CID manhunt for fugitive ‘Navy Sampath’ ends | Sunday Observer

CID manhunt for fugitive ‘Navy Sampath’ ends

Pic: Chaminda Niroshana
Pic: Chaminda Niroshana

The Criminal Investigation Department’s manhunt for ‘Navy Sampath’ ended quite by accident.

OIC of Gang- robbery branch of the CID, Nishantha Silva was on his way to deliver a letter to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, that CID officials would visit his residence on Friday (17) to record a statement from him about the night of journalist Keith Noyahr’s abduction.

OIC Silva was travelling by jeep on Lotus Road, Colombo Fort, when he thought a man walking on the road looked familiar. The man had a beard and wore rubber slippers and looked like just another labourer, but because something stirred in the CID sleuth’s mind, he stopped the jeep, got off, walked towards the man and stopped him in his tracks. The OIC had been right, this was in fact the man the CID had been hunting for over a year and a half – Lt. Commander Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi, alias Navy Sampath, the man believed to be the ring leader in an abduction racket run predominantly by Sri Lanka Navy personnel including a former Naval Spokesman.

Since OIC Silva had previously dealt with ‘Navy Sampath’, he was able to recognise him. Knowing the game was up, the suspect also acknowledged his true identity. OIC Silva immediately handcuffed the suspect and took him back to the CID headquarters.

Following his arrest, CID obtained permission from Court to detain Hettiarachchi or Navy Sampath for 48 hours for interrogation. Since his return to Sri Lanka, Hettiarachchi was working as a watcher in an estate in Dompe under the alias Polwatte Gallage Asoka.

The fake ID of this alias was found on Hettiarachchi’s person at the time of his arrest. But investigators also searched his quarters in Dompe and found another fake NIC with an address in Kelaniya.

The abduction racket was blown wide open when former Navy Commander, Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda lodged a complaint against Navy Lt. Commander Sampath Munasinghe who was the commander's personal security officer, with the CID in 2009 on the basis that he was maintaining links with LTTE operatives. During their investigations into that complaint, CID officers uncovered chilling details about how young men from affluent families were being abducted for ransom by a gang of Sri Lanka Navy officers. This gang was allegedly led by Chandana Hettiarachchi, alias Navy Sampath. The victims are believed to have been killed after being held at the ‘Pittu Bambuwa’ naval prison in Colombo and at a gun site at the Trincomalee base, between 2008-2009.

The young boys Rajeev Naganadan, Pradeep Wishwanadan, Mohomad Sajid, Kadira Kesharan, were abducted from Fernando Lane in Dehiwela on September 17, 2008. Abductions from other parts of Colombo and other areas were also linked to the same Navy abduction ring bringing the total to 11.

Investigators believe the actual number of victims could be more than double.

In June this year, the question of Navy Sampath’s whereabouts became a huge national story, when CID Director SSP Shani Abeysekera publicly accused the country’s most senior military official of having aided and abetted the suspect to flee the country and evade arrest.

Current Chief of Defence Staff Ravindra (Ravi) Wijegunaratne is not implicated in the abduction racket, but is suspected of aiding Hettiarachchi to flee the country, according to a B report submitted to court by the CID.

The CID has produced documents from at least three witnesses in court indicating that Navy Sampath was being sheltered at the Naval Headquarters in Colombo even while the Navy insisted to the CID that it did not know the whereabouts of the suspect.

The CID told Fort Magistrate Lanka Jayaratne last week, the Sri Lanka Navy had transferred half a million rupees to Hettiarachchi from a special account maintained at the Bank of Ceylon which they believed was to help the suspect to flee the country. The Magistrate ordered the Bank of Ceylon to provide details about this account to the investigating officers. The CID reported to court that Navy Sampath had been dispatched overseas by boat on April 17, 2017. Hettiarachchi’s lawyer Ajith Prasanna claims that the money received by Hettiarachchi was back pay that was granted to the officer following his acquittal in the Raviraj trial. His navy salary was stopped when he was indicted.

However, highly placed sources told the Sunday Observer that the half million rupees was different to the payment Hettiarachchi had received as salary arrears following his acquittal.

“The money that he got after he was acquitted from Ravi Raj’s matter was the arrears from the navy. He got this in January 2017, of this Rs.750,000/- was his salary arrears. He used that money to pay his debts and lease a container lorry,” the source said.

On March 3, 2017, the CID issued summons on Hettiarachchi to report to make a statement. The summons were issued three times in the same month.

Letters were handed over to the Navy Headquarters but Hettiarachchi never showed up. The CID then obtained testimony from Hettiarachchi’s wife, who claims she visited the suspect three times at the Naval Officer’s Mess in Colombo in March 2017.

But it was at the same time that the CID was informed by the Navy that it did not know Hettiarachchi’s whereabouts. Another witness testimony produced by the CID in Court revealed that Lt. Commander Laksiri had been present during a conversation between Hettiarachchi and then Commander Wijegunaratne, who had asked the suspect where he was headed when he saw him leaving the Officer’s Mess.

Hettiarachchi responded that he was going to visit his wife who was at the Light House waiting for him.

Laksiri claims the Commander had warned Hettiarachchi that the police were hunting him. All this evidence the CID has produced in court to indicate that at the highest levels of the Sri Lanka Navy, there was an attempt to shield Navy Sampath from the CID investigation into the youth abductions.

In his statement to the CID following his arrest last week, Hettiarachchi said he had been at Navy HQ when the first summons from the CID was received, but not the second time. However, CID sleuths believe this is a falsehood to ensure the suspect’s alleged protectors were not incriminated. The CID is expected to reveal details about the interrogation of Hettiarachchi since his arrest before the Magistrate on August 29 when the case comes up.

With the manhunt for the ringleader of the abduction racket now in custody, victim families and lawyers hope the wheels of justice will turn more swiftly in the mass abduction and murder case that is now a decade old. Sunday Observer attempted to contact Chief of Defence Staff   Admiral Ravi Wijeguneratne, upon which the media cordinator for the office of Chief of Defence Staff said they will revert tomorrow. 

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How Lt. Commander Hettiarachchi became ‘Navy Sampath’

Sri Lanka Navy Lt. Commander Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi came by his now infamous alias ‘Navy Sampath’ due to his connection to the murder of TNA MP N. Raviraj in Colombo in 2006.

The State Intelligence Service, formally known as the National Intelligence Bureau (NIB), was in charge of the army, navy and air force intelligence platoons appointed to question suspected LTTE operatives.

The NIB director was Senior DIG Gajanayake. Lt Commander Hettiarachchi was in charge of the intelligence obtained through the Navy platoon operating at the NIB. It was reportedly during this time that the stage was set for Raviraj’s murder. Hettiarachchi and his team had assumed aliases prior to the Raviraj Operation.

Lt. Commander Hettiarachchi asked his team members to call him ‘Navy Sampath’ to avoid confusion with the other forces intelligence platoons.

The making of the name ‘Navy Sampath’ has been corroborated by evidence given by a naval rating in the Raviraj murder case. 

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