Dhanuna Thilakarathne the former son-in-law of Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka who was on the ‘run’ for over five years, and re-surfaced last December in an interview with the Dailymirror speaks about his time in ‘hiding’, his separation from his wife, and denies that there was a ‘deal’ that led to his re-emergence.
You are known as the son-in-law of the former Army Commander and an individual who has been dodging the law. Give us a bit of background information as to who you are.
I had my entire education at Royal College Colombo, and I did many sports while in school. I was a scout, a member of the adventure club, did a bit of swimming and my main sport was rowing. I was an oarsman for Royal College. I rowed at the Royal Thomian in 1999. Thereafter I was appointed a prefect and after my prefectship I decided to go to the United States to complete my higher education. I left the country in the year 2000 and graduated in information systems in 2004 and worked as an IT consultant thereafter. I worked there for about 6 years so I lived for a total of 10 years in the US.
By which time you were married?
I got married in 2008 and by the end of 2009 Gen. Fonseka had decided to contest the Presidential Election. I came to Sri Lanka in order to support him. The campaign didn’t go as we expected and then the games started as soon as the elections were over.
Before getting to that, where did your involvement with Hi-Corp start?
That was a mud campaign which began in the end of 2009 mainly to hit Gen. Fonseka. They just tied me into the Company. I was not a part of that company or a Director of it. The mud campaign started portraying me as an arms dealer. There were adverts put in newspapers showing me with armoured tanks and so on. As soon as the campaign ended the mud campaign took a different turn and instead of portraying me as an arms dealer they tried to show that I was dealing with the Army.
Are you saying that that you had nothing to do with Hi- Corp?
I have absolutely nothing to do with it.
So you never knew about this company, is that what you are saying?
I got to know certain things about the Company as it was brought on me. But I had got nothing to do with it.
You said you came to the country in the end of 2009. Before you came to the country, were there any dealings between you and your father-in-law?
There were absolutely no business dealings between me and him. The only business dealings I had were with my company which was called Lanka Adventure, which was an adventure sports company. If you look at my background, I was a scout and a member of the adventure club and I started a company in line with these passions. So I was not involved in any other business dealings with anyone. Everyone knows General Fonseka, he is not a businessman, and he doesn’t deal with that subject. If you ask anyone in the Army they would tell you the story about the way he works.
If you could give us a bit of the background about your family?
I was born into a military family. My dad was an officer of the Army. We grew up in a military community and all our friends were from that background. My mother is a beautician, she has a salon. I have one brother who is a banker.
Is this how you met your wife to be at that time?
Since we grew up in a military environment we were neighbours and were childhood friends. Our families were friends and that’s how I met her.
So coming to the main questions, you came into the country when the campaign was in full flow. Did you think your father-in-law was going to win?
Why Gen. Fonseka wanted to contest in 2010 was because he was a man with a vision, based on anti- corruption. He didn’t like the way things were done. We thought we would win. I used to go for meetings and there were veteran politicians who told me that this was the biggest crowd they had seen participating in a campaign. So everyone was confident.
We then come to the day of the elections January 26th 2010. Where were you on that day?
I was with the whole campaign group. We were with Mr. Wickremesinghe, the leaders of the UNP, the JVP and other leaders of political parties who supported Gen. Fonseka. We all decided to stay at the Trans Asia hotel for various security reasons. So that night we were stationed there and then we were watching the results coming.
What was the reaction like when you all saw the results coming in, was it one of disbelief?
Yes, and surprise because there was such a big gap. But we didn’t have a lot of time to think about anything. Things were happening so fast. We are talking about a time span of a few hours. The hotel was surrounded and the entire military was around us. At one point we took the focus out of the campaigning and it was focused on getting to a survival mode. Our thinking was that we contested, someone won and the loser went home and that was how it worked. But that wasn’t to be for us.
Do you think the elections were rigged?
That’s a question a lot of people have asked me. I personally don’t know what happened but I have a few questions as well. The Elections Commissioner was missing for 14-18 hours, why was that? Then you would have seen him speak to the media before but that was not the person who spoke when announcing the results. The way he acted didn’t look right and certain people who were involved with the elections like for example those who made the security stickers (for the ballot boxes) are missing to this day.
So tell us what was happening during that night?
As soon as we knew the final results our plan was to go home. We were not allowed to go home and people were not allowed to get into the hotel. So we were trying to figure out what to do next. We came out of the Hotel and went home and as soon as we went our security was withdrawn. Many of our friends and relatives stayed at our place that night. We were not really worried about a threat from the government, that was not something that crossed our mind, but instead the threats we had from the remnants of the LTTE. But before the day of the election I was sent a notice from the CID wanting to question me and I agreed. The day that I was supposed to go to the CID we received a fax from the CID telling me not to come. Then the day after the elections I got another letter from the CID asking me to come for questioning with a date and time specified. But the very next day after I received this letter, suddenly a CID team came into my house and told me that they had come to take me. We told them that they had given us a date and a time and we were to come on that day and I refused to go.
What happened then?
They left. But we were receiving information from the military intelligence which said that they wanted to take me in and get a statement against Gen. Fonseka. I was told that if I went that was what I had to do and at any cost they would get that from me. That was the information we received. Then some people close to us took me to their house and told me to watch what was going to happen. They said I have two more days to report to the CID, so we decided to wait and watch. During the time we received a lot of other inside information and we had reason to believe them. It was then that I decided that I would be away for sometime.
All this was happening within two days?
Yes, but even after that each time we decided to go to the CID we got information about some harm that could happen to us. The people giving us information were from inside the military because we grew up with these people. They warned us against going. Then after a few days Gen. Fonseka was arrested. We got that information beforehand and we rubbished it. We didn’t think that could ever happen, but once it did naturally everything else that was said also stood a chance of being true. We didn’t imagine that could happen but it happened exactly the way we were told it would and that was when I decided it was time to go.
So until the arrest of Gen. Fonseka you were still in a contemplative mode?
Yes, there were no warrants issued against me but there were these warnings that I had got and that they were asking me to come for questioning. The same guys who warned me against going to the CID then told me that ‘this is what happened to a four star General, who are you to them?’. So that was when I decided to go away because we didn’t really know what was going to happen.
So you left, where were you and what were you doing?
( Laughs) That’s a good question. Some of the questions I can’t answer. I was in Sri Lanka and all over. There were a lot of people who protected me, people I grew up with. These are guys who loved the country and would do anything for the country so when you are with them you feel protected. While I was in hiding, there were many things that were offered including a reward of a million. That didn’t matter to these people. I lived in a lot of places and I learnt so many things. I lived with people from different religions, races , castes and creeds and I learnt so much about them. It was a big experience for me. Times were hard but the experience was immense.
Were you fearful at any point that you may get caught?
No that never entered my mind. Even when I was away we got so much information. I don’t know if these were true or not but I was told that there were 6 CID teams, 4 Army teams and 3 STF teams looking for me. They had deployed them all over. Teams were checking my friends’ houses another was checking my relatives houses, all hotels and apartments in Colombo were being checked but still I never felt fear. I think that was because these were all military people and from my younger days my perception was that they would protect me. I was not in fear.
While you were being looked for, there were stories about your friends and family falling under the radar, for instance your grandmother was hauled up to court. Can you explain what happened to them?
Yes, more than me this whole episode devastated them. She’s actually one of my aunts, and she was arrested and a case filed only because I visited her for four hours. If I am to just put a number, at least 15 families were harassed because of me. Other than that about 15-25 houses of my friends were raided from time to time. Some of them had young kids who were a few months old. They were taken in for questioning. When they left the country or came into the country they were detained. It was a very difficult period.
How long did this last for? when did the fizzle drop and they decide ‘fine let’s leave Dhanuna out’?.
I’m not exactly sure about that, because I appeared after 5 years. Till the day I appeared, the information I got was that they were looking for me in Sri Lanka and outside. I can’t give you a point as to when it stopped.
You have been a scout and an oarsman, what was this adventure really like because it was something that we only read in books and see in movies?
Being a scout and a sportsman really helped because we used to go through intense training. Especially when you are an oarsman and a scout there are skills that you learn. All of these really helped me. My military background and the friends I had, added to this survival. It wasn’t easy not to talk and meet anyone I know. I hadn’t spoken to or met in person anyone I knew during this entire period. It was a matter of survival and the best thing to do was adapt to the background. I lived with Muslims, Tamils, different foods, and different living standards. You have to welcome all of this. I had no option. That’s how it was. I made it an experience rather than complain about it.
You came out of hiding in December last year. An election was declared, we had a new candidate opposing the incumbent and all of a sudden Dhanuna Thilakarathne comes out of hiding and was granted bail. What was the deal there or how did you realize this was the time to come out?
There was no deal. What happened was, suddenly an election was called, and all throughout the last five years I kept speaking to my lawyers and they told me it wasn’t the right time to come. As soon as this election commenced my lawyers told me to come out. They said no one was going to take revenge on me because it would look bad on them. So I was told to forget about the case and to come and get bail instead. I took their advice, I had already lost 5 years of my life, I hadn’t seen my family and friends and thought I should take this risk because the environment was conducive.
Was there not a deal between your cousin Hashan Thilakarathne who pledged his support to the incumbent, in order that you could appear?
I am not aware of any such deal between him and Mahinda Rajapaksa. I think it was created by the media. I don’t think Hashan would make such a deal at all.
There was also a notion that you were given bail in order to support President Rajapaksa?
No that never happened. I saw that in the media. If there was such a deal would I have ended up supporting them? All through that time I supported the idea of ‘Good Governance.’
There was also a notion that Gen. Fonseka made a deal for your release, because of a pending divorce with his daughter. If you can clear that out?
I have been away from my wife for 5 years and we have a mutual understanding and an agreement we thought we should go our separate ways. She doesn’t like how things work in Sri Lanka. It was a mutual decision that we took to head our own ways. Our families are backing the two of us, our families are still two close families. This is a part of our personal lives. Some of the underground media had speculated a lot of things but this is how it works, they just try to create some agenda so let them have that bit of enjoyment.