CID under siege | Sunday Observer

CID under siege

4 August, 2019

Barely a week had passed since the Director of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), Shani Abeysekara made a passionate plea before the Parliamentary Select Committee probing the Easter Sunday attacks about the perils investigators had to face for the crime of doing their jobs.

Last Sunday (July 28), SSP Abeysekera was forced to make a complaint at the Fort Police against a lawyer for making threatening statements against him at a press conference.

For years now, CID sleuths have been under siege as they delved deep into attacks against journalists, mysterious murders and chilling abduction rackets that led to the probable deaths of at least 11 youth. In all of these cases, the CID investigations have unearthed the unmistakable footprint of shadowy sections of the military and its intelligence wing. Since June 2019, the CID’s energies have been diverted to Kurunegala, where a fake illegal sterilisation scandal led to the incarceration of a Muslim doctor on trumped up charges for two months. The Department’s indefatigable and meticulous investigators not only found no evidence of any of the charges against the physician, but uncovered an elaborate and well-coordinated plot to frame him, involving the local police and hospital authorities. The conduct of the Magistrate overseeing the matter is also under scrutiny by the Judicial Service Commission, which has received at least four complaints about his conduct in the case, including one by the CID through the acting IGP.

For its pains, the CID has received only slander and brickbats.

Last Saturday (27) the National Lawyers’ Collective held a press conference in relation to the controversy surrounding Dr Shafi Shihabdeen’s case. Its president Manoj Gamage insinuated that the law was not being strictly enforced due to the doctor’s spending capacity. Gamage added that “any decision taken by the CID director should be within the law and not otherwise”.

“Power or authority doesn’t last. Whatever decision you take should be within the four corners of the law and not otherwise. Don’t try to release suspects by manipulating the law. If you do so you will have to face the consequences in the future while in a jumper,” Gamage said, in a clear threat against SSP Abeysekera, a former STF officer who has an unblemished record in the Police.

Abeysekera’s leadership of the CID has been exemplary, senior police officials who directly oversee his work and others who have observed ‘Shani’ from afar claim. The Department has shown unprecedented independence in the face of intense public scrutiny and multiple efforts to politically interfere with investigations. In fact, the CID’s Officer in Charge of the Gang Robberies Branch, IP Nishantha Silva arrested the country’s highest ranking military officer, Admiral Ravindra Wijegooneratne in the midst of the 52 day political crisis late last year.

The Sunday Observer learns that Fort Police have been slow to act on SSP Abeysekera’s complaint last week. The Police Station has taken four days to summon officials to take further statement and commence inquiries into the complaint. Under the provisions of the Assistance to and Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses Act, No. 04 of 2015, threatening an investigating officer is an offence. Once persons are arrested under provisions of the Act, bail may only be given by the Court of Appeal.

According to a senior counsel, threats and intimidations of this manner are covered under the Witness and Victims Protection Act. “What they try to do is intimidate the investigator which is more crucial than interfering in the judicial process later. That is why this is an offence and even under the Witness Protection Act, investigators are protected. In most countries, including Commonwealth countries, there are a few serious crimes considered extreme, one is contempt of court and the other, interference with investigators where the person is arrested immediately.

He pointed out that we have an unfortunate situation where ‘these crimes were meddled with by politicians and even by senior police officials sometime back’.

It’s only now that the investigations have taken a turn. Some senior police officials are now in jail for interfering and that should be the same for all without any impunity.

“There shouldn’t be immunity to anyone when it comes to these kinds of crimes,” he said.

While recognising the right to constructive criticism, senior attorney at law Saliya Peiris said that as much as legitimate criticism should not be stifled, investigators should not be deterred from doing their duty. “Reasonable criticism should be allowed in a proper manner at the correct forum, but it should not interfere with the investigators in conducting their duties,” he said.

The CID Director is not the only official under fire. About two weeks ago, CID ASP B.S. Tissera was before the Kurunegala Magistrate making submissions relating to Dr. Shafi’s case with the longest ever B report filed by the CID containing 220 pages.

During the break, Parliamentarian Ven. Athureliye Rathana Thera approached ASP Tissera and tapped him on the shoulder. When Tissera greeted the Thera he allegedly pointed his finger at the CID officer threateningly and said: “Let’s see. The whole world is watching this.” (Balagamu, meka mulu lokayama balagena innawa).

The monk made this statement in open court on June 27. Other remarks were also made casting aspersions on ASP Tissera outside the courthouse the same day. The CID has obtained a court order to get unedited footage of the monk’s statements from two television channels. At the next hearing, these facts were reported to the Magistrate.

“This is a direct intervention with the officials while executing their duties,” a senior prosecutor told the Sunday Observer.

Investigators attached to the CID and the FCID have come under immense pressure since of late out in the public as well as personally, the Sunday Observer reliably learns.

Police investigators, especially, those in the CID, say their independence has a direct bearing on their capacity to do a proper job. A system should be in place to insulate sleuths and the agencies as a whole from interference.

“What we investigate is not our personal matter. We are given a job to do and we simply perform it. It may be against the underworld, some high ranking officials or even politicians, we come under pressure from these different groups at different times,” an investigator said.

The best example of political interference was illustrated in the attempts made to transfer IP Nishantha Silva of the Gang Robberies Department of the CID, last year. A massive public outcry led to a reversal of the transfer within 24 hours. This transfer was immediately cancelled allowing Silva to remain in the CID.

Silva and his team handle sensitive investigations on the 11 missing Tamil boys, deaths, disappearances, and attacks on several journalists, including the murder of The Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge and the abduction and torture of Keith Noyahr. In all of these cases, the CID’s evidence to link sections of military and naval intelligence to the crimes have become a thorn in the side of the pro-Rajapaksa political forces, particularly, those flocking behind the former Secretary of Defence, under whose stewardship and often direct command, these units operated.

In the case of many investigating officers, their families have become fair game too. Threats to IP Nishantha Silva’s life allegedly by sections of naval intelligence, are currently under investigation by a separate police unit. For two years now, Silva has been forced to accept round-the-clock protection.

A high ranking police officer, who did not wish to be named, said it was of paramount importance to ensure investigations could continue in an independent manner. “Only that will give the investigator confidence to do his job,” the senior cop told the Sunday Observer.

In March this year, a United Nations Envoy on Human Rights commended Silva’s courage and dedication in her report to the UN Human Rights Council. High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet commended Silva on his “persistence and commitment, despite political interference, patronage networks and a generally dysfunctional criminal justice system.”

When investigations gathered steam against senior military personnel, Silva was castigated again, claiming that he has links to the LTTE since his father was of Tamil origin.

Senior cops and prosecutors say the National Police Commission needs to be strengthened to provide officials with some recourse in the face of intimidation.

“The composition of the Police Commission should change. I do not see the use in including retired police officials in it,” the high ranking police official said.

Given the profile of cases handled by the CID in general and the Gang Robberies Branch in particular, recent political developments and the ascent of one power centre within the pro-Rajapaksa Joint Opposition camp in particular, has a chilling effect. In the wake of the Easter Sunday bombings, former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa called for the Government to issue blanket immunity from prosecution for intelligence officers involved in apprehending and interrogating terrorist suspects. “If they cannot do it, I will do it when the next government comes to power,” he vowed.

CID Director Shani Abeysekara’s plea to the PSC two weeks ago, was based on personal experience. He and his children were targeted when claims were made that Abeysekera was on the payroll of the Tamil Diaspora in order to educate his children overseas.

“I am doing my job for which I am paid and given other facilities. None of the investigations that are conducted, are done because of my want but because we have been directed to do so. All that we see is whether the country’s law has been followed to the word,” he said.

“There’s not much left to happen to me. I have been attacked on many occasions. They accuse me of investigating intelligence officers in exchange for money to educate my children overseas. My children haven’t been within a mile of an airport yet. All I am saying is, at least for the officers who come after us, help to keep them from being vilified and intimidated for doing their job,” SSP Abeysekera appealed to the legislators on the Committee.

Established in 1870, the CID remains the primary investigative division of the Sri Lanka Police, often tasked with investigating grave crimes that require sleuths with special detective skills.

Modelled on UK’s Scotland Yard, the CID has been responsible for busting networks behind LTTE suicide attacks that led to assassinations and bomb explosions targeting key installations in the capital during the war. After the bombings in April, the CID put a lid on the terror network within eight days.

In spite of the slander investigators attached to the Department face on a regular basis, it is SSP Abeysekera’s team that is called upon to investigate alleged plots to assassinate the President or when integrity and attention to detail becomes paramount in an investigation, as witnessed during the recent Dr Shafi case in Kurunegala. That they must constantly be called upon to rise above slander and threats and put their lives on the line to catch killers and abductors is a national tragedy.