General Sarath Fonseka’s son-in-law Dhanuna Tilakaratne made newspaper headlines when a warrant was issued for his arrest in the wake of the arrest of his father-in-law who was also the former Army Commander soon after the 2010 Presidential poll. Police could not arrest him as he went underground. Five years later, Dhanuna suddenly surfaced and appeared before Courts. In this candid interview, Dhanuna gives interesting details of his life as a fugitive from law for five years.
"Certain groups protected me. They are real patriots. We were able to adopt certain strategies thanks to the military background of our families"
Q Can you give us a brief sketch of your profile?
I am Dhanuna Tilakaratne. I had my primary and secondary education at Royal College, Colombo. Thereafter, I proceeded to the United States for my higher education. I obtained the IT Management Degree from a university there. Following graduation, I worked as an IT Consultant in the States for four years. On my return to Sri Lanka, I started a business venture called Lanka Adventure Training Company.
Q How did you get connected to the Sarath Fonseka family?
My father served in the army. He went on retirement from the army as a Brigadier. We were brought up within an army community. I came to know General Sarath Fonseka when I was about 12-years-old.
"They have planned to pressure you to make a statement implicating the General. They will detain you until you make the statement they want and the detention can drag on for weeks and months"
Q When did you marry his daughter?
We got married in 2007.
Q You had to face a charge relating to a fraudulent arms deal which also involved your father-in-law General Sarath Fonseka?
Yes. Serious charges were referred against me. May I explain the situation at the time? When the hostilities broke out, the Government decided to float a company for the specific purpose of legally purchasing military hardware. The company thus launched was named Lanka Logistics. The procedure relating to the arms imports followed at that time involved meticulous documentation from the point of placement of order up to the point of delivery. There was no room for purchase or importation of military hardware by irregular or illegal means. If I were involved in military hardware purchases my name or the name of my company should reflect in the relevant documentation. These facts were revealed even in Parliament at that time.
Q You were charged with defrauding public funds in the HICORP case?
I was implicated in the case as part of a campaign designed to vilify my father-in-law and his family members. The person used as a cat’s-paw by the conspirators was someone ‘imported’ here. We are in possession of all details relating to who brought this person here and how much he was paid for the dirty role he played and so forth. We, in fact, had prior knowledge about this person, but we did not believe that he would become a pawn in the dirty game.
Q Why didn’t you believe?
We could not believe that the Government would go to the length of spending a massive amount of money to enlist the services of such a person. I think another reason why I could not believe was, as members of army families our minds were conditioned to place implicit trust in law and order and administration of justice in the country.
"I was implicated in the case as part of a campaign designed to vilify my father-in-law and his family members. The person used as a cat’s-paw by the conspirators was someone ‘imported’ here"
Q Do you deny involvement in arms deals whatsoever?
Yes. The only business I carried out in this country was the running of Lanka Adventure Training Company.
Q Why did you go into hiding if you had done no wrong? You earlier said that you had faith in the administration of justice.
I went into hiding because I believed that the law would take its normal course in due course. Manipulations and machinations carried out at that time were entirely outside the framework of the law. Soon after they started their vilification campaign, the CID summoned me. The election campaigns were in progress at that time. When I was getting ready to leave for the CID headquarters to be present at the appointed time, I received a fax message saying that my presence was not necessary. When I was at home, after the Presidential poll, I again received summons from the CID to make myself available in three days’ time. However, the same day, a team of CID personnel called at my house to take me away.
Q What happened on that occasion?
I asked the CID officers why they had come to take me away when they had already sent me an official communication to make myself available at a specific time on a specific day. And they had no plausible explanation to offer. It was at this stage we realized for the first time that they were carrying out an operation outside the law.
In hindsight, we were in a hotel on the 2010 Presidential Election Day in the night. When we stepped out of the hotel the following day after the announcement of the final result, we found a tension-charged atmosphere generating fear psychosis among the people. There were barricades and a heavy presence of the military in the city. Our houses were ringed with armed troops. We immediately realized that they were creating a tense atmosphere to strike fear into the people. My father served in the army. So did my father-in-law. Therefore, we could form an idea about the situation taking shape. Meanwhile, there was information coming from the army sources. Certain officials solicitous about our safety, warned us not to take lightly the developing unusual situation. We knew for certain that the operation that was going on was a far cry from being a law and order exercise when the General was arrested in a manner that militated against the norms of a civilized society. I never wanted to avoid reporting to the CID.
To take up the story from where I left off, I was prepared to go there whenever they wanted to present myself. The idea of going into hiding never occurred to me. Even the General told me: “I don’t think there would be any problem, Dhanuna. You go there. There is the law in operation in the country. You have nothing to be afraid of.” Meanwhile, we got information from the Army Intelligence that a devious plan had been chalked out and everything was cut and dry for implementing it.
Q Didn’t your Army Intelligence sources acquaint you with the details of this plan?
They told us: “They have planned to pressure you to make a statement implicating the General. They will detain you until you make the statement they want and the detention can drag on for weeks and months.” It is against this backdrop we had to look for an alternative. The choice left to me was quite clear: either to go to the CID and make a statement implicating the General or to go underground as a fugitive from the law.
Q You were in hiding for about five years. How is that the security forces which could trace even Prabhakaran to his den, failed to find you?
I have a lot to say on that aspect. Certain groups protected me. They are real patriots. We were able to adopt certain strategies thanks to the military background of our families.
Q Troops laid siege to a Buddhist temple in Mihintale following a tip-off that you were hiding there?
I heard about it.
Q Were you not hiding in that temple?
No. I was not.
Q Were you hiding in Colombo or outstation?
In several locations. It is closer to the truth if I say, practically in all parts of the country!
Q There were ‘wanted’ posters displayed all over calling for your ‘capture on sight’?
I saw those posters when I was going about in the country.
Q Were you not checked at any of the road barricades?
There were check points all over the country at that time. I was stopped at several police check points and also at one navy check point.
Q Were you alone when you were stopped?
There were several others with me. But there were occasions when I was checked while travelling alone.
Q How did you feel when you were in hiding? Were you in fear? Or were you your normal self?
I didn’t experience a mortal fear. I am a member of an army family. We were quite used to the sight of armed troops in uniform around us. They were there to protect us from our younger days. Therefore, I could not come to terms with the information we received that military personnel were stalking us. In fact, when the threat to our security took a turn for the worse, I told my family members that in a worst-case scenario I would prefer military custody.
Q Meanwhile, General Sarath Fonseka was arrested?
Until the arrest of the General, we used to discuss the latest developments every morning. At these discussions, the General would tell me to report to the CID whenever they wanted to make myself available to them. However, the General stopped giving me this piece of advice after he was arrested. His arrest was illegal. A high ranking military officer can be arrested only by an officer of a higher rank. A three-star General can be arrested only by a four-star General. General Fonseka’s arrest constituted a clear violation of the army regulations. If they didn’t care tuppence about violating the law, when it came to arresting a three-star General, how would they treat a much lesser mortal like me was the question that influenced my decision to remain underground.
Q Did you visit the General in military custody?
No. I had no time to pay a visit. I decided to go into hiding shortly before the arrest of the General. And I went into hiding after his arrest. Even the warrant for my arrest was issued after the arrest of the General.
Q Your mother and aunt were arrested while you were in hiding?
Yes. My mother was arrested and was held in remand prison for one day. The case filed against her is still pending. Later my aunt was arrested on the charge that she put me up for one day.
Q Even after the arrest of your mother and aunt fear psychosis kept you from surrendering yourself before a Court of Law?
Not out of fear. I continued to receive messages from my mother and my mother-in-law asking me to remain in hiding. They assured me that that they possessed the moral strength required to brave the harassment. My aunt was then 82-years-old.
My ‘family team’ kept up their morale and their hopes alive. If they broke down under pressure, I would have been compelled to come out of hiding. There was a’ link’ that kept me in constant communication with my family.
Even the house aides of my aunty were taken in for questioning. Some of my friends were detained. They did not spare even our drivers. 10 -12 families of my friends were harassed. They were subjected to grilling. Clients who attended my mother’s Beauty Salon were questioned. People feared to attend it as a result.
Q Did the army sleuths descend on places which were suspected to be your hideouts?
They visited the places which I used as my hideouts. Of course, when I was not there. They were following the leads they got.
Q Who provided you shelter when you were underground?
I can’t name them. I may reveal their names one day.
Q Can you recall developments that led to collateral damage to your family during the period you remained under cover?
My father had retired from the army by that time and signed a contract with a private security firm to serve as its CEO. But he was forced to forgo this position. His monthly emoluments package under the contract amounted to Rs.200,000. Therefore, the financial loss he suffered over the five year period exceeded Rs. 12 million. My mother’s Beauty Salon came under threat and the employees left through fear. My younger brother was shadowed. The places he visited came under surveillance. Four cases had been filed against our family members alone. Litigation involved heavy expenses. They set fire to my company premises. There is a case in that connection still pending.
Q Didn’t you meet your wife when you were in hiding?
She and her sister are living in the United States. They are employed there. They were back here during the two weeks that immediately preceded the last Presidential election. Later they were sent back.
Q Were you abroad at any stage since your going into hiding?
I can give an answer to that question at a later date. By the way, the Interpol had been alerted to be on the look-out for me.
Q President Mahinda Rajapaksa granted pardon to General Sarath Fonseka while you were in hiding. Was there an underhand deal linked to granting that pardon?
I was out of touch with the developments at that time. I don’t think there was any understanding or agreement reached by the parties involved. I think international pressure pushed the President towards granting pardon.
Q You suddenly appeared before Courts. No objection is raised to granting you bail. Can such a thing happen if there were no understanding with the Mahinda Rajapaksa government?
I read that story…There was no understanding whatsoever. I surrendered to Courts after discussing my case with lawyers.
Q You surfaced in the run-up to the Presidential poll?
I really took advantage of that situation. If they made a wrong move against me at that time, it could have boomeranged on them.
Q If I suggest that you struck a deal with Jayantha Ketagoda as the go-between?
O! No! I haven’t seen him or ever spoken to him. There are certain people out to exploit situations like this to serve their own ends. That should account for the story that gained ground. I assure you that there was no deal.
Q What are your immediate plans?
All my bank accounts are frozen. The vehicle I used is in police custody. The passport is impounded. I have to sort out these problems first. I am expecting justice. I have to place my faith in the rule of the law.
Q Do you look forward to entering politics?
The idea never occurred to me!
Q Do you harbour hatred towards those responsible for all the misery and suffering you had to suffer?
Not at all. I attribute what they have done to us – our Family, to their naivety-lack of good judgment. A powerful family like that should not have resorted to naïve measures that beget them nothing but contempt and ridicule. I felt like calling Namal Rajapaksa after reading certain stories appearing in newspapers these days to tell him: “ Malli, don’t worry. Take things easy. I am prepared to do what I can on your behalf if you are going to be subjected to any injustice. I will do my best to prevent any injustice being done to you.” Well, that is how I am inclined to think.
Excellent. Main thing is we as public are pleased to see you and your family as well as our LOVED General and his family will get the due respect and the place in Sri Lanka. Very important point you made was ... "no ... it was international pressure made this govt to release general ... " Happy to hear the truth one day ... people of Sri Lanka deserve to hear. And KARMA will follow the Rajapakese family. That no one can stop
kamal Thursday, 19 February 2015 05:23 PM
We as a nation very well clear with General , You and your family members high level of Integrity. And our respect to your positive attitude during this difficulty. You all deserve the clause " Lions never eat grass ".
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