by Nirmala Kannangara.
Sequence of events that took place last week is to be in favour of the Founding Editor of The Sunday Leader Lasantha Wickrematunge and Senior Journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda murder and abduction investigations respectively.
The removal of the Director, Military Intelligence Unit, Suresh Sallay, who was accused of concealing evidence into Wickrematunge murder suspects and Eknaligoda abduction suspects was a welcome sign for the investigators while the leaked State Intelligence Service document dated September 10, 2008 that shows how Wickrematunge’s mobile phone details had been scrutinized by the then Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa would help the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to further dig into this and find out why the telephone details of the slain editor were obtained.
Also among the mobile telephone details the State Intelligence Service (SIS) had wanted were the then Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremasinghe, Mallik Samarawickrema, Shiral Lakthilake, Dayasiri Jayasekera, Rukman Senanayake, Sarath Ranawaka, Earl Gunasekera and Gayantha Karunathilake with whom Wickrematunge associated very closely.
Four months after the SIS of the Defence Ministry sought these telephone details, Wickrematunge was stabbed to death by an unidentified gang which later came to light that this gang of killers or for that matter at least one of them were from the military intelligence service unit.
Questions have been raised as to why the then Secretary, Defence directed the then Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police State Intelligence Service Keerthi Gajanayake to scrutinize telephone details of Lasantha Wickrematunge and the above-mentioned politicians who were in the opposition at that time claiming that the phone details were necessary to carry out intelligence operations related to national security.
Failing to contact Keerthi Gajanayake to find out as to why the telephone numbers of Wickrematunge and other politicians were obtained and whether they were a threat to the national security, a text message was sent to him seeking a comment. But until the paper went to press, Gajanayake neither returned the call nor sent a reply to the message.
Meanwhile attempts also made to contact the politicians whose telephone numbers were under scrutiny by the then Defence Secretary failed but a higher official at the Prime Minister’s Office who wished to remain anonymous said that although the two telephone numbers the then Opposition Leader were using too had been stated in the SIS document only one number was used by Ranil Wickremasinghe and the other was used by the then Coordinating Secretary to the Opposition Leader.
“Although even the then Opposition Leader knew that his telephones are tapped by the then regime, this is the first time we officially came to know that these telephones were tapped. This has to be checked with the Prime Minister once he returns to the country from Hong Kong whether this isn’t a privilege issue,” the higher official from the Temple Trees said.
Meanwhile the reason why Wickrematunge murder investigation was taken away from CID and was given to Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) by the then IGP Mahinda Balasooriya too has raised many questions. “Since the TID was formed by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and its officials were handpicked by him, the then government knew that they can conceal evidence into Wickrematunge murder investigation as the CID at that time was slowly but surely questioning the suspects and gathering evidence,” a senior police officer told The Sunday Leader.
The police sources who wished to remain anonymous said how the then defence authorities, who wanted to link Sarath Fonseka into Wickrematunge’s murder, arrested several army officials taking detention orders that they were planning a coup to take over the government.
The sources said that all attempts taken to get the army officers arrested to confess that it was Sarath Fonseka that was involved in Wickrematunge murder became unfruitful. “First the CID questioned Pichchei Jesudasan on January 18, 2010 over the SIM cards but after military intelligence unit member Kandegedara Piyawansa’s name was dragged into the investigation by Jesudasan, the investigation was stalled for over six weeks.
“After it was found that the five SIM cards that were used by Wickrematunge’s murderers had been obtained from producing Jesudasan’s national identity card, the CID questioned him. He told how he and Piyawansa had liquor in June 2008 and how Piyawansa took his identity card, the CID knew that he (Jesudasan) was telling the truth and went away to question Piyawansa. When the CID questioned Piyawansa and once understood that he is a military intelligence unit member, the police took quick action to transfer the investigation from CID to the TID as those who were in the TID were Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s men. Although Jesudasan was questioned on January 18, 2010 and subsequently Piyawansa was questioned until the TID took over the investigation none of these two were arrested,” sources added.
“The TID took over the investigation in the first week of February 2010 and Brig. Duminda Kappettiwalana was removed from the army together with 13 others the day after the 2010 presidential election for their support rendered to Sarath Fonseka. Brig. Keppettiwalana was late arrested on February 1, 2010 on charges for his alleged involvement in a coup to take over the government with Sarath Fonseka.
“As there was no proof to arrest Keppettiwalana for this murder, the TID arrested Keppettiwalana on charges of a planned coup but had told his wife that he was arrested for Wickrematunge murder. Meanwhile on February 23, 2010, 17 military intelligence unit members from the Kohuwala intelligence unit were arrested for Wickrematunge murder. The TID tried to get these suspects to say that it was Fonseka that gave orders to kill Lasantha but however they could not accomplish their idea,” sources added.
Meanwhile military sources said as to how the investigators into Wickrematunge, Eknaligoda, MP Raviraj and Joseph Pararajasingham could now accelerate their investigations since Suresh Sallay does not hold the most powerful position – the Director Military Intelligance Unit.
“In most of these cases, military intelligence members were involved and after the fall of the Rajapaksa regime, when the CID wanted SLA to provide the movement register and other details relating to certain army personnel identified as suspects in political murders, none of these information were released by Sallay. “When the CID wanted SLA to surrender the documents they needed to make headway into these investigations, Sallay did not release these information and the Army Commander too was helpless. It was Sallay that spent millions of rupees from the military intelligence budget to get lawyers to appear for those who were arrested in Wickrematunge and Eknaligoda cases. Even he provided an army vehicle for the suspect’s family to come to courts when the cases were taken up. But since he is no more in the seat and he is given a less responsible job and cannot interfere in these murder trials, the CID can now get whatever the information and documents they need from SLA and go ahead with the investigation,” sources said.
Meanwhile, questions have also been raised as to whether the newly appointed Director Military Intelligence Unit Brig. Vijendra Gunathilake will be able to carry out his duty with some of the high ranking officials in the intelligence unit who are closer to the former Director Suresh Sallay and also to the leaders of the past regime.
“Brig. Gunathilake is a dignified officer with an unblemished service record. We expect him to carry out a good job but the question is whether he could be able to do so with few higher officials below him too are alleged to be working hand in glove with Sallay and some higher officials in the Ministry of Defence during the previous regime. The wave of unrest that was reported from the north a few days ago is alleged to have orchestrated by these intelligence unit members on the directives of certain politicians in the opposition to de-stabilize the present government. This is what we told from the day the new government was formed, that unless the military intelligence unit chief is replaced with an honourable military officer, it would become an issue to the national security,” Defence sources said.
Meanwhile a retired high ranking military officer last week contacted this reporter to give more information on Wickrematunge’s day of murder. Speaking on condition of anonymity, this military officer said that he is willing to give evidence if the CID makes a request to him. “For this moment I kindly ask you not to publish my name but after reading this article if the CID or even the Attorney-at-law that appears for Wickrematunge’s family interest make a request for me to come forward to give evidence, I am ready to come. As you are having my contact details, in such an event please give my name and my mobile number to them,” he said.
According to him, he was the then Director Operations, Joint Operations Headquarters at the time Wickrematunge was murdered. “Now the CID is doing the investigations and as responsible citizens of this country, whatever the information we know should be given to them which will help them to gather more details into the murder,” sources said.
According to him, the day Wickrematunge was murdered, the daily conference at the Joint Operations Headquarters (JOH) was held as usual headed by the then Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Donald Perera.
“I was in my office after the daily conference when I received a call from the Chief of Defence Staff and broke the news that Lasantha Wickrematunge had been stabbed from a weapon and that it was the then Colombo’s Overall Operations Commander Mano Perera that had broken the news to him. The Chief of Defence Staff wanted me to check on this news. In my office Sirasa channel was on all the time as whatever that happens in Colombo and its suburbs it was Sirasa TV that broke the news first. However at the time I was told about this attack, Sirasa TV had not announced the news. It was after 15 to 20 minutes the news was telecasted,” sources claimed.
The sources further said that it is the duty of the investigators to find out the exact time Wickrematunge was stabbed and the time Mano Perera broke the news to Donald Perera.
“Who had told Mano Perera about the incident? Had the information come from the killers or from another person who was closer to the scene of crime? If the telephone details of these officials are checked it would be very much easier for the CID to make a breakthrough,” the sources added.
Meanwhile the sources further pointed a finger to a former army Brigadier who was Colonel General Staff at the Joint Operations Headquarters and said that the time is right for the investigators to check his movements.
“This person in question resembles one of the sketches of the suspects released by the CID a few months ago that was involved in Wickrematunge murder. He worked in my office but on this particular day he was not in office during the morning but reported to work in the afternoon. I presume that it was he who had called Mano Perera about the attack and let the investigators check their telephone details to confirm whether this officer was closer to the scene of the crime,” sources said.