- There is a nexus between drug trafficking and underworld operations
- Four underworld kingpins operate from outside the country
- Underworld operations during MR rule as well
- Crime rate dropped since 2015
- UNP will nominate its own presidential candidate for sure
Law and Order Minister Ranjith Madduma Bandara, in an interview with Daily Mirror, shares his views on the current crime wave and plans for the elections pending at the moment. The Minister shared the following:-
Q There is a rise in the number of organized crimes and armed robberies. What is the reason behind this alarming increase?
There are several aspects to it. Actually, the crime rate has dropped since 2015. There is a drop in robberies. Also, the number of sexual and child abuses have come down. Yet, we find clashes between armed groups. Rival underworld gangs carry out organized crimes against each other. We have increased raids. Already, 40 persons involved in organized crimes have been put behind bars. We seize drugs. In fact, we seized the largest haul of heroin recently with a street value of Rs.1,250 million. We have noticed that the street value of heroin has trebled in Sri Lanka now. In addition, drug trafficking has triggered rivalry among those involved.
"There is a drop in robberies. Also, the number of sexual and child abuses have come down. Yet, we find clashes between armed groups. Rival underworld gangs carry out organized crimes against each other. Already, 40 persons involved in organized crimes have been put behind bars"
Q Drugs smuggled in such large quantities into Sri Lanka. Has the country become an international drug trafficking hub lately?
Sri Lanka has become a drug trafficking hub and we have received information to that effect. Some kinds of narcotics have been smuggled to be peddled locally. Last year, we seized more than 1500 kg of cocaine. It is an expensive drug, but not used in Sri Lanka. It means Sri Lanka has become a transitional point of drug smuggling.
Q How do you intend to curb such crimes?
We need to get international assistance. We are acting in this direction. We have signed certain international covenants and need to ratify a few more.
Q What are the challenges you encounter in curbing these organized crimes?
I did not face any political interference. No minister talked to me in this regard. We are acting to set up special units to deal with the situation. We have arrested a lot and jailed them. We see these crimes are manoeuvred by those living overseas. Some prisoners operate such crimes from their prison cells. It is a big problem.
Q How many underworld leaders are living abroad?
There are at least four such main gang leaders who are living and operating from abroad.
Q The government envisaged Interpol’s assistance to trace former SL Ambassador to Russia Udayanga Weeratunga. Why don’t you get Interpol’s assistance to arrest these underworld gang leaders too in the same way?
The government is making every possible effort. But, there is scant support from some countries to apprehend these criminals. Therefore, we need to sign international agreements.
Q What are the other barriers?
Actually, if we can strengthen the mechanism to get international assistance, it will facilitate our investigations. It has become difficult for us to get information from international sources. It is more so for us in carrying out investigations into financial frauds as well.
Q What is the reason for the sudden emergence of these underworld groups?
Q President Maithripala Sirisena proposed to implement capital punishment for drug trafficking. What is your opinion?
Even death row criminals operate drug businesses from the prison cells. The Cabinet unanimously decided to implement the death sentence.
Q But, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera is opposed to it. Also, the heads of missions of European Union countries, Canada and Norway had expressed their objections. How do you proceed with it at this backdrop?
There is international influence. We might face a cut in international assistance if we go ahead with the capital punishment. We need to reconcile all aspects.
Q You said drug trafficking is operated by prisoners in some cases. They cannot do it without the assistance from the prison authorities. How are you going to tackle this issue?
We have informed the prison authorities, yet, it happens. Some officers seem to be aiding and abetting prisoners in this regard. I do not pinpoint all the officers. We are in discussion with the Justice Minister to address this issue. These are long standing issues.
"Some officers seem to be aiding and abetting prisoners in this regard. We are in discussion with the Justice Minister to address this issue. These are long standing issues"
Q The prison authorities are answerable to the government. Then, what is the barrier that prevents them from handling this issue?
We are in touch with the Justice Minister.
Q You are a veteran in the political circle with more than three decades of experience in Parliament. People point their fingers at politicians for nurturing the underworld rings to unleash violence against their opponents? How do you see the evolution of it in the country over the years?
The underworld had been in operation during the former rule as well. We are aware of an underworld gang that killed 18 members of the same family. It happened during the Rajapaksa regime. There were about 30 rival killings. Such cases were not highlighted in the media. Journalists were intimidated and abducted. But today, there prevails a peaceful atmosphere. We do not notice thunder accompanied by heavy rain. If it is thunder only, we feel. That is how I compare the two different situations.
Q Actually, I am asking about the evolution of underworld criminal activities from a sociological point of view. The underworld flourished under every regime with political patronage. Some people argue that it happened after the introduction of the open economy in 1977. How do you view this situation?
Underworld and drug trafficking are intertwined. International drug trafficking is a crime committed in a well-organized manner. We need to curb drug trafficking. The underworld gangs are financed by drug trafficking. It is an international problem. Earlier, we had only Kasippu (illicitly distilled alcoholic beverage) and Ganja (cannabis) as narcotics. Today, it covers a variety of items such as Kerala ganja, ganja, heroin, cocaine, hashish etc. These are available in different forms such as tablets, stickers etc. We need to use advanced technologies to detect them. We have to amend our laws to deal with the emerging threats.
Q Earlier, you stressed the need to deploy the military personnel to arrest the trend. How far have you progressed in the evolution of laws for it?
Only under the state of emergency, we can deploy the military to deal with civil activities. There is no state of emergency now. Therefore, we have to work out new legislation to provide for it.
Q You undertook a visit to Jaffna recently. How did you assess the situation there?
We held extensive talks with the Chief Minister, Governor, senior police officers and others. The situation is not as bad as it has been portrayed by the opposition there. Our intelligence authorities stand alert. As for the Ava criminal gang, it is viewed as the resurgence of the LTTE. Yet, it is not the case. These criminals are youths who are mimicking violent scenes in South Indian movies. They seem to have been inspired by sword attacks. They emulate cowboy characters. They brandish swords. Actually, there is no veracity in the allegations being made by Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna or Pohottuwa members.
"Our supporters want an UNPer to be the President. The UNP could not get one of its members elected as the President since 1994. So, our party men want a President who hails from the UNP"
Q Why can’t the police control the situation?
The police have acted in this regard. Numerous suspects have been arrested. Today, there are a lot of foreign remittances to the north. Misusing of such money is also adding to the chaos. There are unemployment issues as well. So we have to think about these issues.
Q Before the advent of the LTTE in 1970s, there were criminal activities such as drug smuggling from India. In fact, it served as a precursor to the emergence of the LTTE. How serious is the problem in that context?
In order to curb these issues, the intelligence services remain on high alert.
Q There is an allegation that the intelligence services have been crippled. What are your comments on this?
It is not true. Our intelligence authorities are very active. It was an attempt to whip up unnecessary fear.
"As for the Ava criminal gang, it is viewed as the resurgence of the LTTE. Yet, it is not the case. These criminals are youths who are mimicking violent scenes in South Indian movies. They seem to have been inspired by sword attacks. They emulate cowboy characters and brandish swords"
Q Kerala Ganja is smuggled into the country from India. How do you seek cooperation from the sub continent to deal with the situation?
We have seized more than 3000 kg of Kerala Ganja. We intend to open talks with the Indian authorities to take necessary steps. The police submitted various proposals to us in this regard. We need India’s help to identify the accused and bring them here to be tried legally.
Q Apart from that, how do you see the political situation?
We are working on it now and are ready to face elections.
Q There is an allegation that you are planning to postpone PC polls. How true is it?
We are ready for them.
Q Elections to three councils are already overdue...
Yes, it will increase to six by December. We insist that the elections to all of them should be conducted on the same day.
Q What is your plan for the presidential election?
The UNP will nominate its own candidate for sure.
Q During the last couple of occasions, you supported a common candidate. Why is there a change of strategy this time?
Our supporters want an UNPer to be the President. The UNP could not get one of its members elected as the President since 1994. So, our party men want a President who hails from the UNP.
Q Any idea of who the possible candidate would be...
He would emerge at the last moment. Late President R. Premadasa came forward in the same fashion in 1989. After that all those who became Presidents were announced at the last moment. We will also do the same next time.