A gang that arrived in motorcycles was seen stabbing with pointed rods. Alleging that the evidence relating to the killing of Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickremathunge had been concealed several big shots in Sri Lanka Police being handcuffed and taken into custody was observed during the past two weeks. Among them was a DIG. News to the effect that ‘suspects in the Lasantha Killing’ had been taken into custody spread like a wildfire within the society. Up to now no one has been arrested as suspects in the killing, and those who had been taken into custody are those who are alleged of concealing or destroying valuable evidence related to the killing. This article, penned after much investigations, features facts that were revealed to the courts by the CID with regard to the investigations so far conducted on the killing of the late Wickremathunge. By 2009 there were two Newspapers that were being printed by Leader Publication Company. One was the Iruduina and the other was Sunday Leader. Wickremathunge was the Editor-in-chief of Sunday Leader. At that time he was in the process of revealing frauds and corruption of the then Government through this newspaper. His revelations on the MIG Aircraft transaction led to a case being filed in courts, and he had asserted his colleagues that in the second week of January, when the case was been taken up, more vital information would be made available.
It was the eighth of January 2009, and the time around 08.10 am. Near Wickremathunge’s house, in Terence Road, Kandewatte on the Poorwarama Road, and a few blocks away near a boutique, there had been a parked three wheeler (tuk tuk). The driver of the three wheeler was reading a newspaper. A motorcycle had halted in front of the three wheeler and its rider was wearing a full face helmet. The rider of the motorbike had been sitting and waiting for a while. Another person who was carrying a helmet in his hand and smoking a cigarette had been waiting at this place while having his eyes focused on the road.
By 08.20 am Wickremathunge had left his residence at Terence Road. As he was passing the boutique the person who was smoking had shouted ‘there he comes’ and got on to the Motorcycle. Then he started following Wickremathunge’s car. Being suspicious of these movements the driver of the three wheeler had immediately informed those who were in the boutique. As Wickremathunge’s driver frequented this boutique, the owner had the telephone number of this driver. The call taken to that phone didn’t bring a response as the particular phone had been in the car that was being driven by Wickremathunge on that day.
A while later Wickremathunge’s driver came to the boutique and when informed about what had taken place a couple of minutes ago, he hastened to the office of Wickremathunge, but not finding him there, he had brought this to the notice of a manager at the office. He had taken a call to Wickremathunge, who was now driving, and given the telephone to the driver. Wickremathunge had instructed the driver to find the number of the Motorcycle.
Wickremathunge had gone to the house in Battaramulla. A servant employed at this house had fallen sick. Wickremathunge had then visited a friend who was a doctor and consulted about the servant’s sickness. He had then obtained the required medicine ordered by the doctor and revisited the servant and handed over the medicine. During these trips Wickremathunge had observed the motorcycles following him. He had then parked his vehicle in the compound of the house and locked the gate. He had observed the motorcycle passing his house and proceeding further.
After staying there for some time he again got into the car in order to proceed to Sunday Leader office. On the way he had received calls from Asath Sally, Malik Samarawickrama and several others with regard to various matters. He had informed all these callers that a motorcycle was closely following him. They in return instructed him to get to a safe place. He had then travelled to Japan Friendship Road and met a Lawyer. When leaving the residence of the lawyer, Wickremathunge had observed two motorcyclists following him. Samarawickrama had been constantly in touch with Wickremathunge and instructed him to go to a safe place.
At Attidiya, near Malagala Junior College, he had to stop his car because a bus, that was ahead of him, had stopped near the zebra crossing. Wickremanthunge’s deadly hour was at hand. The two motorcyclists had halted their bikes obstructing his car. Two other motorcyclists had halted their machines on either side of his car. The gang alighted from their motorcycles and approached Wickremathunge. They then stabbed him using pointed rods and fled the scene. Wickremathunge’s telephone conversation with Samarawickrama also ended abruptly.
Two motorcycles headed towards Piliyandala from Malagala while the other two headed towards Mount Lavinia and vanished from the scene. A bystander who had witnessed the scene said that the gang which arrived on motorcycles had stabbed the person inside the car and fled the scene.
A person working in a printing press nearby, and another person had then halted a passing van and carried the injured Wickremathunge in it. One person had Wickremathunge’s head on his lap. When his phone rang he had explained to the caller what had happened and the person at the other end, which was Samarawickrama, had instructed him to take the injured person to the Kalubowila Hospital.
As alerted Prof. Mohan Silva and a team of doctors were in readiness at the Kalubowila Hospital. Immediate attention was given to Wickremathunge by the doctors. As the injuries sustained had been critical an operation was performed, but it was of no avail. Wickremathunge passed way by noon that day.
The Professor who had performed the operation on Wickremathunge filed a report containing his opinion on 12th January 2009 to the Judicial Medical Officer, who conducted the postmortem. The Professor in his report had stated that there were neither parts of bullets in the body of the deceased and nor sign of any marks of bullets exiting from the body, categorically stating that the death wasn’t due to shooting.
The Government analyst, who visited the site, also ruled out shooting in his report. Despite both these individuals maintaining that death was not due to shooting and the statement made by the eyewitness saying that he had seen someone stabbing the victim, the postmortem report stated that the death was due to shooting. We do not wish to mention the telephone calls that were received by the JMO. Due to this contradiction in reports and the release of the postmortem, the investigations became muddled.
Commencement of investigations
The OIC of the Boralesgamuwa Police Station Apelekotuwa, who had been passing the scene of crime while on a different errand, had briefed the Mt. Lavinia police regarding this matter. Jayantha Wickramarathne had been the IGP at that time and Prasanna Nanayakkara had been the DIG in charge of Mt. Lavinia Division. While Hemantha Adikari had been the SSP of Mt. Lavinia, the functioning of the Mt. Lavinia Police Station was overseen by ASP L.C.Gunawardene. Chief Inspector Mahesh Perera had been the Mt. Lavinia HQI, and Hettiarachchige Thissasiri Sugathapala had been the OIC crimes of the Mt. Lavinia Police. As the scene of crime, where Wickremathunge was killed, came under the jurisdiction of the Mt. Lavinia Police, the investigations began under Thissasiri Sugathapala who was functioning as OIC Crimes. He had visited the scene and began investigations while Inspector Lalith Weerasinghe too joined him and recorded evidence. The field note book and other items belonging to Wickremathunge and found inside his vehicle were recorded itemized by police inspector Weerasinghe in Suspect property receipt number 101/09.
Sub Inspector Thissa Sugathapala, who examined the field note book, had noted that in 126 pages out of 160 pages Wickremathunge had noted various matters in English. In the front page and the back cover two numbers of vehicles had been written. On further verification from Wickremathunge’s family members Sugathapala suspected these numbers to be those of the vehicles that had been following Wickremathunge. Accordingly he made these records in the police Crime Information Book and entered it as a case production in the receipt book under number 154/09. On obtaining verification from the Motor Transport Department it was established that one Motorcycle was from Boralesgamuwa while the other was from Ja-Ela. Being convinced of its veracity Sugathapala first visited Boralesgamuwa.
Destruction of records
When he was on his way he received a call. The story which followed and what was reported to the courts is as follows. ‘The call is from SSP. He instructs Sugathapala to come immediately to go and meet a DIG. As instructed he returns and accompanied by the SSP SI Sugathapala went to meet the DIG. There the DIG examined the field note book of Lasantha and mentioned to the IGP over the phone what was contained in the note book. Police suspect that what was indicated therein were information he was to produce to courts at the next hearing’.
Thereafter the DIG had requested Sugathapala to hand over the note book to him. When Sugathapala had told him that he had made certain records of the note book in the police Crime Information book, the DIG had insisted that he tears them off and hand them to him. The SI had at the outset hesitated to do this illegal act. The DIG had retorted “ by writing these things and inquiring, you also wanted to get killed. What happened to Lasantha will happen to you also. Haven’t you children? Without getting killed by them give me the record book and the note book to me’ The CID has informed the courts about this order made to Sugathapala by the DIG.
Sugathapala had then obtained photocopies of these records and after hiding them in a secure place handed the original records over to the DIG in the presence of the SSP.
Thereafter the OIC Crimes conducted the investigations. While this was so there was much pressure exerted on the Government to conduct these investigations in a proper manner. The investigations were then handed over to the CID on 25th November, but they could continue with the investigations only for a few months. The then IGP Mahinda Balasuriya on 07th February 2010, removed the CID from continuing further investigations and transferred the investigation to the TID under DIG Wakishta. The TID took into consideration the records of the investigations conducted till then by the CID .
The investigative teams were able to discern that five telephone numbers were prominently in use during the journeys of the late Wickremathunge. As the numbers ended with 811,812,831,861 and 951 and the similarities observed, they conducted investigations on several angles. The SIM cards had all been purchased on November 12, 13 and 01st December. These SIM cards had been purchased from a communication centre in Olcott Mawatha and the cards had been obtained under a NIC belonging to one Jesudasan of Nuwara Eliya. The TID arrested Jesudasan on 26th February 2010. He was questioned under detention. The next person to be arrested was an army intelligence officer who had been assigned to the Tripoly Army Camp. Jesudasan had been working in a garage. After intoxicating him his NIC had been taken. Despite proof of purchasing SIM cards using Jesudasan’s NIC, he was not released and finally he died. It is not known whether the death of this innocent man was natural or amounted to another killing.
The Presidential election in 2010 was conducted during this time. After the Presidential Elections 11 soldiers from the Kohuwala Army Camp were taken into custody on 26th February 2010 for the alleged killing of Wickremathunge. This was followed by another six soldiers being arrested. All these soldiers had been attached to the security contingent that provided security to Sarath Fonseka. Despite having obtained detention orders on charges of conspiring to overthrow the Government, nine of them were released on police bail after six days. The remaining 08 were also released on police bail after 11 days. The intelligence officer who was serving at the Tripoly Market Army Camp was acquitted and discharged on the advice of the AG.
CID again takes over
With the new Government taking over, there was pressure exerted from all sides for the investigations to be handed back to the CID. On the 25th of February 2015 the investigations were handed over to the CID. Accordingly investigations began under the direction of Senior DIG of CID Ravi Senevirathne and Sudath Nagahamulla who was director at that time and the present DIG. On the instructions of present Director of CID, SSP Shani Abeysekera, and ASP B.S. Thissera the OIC of Gang Robberies Investigation Unit Inspector Nishantha Silva and a police team commenced the investigations. At the outset the investigation team was confronted with the conflicting opinions expressed regarding how Wickremathunge died. The body of Wickremathunge was exhumed in 2016 and another postmortem was held by a team of Judicial Medical Officers led by the Chief JMO of Colombo Dr Ajith Thennakoon. There findings revealed that Lasantha had not died of gunshot injuries, but as a result of stabbing on his head using a sharp weapon. This report tallied with the report made by Prof. Mohan De Silva who performed the operation soon after Wickremathunge was brought into the Kalubowila Hospital. The authorities suspect that the pointed weapon used to kill Wickremathunge is a modern weapon used abroad to kill sheep. This weapon is placed on someone’s head and after a button is pressed a pointed rod juts out from it with force, penetrates the head of the victim and then returns to its compartment.
The CID investigators first began interrogating the police sleuths and recorded their evidence. They summoned SI Sugathapala and recorded his evidence on 12th October 2015 and on 04th November 2015. His evidence and those obtained from other police officers appeared to be vastly different. The examination of recordings of telephone conversations proved that he had given false evidence. Therefore he was re-summoned on the 31st of January to record a further statement. Having recorded his statement halfway he had to go for lunch. He then seized this opportunity to flee and later went into hiding. But he was traced by the CID and taken into custody while hiding in a house in Katukurunda. The Gang Robberies Investigation Unit later obtained court approval to detain Sugathapala for 48 hours for the purpose of further questioning.
During this session of questioning the CID was able to retrieve the photocopies of the pages of the police information book, which had been torn off on the orders of the DIG. These photocopies were found after nine years by the CID which was concealed in the house of SI Sugathapala.
Drama enacted with regard to the Motorcycles
A petition is said to have been received by the then IGP that the motorcycles used in the killing were found in a canal in Attidiya. Sugathapala was instructed to commence investigations into this matter. As the canal was teeming with crocodiles he decided to obtain the services of divers and went in search of them. He deployed divers on the 26th, but did not find anything. On the 27th, after receiving a telephone call, he instructed the divers to look in the area near a Fig tree, where he found the two motorcycles.
Following an examination of their chassis numbers and engine numbers it was revealed that the motorcycles belonged to a resident in Vavuniya. The owner, whom the CID met later, had stated that he had sold the motorcycle to an owner of a Jewellery shop. When the SI continued to check on the second owner he came to know that he had gone missing. The SI had been directed by higher officials not to search for the missing person. A story was then fabricated that the motorcycle was owned by a LTTE cadre and that the killing was the work of the LTTE.
With the commencement of investigations the CID went in search of the second owner of the motorcycle Vishnu Kumar, who had been a resident of Punthottam. He was not a LTTE associate, but a jewellery shop owner. On 18th January 2009 he had been riding this motorcycle accompanied by a friend. There were eyewitnesses who vouch that their motorcycle was stopped by a group who arrived in a green coloured van. The people in the van had then taken away this motorcycle. The following day (19th January) the bodies of these two persons were found in Anuradhapura. They had been shot in their heads. This motorcycle, which had been then used in the killing of Wickremathunge, had been then taken away to Vavuniya 10 days after the killing of Wickremathunge. Therefore the police suspected that this motorcycle had been taken away with the intention of diverting the attention of the investigators. The CID began to make inquiries regarding the petition received by the IGP. The petition had been received by the IGP on 26th January, but instructions to search for the missing motorcycle had been given on 25th January. So ended the motorcycle drama giving rise to clues to another crime.
Now there are three suspects in the Wickremethunge’s murder case. One is an army soldier and the other two are from the police. All three individuals are not suspects in the killing of Wickremathunge. They have been taken into custody for concealing evidence and for intimidating witnesses. It proves that the killers of Wickremathunge are still moving freely.
The CID should be commended for moving thus far amidst difficult situations. It is the duty of the CID to speed up the investigations and take the killers into custody. The political authorities and the general public should create the ideal environment for the investigations to continue unhindered. If not the ‘Wickremathunge killing’ also would add up to the series of deaths where the perpetrators are still missing.
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