mother noted the details down. Presented to the courts as evidence after being handed over to the CID for investigation, in these notes, quoting her son, Sarojini writes “Commander Dassanayake who is to be made Captain, is here”.

These notes helped CID investigators in uncovering details of Dassanayake’s alleged link to the supposed extortion racket and abductions carried out by a group of naval officers at the time.

Abductees

According to the CID his possible connection to the incidents goes beyond the fact of simply ‘being there’ as mentioned in the notes made by Sarojini Naganathan. The CID has claimed that Dassanayake was aware that several of the abductees were being held captive at the ‘Pittu Bambuwa’.

Since then while the CID has unraveled more information on Dassanayake’s links to the case, the promotions and service extensions granted to suspects including Dassanayake has earned widespread public criticism.

Section 41 (a) of the Seaman Enlistment and Service Regulations of 1950 stipulates that if a naval officer becomes a suspect in a criminal case then he should be suspended from the exercise of his naval duties. However, the regulation was not enforced on Dassanayake, several other suspects in the case who have remained in service since being released on bail. They have also received service extensions and promotions since then as pointed out by the CID and counsels for the aggrieved in courts recently.

Investigators of the CID told courts last month that continuous promotions and benefits granted to suspects of the notorious Navy abduction for ransom case can obstruct ongoing investigations and hamper court proceedings.

The CID expressed these concerns when the case was taken up in courts on August 21 before the Colombo Fort Magistrates Court. In the B-report submitted to courts by OIC of the Gang Robberies Unit IP Nishantha Silva, the CID noted that suspects of the case and the case relating to the abduction of two other victims being heard in the Aluthkade Magistrates Court have been promoted by the Sri Lanka Navy after they were arrested and remanded.

“I also learned from electronic and print media that Former Navy Commander Wasantha Kumara Jayadeva Karannagoda who was arrested under section 296 of the Penal Code on the direction of the Attorney General’s Department has also been promoted to a higher rank recently,” the B report submitted by the CID said.

Promotions

However, while suspects were receiving promotions from the Navy, the CID also noted that key witnesses in the case such as Lieutenant Commander Krishan Welagedara, Leading Seaman Aluthgedara Upul Kumara and Naval Rating Kotelawalage Bandu Kumara have faced death threats and other forms of harassment.

Lieutenant Commander Krishan Welagedara has been making continuous requests to retire from the Sri Lanka Navy on completion of 20 years in service and join his family abroad due to security concerns. While his requests have been forwarded to the Ministry of Defence which in turn has sought the advice of the Attorney General’s Department, sources said he has been informed that he cannot leave the country till the court proceedings are complete. Welagedara had previously lodged a complaint against Dassnayake with the CID claiming the suspect had tried to intimidate him and prevent him from cooperating with the CID.

In 2016, the Navy Lt. Commander even faced a court-martial on a frivolous charge of being absent without leave. As soon as he arrived in the island, the Lt. Commander was arrested, handcuffed and thrown in Navy prison for 14 days. He was later informed he would be facing a full court-martial, as opposed to a summary trial as is usually the case for minor misdemeanors within the force.

On July 12, 2016, the Navy court-martial pronounced Welagedara guilty on both counts and sentenced him to 36 months forfeiture of seniority, and 12 months forfeiture of seniority and 17 days forfeiture of pay and allowances for the two offenses respectively.

However, President Maithripala Sirisena pardoned Lt. Commander Welagedara of several guilty charges. In a letter (Ref: No: MOD/DET/03/02/DIS/315) dated July 29, 2018, addressed to the Navy Commander, then Defence Secretary Karunasena Hettiarachchi notified the Navy of the presidential directive that Welagedara’s punishment was to be slashed to only 17 days forfeiture of his seniority for being absent without leave.

But despite the presidential waiver of punishment, to date Lt. Commander Welagedara continues to be denied promotions and requests for early retirement with a pension on the basis of his court-martial in 2016.

“Putting witnesses in such a position and granting promotions to suspects could affect the complainants and obstruct ongoing investigations as well as hamper court proceedings,” the CID told courts. The OIC was responding to a submission made by Counsel Achala Senevirathna representing the families of the victims at an earlier court date.

In her submission, Senevirathna brought to the notice of courts that promotions are being granted to suspects of the case by the Sri Lanka Navy placing them safely within the Naval force while the parents of the abducted youth continue to languish in despair.

Speaking to the Sunday Observer, Navy Spokesman Lieutenant Commander Isuru Suriyabandara said the confirmation of Dassanayake’s rank materialized following a request made by Dassanayake himself. Suriyabandara confirmed the Navy had sought legal advice following this request and sent on Dassanayake’s plea to the Ministry of Defence for their review. “The Ministry had approved the request made to confirm the rank of Commodore,” Suriyabandara said. However, he noted that neither the Navy nor the Ministry of Defence approves such requests immediately and is only done through due consideration.

But according to the Chairman of the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) PC Saliya Peiris actions such as these could have a chilling effect on witnesses. Noting that some witnesses continue to be serving Naval officers, Peiris said seeing promotions and benefits being granted to suspects could give the witnesses the wrong message.

The independent body in its interim report last year recommended that the Government and relevant organisations should refrain from granting promotions to officers implicated in such cases while also taking steps to suspend their service till the inquiries are complete. The OMP had on several occasions written to Defence Ministry officials to voice their concerns on promotions being granted to officers allegedly involved in enforced disappearances that had taken place in the country. In September during the event marking the International Day of the Disappeared, Peiris noted that the State was not heeding the OMP recommendations on military and police officers involved in enforced disappearances.

“This makes our task more difficult,” he said adding that these actions cause the victims to lose faith in the State. “They are led to believe their issues are not being taken seriously,” he said. Noting that the Navy abduction case is one of the most emblematic cases of enforced disappearances Peiris said there is no justification to promote officers who have been named as suspects while cases are pending before the courts.

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