Taped conversation between Lasantha and MR - It’s twists and turns

28 December 2016 09:10 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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With last week’s release of a taped conversation between the Editor of The Sunday Leader Lasantha Wickrematunge and former President Mahinda Rajapakse, there has been a buzz of speculation as to who released the tape and why the tape was released at this particular time. The contents of the tape, the tone and manner of the conversation and the relationship between the two has been dissected and analysed by media pundits and the public alike but all questions are yet unanswered and the emergence of the tape remains a mystery.   

Then, as if that wasn’t mysterious enough, this week a second tape emerged of a conversation between the two, and it mainly centred around a ‘joourno hit list’ sent to foreign embassies in Colombo.   

As someone who closely associated with the assassinated journalist and thus privy to many things that went on at the time surrounding his life and work, I can say that the conversation which has been dated at May 08, 2008, was in fact the ‘mending fences’ or burying-the-hatchet conversation. To explain what this means, I need to go back a little in time and put things in perspective as well as reveal what Wickrematunge himself felt about his friendship with Mahinda.  

The Editor and the former President had known each other since the late eighties. During the Presidency of Chandrika Kumaratunga, Mahinda who was a minister of that government, was certainly not one of her blue-eyed boys. In fact the two clashed quite a bit and Kumaratunga referred to Rajapakse as the ‘Reporter’ hinting that he leaked many government and cabinet secrets to the media, in particular Lasantha Wickrematunge. The friendship spanned many years and indeed Mahinda did provide a great deal of grist to Wickrematunge’s journalistic mill. When Rajapakse became Prime Minister in 2004, the Sunday Leader warmly congratulated him in its editorial.


Towards 2008 however, the President seemed to have had a change of heart. For whatever reason, he was keen to mend fences with Wickrematunge and directed his physician Lindsay Eliyantha White to do the needful....


However, the friendship was doomed for disaster after Wickrematunge broke the Helping Hambantota scandal in January 2005 and continued with weekly follow-ups. At the heart of the scandal was Prime Minister Rajapakse who was enraged as a result, and the one-time buddies turned enemies.   
After Rajapakse was elected President in November of that year, the animosity between the two boiled over to a now infamous screaming match on the telephone after the President was wrongly informed by a diplomat that The Leader was most likely to be the newspaper that would carry a story regarding a visit by the President and his wife to a hallowed temple in India.  

The two were from then on sworn enemies and The Leader continued to week after week splash investigative stories on corruption in the government.   

Towards 2008 however, the President seemed to have had a change of heart. For whatever reason, he was keen to mend fences with Wickrematunge and directed his physician Lindsay Eliyantha White to do the needful. White was introduced to Wickrematunge by a businessman relative of White who was known to Wickrematunge. The Editor however steadfastly refused to meet the President. What the motivations of the President to mend fences or to be seen to be mending fences can only be conjectured, but Wickrematunge seems to have had some idea.   

He said in that email, “There is a doctor who is also a faith healer. He is part British and part Sinhala. He is Mahinda’s doctor. He is the man whom Mahinda sent to meet me through another friend saying he wants to get friendly etc. He is the one who attends to all his medical needs etc. He keeps a low profile and not many people know him or about him. He cures cancers etc.   

Anyway I am taking some treatment from him for my pressure. He said some of my nerves on the right side of the brain was damaged leading to the pressure. The medicine involves applying some oil for three days and some kasaya and stuff. My friend ***** whose relation he is, is the person that brought him to me. I of course refused to meet Mahinda. because he can always kill me thereafter and say we were once again friends and that I had even met him....”   

However, at some point, Wickrematunge gave in to the pressure by his businessman friend and Lindsay White to talk with the President.. The telephone conversation on the tape in question is that ‘mending fences’ conversation. That is the reason why there is a great deal of awkward laughter at the beginning of that call initiated by the President.   

Wickrematunge was known to tape important telephone conversations but my guess is that this one was taped by Mahinda. Why it was leaked at this point is unknown, however it seems that with the CID team covering a great deal of ground in recent times in the Wickrematunge murder case, people are feeling the heat and keen to show the world that he and the slain editor were good friends.   

The Wickrematunge family are adamant the tape was not released from their quarter and there is no rhyme or reason as to why anyone from his camp would release this tape, which on the contrary has only caused confusion in the minds of people with regards to this outstanding journalist and fine human being.   

 

Operator : Wait a moment, Sir needs to speak to you

M    : Hello…   
L    : Hello…
M    : Hi, how are you?
L    : Hi, how are you? What is happening? (giggles) …  
M    : Now it’s okay…now the matter is over…. (both laughs)…  
L    : Now what will happen hereafter? …  
M    : This will move as it is…we have to see what we have to do…  
L    : Is it that LTTE items are coming or…there’s a rumour that another Provincial Council election is coming up?... Is there no decision like that? … 
M    : It has not been decided yet…some are saying let’s have an election but some are saying just let it go as it is…it’s not an easy thing…lot of money is also required…  
L    : True…true….  
M    : After all we have to find money from various places and give for these… (both giggle) …  
L    : Finally the economic crisis will be an impact on the country… need to find a solution to that, I guess…Today a barrel of oil has risen up to…. (audio hissing) …  
M    : Now they say it will go up to 200…   
L    : But in the coming two months it will go up to 150….  
M    : That is the thing…  
L    : Hmm…  
M    : Can’t even hedge it now…  
L    : no… no… you can’t… the way it is going up…  
M    : At least the cultivation is on… so that the meals could be arranged with difficulty…  
L    : Yes true….at least people in villages can survive as they grow crops…it’s difficult to survive in cities… the industries in cities face great difficulty as everything goes up with the increasing of oil prices… let’s see….  
M    : I also visited Oxford last week…   
L    : ah yes you went and came…. (both giggle for long) next time you can visit the Cambridge… (both giggle)   
M    : No… no…. visiting one is enough… (both giggle)   
L    : I must tell one more thing… maybe would not like to hear this…. But try to look into corruption committed by various persons…thing about you is if someone helped you once, you will protect that person if he even commits a murder… it’s a good virtue on one hand…. But as the President one must have control over certain things…  
M    : No matter how much I tell they don’t listen… I even tell in public not to commit cheap deeds but they wouldn’t listen…  
L    : No but if you took over their portfolios and push them aside they will learn a lesson…   
M    : Why…that you have once published… (deep audio hissing)   
L    : yes…yes…  
M    : Don’t record this…  
L    : No …. No….  
M    : (audio hissing) Commander did something like this…. He did it through a different company…(deep audio hissing)   
L    : Yes…that’s what we even said…   
M    : (audio hissing) Yes… he had done underhand without informing anyone… we did not have a single clue until he comes and tell us…   
L    : So the agent is Lalin’s brother? (audio hissing)…   
M    : Maybe…who knows? He’s still not admitting that he brought them… he’s still covering it up…   
L    : Well this is the thing…we also can’t write everything… don’t tell anyone…but several messages were sent yesterday through various people that there is a campaign by Sarath Fonseka and (audio hissing) to attack him… (both giggle).... but there is no relevance to that… because this did not come from the army….   
M    : Even when I asked him he didn’t tell me… (audio hissing) but army commander is saying he followed the procedures… that the purchase was done between two governments…(audio hissing) and that they can’t select companies here and there… and that he would be responsible at the end…   
L    : We called them before writing this… then they should reply and clarify in this… but they didn’t do that… then after we wrote it they complain…   
M    : This is the thing noh…. (both giggle) that’s their fault… next time if there’s anything that you need to know from them call me and tell… so that I can direct them to talk to the paper and clarify… if you talk they will respond… but if someone else talk they hesitate to talk….   
L    : Well the reporter who writes the story has to contact them for comment… I cannot call everyone to get a comment right? Then the reporter has to take the responsibility of the story….   
M    : Next time when you tell me in advance… send me a message through someone… I will tell them to speak if a reporter would speak…  
L    : yes…  
M    : That is better…otherwise if things are going to expose like this it would be harassment to us also….   

By L.Peiris

 

 

 

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