The modern view of criminal justice, broadly, is that public concern with morality or expediency decrees expiation for the violation of a norm; this concern finds expression in the infliction of punishment on the evil doer by agents of the state, the evil doer, however, enjoying the protection of a regular procedure – Max Weber
Nearly three years after his death, the curious case of former Sri Lankan rugby player Wasim Thajudeen has now returned, making headlines in the media on a daily basis and sending ripples across the country’s political fold.
Thajudeen’s death – which was brushed under the carpet by Sri Lanka’s law enforcement authorities three years ago – has now become a matter of contention. The Criminal Investigations Department, which conducted investigations into the death over a period of five months, have already informed the court that it was a murder and the Rugby player was brutally tortured before his death!
Initially, the Police said Thajudeen’s death was caused by an accident that took place while he was driving to the airport. They said Thajudeen had lost control of his car and crashed into the wall of Shalika Grounds on Park Road, Narahenpita, and that his car had exploded within seconds of the crash.
Thajudeen’s body was charred when it was recovered and there was a piece of metal in his knee area as a result of a surgery he underwent, some time back.
Interestingly, Thajudeen’s wallet was later recovered 1.5 km away from the place where the alleged ‘accident’ took place. The Police did not pay any attention to this vital piece of evidence and quickly concluded that it was an accident, without a comprehensive investigation.
Thajudeen’s case was buried in the Dehiwala cemetery in spite of the mysteries surrounding the death.
Many thought that was the end of it and the ‘truth’ would never be uncovered. But, the atmosphere changed after a new government came to power in January, this year and political pressure, which stifled investigations for nearly two and a half years, subsided.
In February, the Police Media Spokesman announced that the CID would launch fresh investigations into Thajudeen’s death to unravel the mystery.
The CID, when conducting investigations into Thajudeen’s death, went back to what they termed as ‘basic facts’. Although the Police initially said it was an accident, there was no one in the area who heard any sound when the so called accident took place.
On the other hand, the Police could not confirm why the car caught fire, immediately after the accident. There was no sign that Thajudeen, an energetic rugby player, made any attempt to move out of the car when it caught fire. Basic questions of that nature sparked a lot of doubts about circumstances under which Thajudeen died.
Then, the CID examined the contradictions between the post-mortem report and the Government Analyst’s report on the same death. According to the post-mortem report carbon monoxide had been found in the body of the rugby player found dead in his car. However, the Government Analyst’s report on the death had stated otherwise. This raised serious suspicious over the manner in which inquiries had been carried out into Thajudeen’s death, three years ago.
After informing the court about contradictions in the two reports, the CID sought permission to obtain telephone records of the former rugby player from the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission and Dialog Axiata. However, filing an affidavit before court early last month, Dialog Axiata said it was unable to provide telephone records of Thajudeen to the CID due to technical and practical difficulties. The company said it usually keeps records of telephone calls for three months. At this point, Colombo Additional Magistrate Nishantha Peiris asked the company to assist the investigations in whatever capacity possible.
Meanwhile, there were many parties who contacted investigators to give them details about circumstances that led to Thajudeen’s death. According to CID sources, 27 people had already given statements to the Police over the matter. Among them were fellow ruggerites who shared the same dressing room with Thajudeen and some people in the area who first spotted Thajudeen’s body after the so-called accident.
At the same time, Police launched another inquiry to ascertain whether a jeep belonging to the Siriliya Saviya Foundation had been used to abduct Thajudeen before the murder. The vehicle, police sources said, had been handed over to the Foundation by a non-governmental organisation operating in Colombo.
PSD involvement in Thajudeen case
Thajudeen’s wallet recovered 1.5 km away from the site of the so-called accident, was a strong indication of a possible abduction. However, the CID is yet to make an official statement before the Magistrate Court in this regard.
The Siriliya Saviya Foundation made headlines over the past few weeks as its chairperson, former First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa was under investigation over an apparently ‘false’ ID card number.
The CID also received information that a secret discussion had taken place at the PSD officers’ mess on Wasim Thajudeen prior to his death. That, according to sources from the CID, was a major breakthrough in relation to investigations. The discussion had taken place with the knowledge of a very senior Police officer who had close links to the top echelons of the previous regime.
In the light of these developments, Cabinet Spokesman Minister Rajitha Senaratne, addressing the weekly Cabinet briefing last week, said three PSD officials were involved in Thajudeen’s murder.
It was the first time the PSD was “officially” linked to the case as this statement was made at a full-scale press conference in Colombo.
It was against this backdrop that the CID informed the Colombo Additional Magistrate that Thajudeen’s death was a murder and not an accident. Citing post-mortem reports, the CID said the death had been caused by a blow to his neck by a circular object and there were signs of torture prior to his death.
The CID also said Thajudeen’s teeth had been broken and the ribs and thigh bones also damaged. The upper parts of his legs had been cut with a broken glass.
After considering the CID findings, Colombo Additional Magistrate Nishantha Peiris ordered Judicial Medical Officer Ananda Samarasekera to submit the final post-mortem report with regard to Thajudeen’s death on September 10, during the next hearing of the case. He also ordered the JMO to get legal advice and collect all relevant evidence according to strict legal procedure.
Following this order, the CID, under the instructions of the Attorney General’s Department, sought permission from the Colombo Additional Magistrate to exhume Thajudeen’s body. The magistrate ordered Thajudeen’s body be exhumed in the presence of the panel of the JMO, clerics and the Grama Niladhari Officer, and instructed the Police to provide protection to the cemetery.
Chief JMO of Colombo Ajith Tennakoon and forensic experts including Dr. H. D. N. Hewage and Dr. Jeeva Perera are also expected to be present at the site of the exhumation today.
“Exhumation of Thajudeen’s body is vital to proceed with the current investigations. We need to examine the fractures in his bones. It would give a clear picture of the way he had been tortured prior to his death. We need to check whether it is in line with the evidence we have at present,” a top source in the Police Department told the Daily News on Saturday.
Police sources also said that a statement would be recorded from senior DIG Anura Senanayake who headed investigations into the case in May 2012. Senanayake was widely known as a close associate of former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and he came under severe criticism from the country’s opposition for his ‘questionable role’ in the Police Department.
Thajudeen in political circles
Although the CID has not made any official statement on the “perpetrators” behind the murder, suspicions have already been directed at a VVIP son as a result of alleged “personal enimities” he had with Thajudeen.
However, the matter has already drawn the attention of politicians from all parties who have made their comments on the controversy. JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake was the first to fire cannons at the former first family over the controversy.
Addressing an election meeting last week, Dissanayake said the sons of former President Rajapaksa are linked to the controversy surrounding the rugby player’s murder. He demanded the Police to take quick action to bring the culprits to book. In addition to Dissanayake, several key UNP candidates, who addressed elections meetings over the past few days, were quite vociferous about Thajudeen’s murder.
From the UPFA’s side, former Minister Dilan Perera, speaking at a press conference in Colombo, said exhumation of Thajudeen’s body was against the wishes of his family and his religious teachings.
He said Thajudeen’s family did not want to relive their grief as exhumation of the body of a Muslim is an act of ‘haram’. He also added that a body is usually exhumed following a formal complaint made by the party which made the original complaint.
“But the family of Wasim Thajudeen had stated that they do not have any suspicions regarding the cause of death of their family member,” the ex-Parliamentarian said, adding the UNP was politicking on the sly, when it came to Thajudeen’s death.
Perera’s statement gave a strong indication that the UPFA, as a party, was not in favour of exhuming of Thajudeen’s body.
Irrespective of preferences of various political parties, Thajudeen’s matter has now become a matter of public interest and the citizenry wants to seek ‘the truth’. In this context, Perera’s approach leaves room for various speculations on circumstances leading to Thajudeen’s murder.
Perera’s statement was vehemently denied by Thajudeen’s family yesterday.
Lawyer Misbah Saththar on behalf of Thajudeen’s family, issued a statement saying the family had already extended their full support for investigations and the exhumation is done with the consent of the family.
“The exhumation of Wasim Thajudeen’s body is done in accordance with the appeal made by the family to see justice to his untimely demise.
I, as the person who looks after the interest of the family and appearing in the case on behalf of the family, would like to question Honourable Mr. Dilan Perera as to who’s interest he is looking after, is it the Muslim community or anyone else, when he makes a statement saying that ‘Thajudeen’s family does not want to relive their grief as exhuming the body of a Muslim is an act of haram’. I would also want to question him, as to whom he spoke to, in order to make statements on behalf of the family or Islamic laws.
The family is very much interested in seeing justice meted out to Wasim’s tragic death and they have now come forward although they battled in silence for two years. They believe it is time for justice and the prevailing situation in the country would help them see this case concluded with the truth revealed in the court of law and the accused punished.
The family is much grateful to the CID and very much in support of all their efforts in seeking the truth in his mysterious death. The family respects and will abide by the law of the land in procedures pertaining to his death investigations. The exhumation falls in line with a requirement to take the case forward and each and every member of the family is in support of it,” the statement, issued by the lawyer said.
Meanwhile, ex-Parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa, who himself was a rugby player, in an interview with BBC Sandeshaya, made a statement responding to allegations levelled against the Rajapaksa family.
During an interview with BBC Sandeshaya on Friday, Rajapaksa vehemently denied allegations over Thajudeen’s murder saying he was a family friend and a ‘brother’.
Although Rajapaksa boasts about his close friendship with Thajudeen, none of the members of the Rajapaksa family was present at his funeral which took place in Dehiwala. However, nearly a week after the funeral, Namal Rajapaksa had visited Thajudeen’s house to express his sympathy.
Since Thajudeen’s death resurfaced after the Presidential election early this year, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa maintained a stony silence over the controversy. Although he was quick to respond to some allegations on the bribery and corruption front, this matter was constantly ignored. Even after the CID informed the court that it was a murder and fingers were pointed at the former regime, the former President opted to remain silent.
The former President broke his silence on Thajudeen’s death when he addressed a press conference at JAIC Hilton yesterday. While saying that there should be an impartial investigation into the death of the Rugby player, Rajapaksa expressed doubts over the time frame of the investigation.
“I do not know why they waited until elections to probe this incident again. This tells us that they are trying to politicise Thajudeen’s death. There should be an impartial investigation and the truth should be revealed,” Rajapaksa said.
Asked about Senaratne’s claims on the alleged involvement of the PSD officials in the murder, Rajapaksa said his family members did not have blood on their hands.
“There should be an investigation, I am not disputing that. But this is a serious allegation of a murder. When we go through the reports we can see what has happened. The Police should conduct a fair inquiry. In a future government under our leadership we too will conduct an investigation into Thajudeen’s death,” Rajapaksa added.
“If it is a murder perpetrators have to be punished” – Yasara
It has been widely reported in a section of online media that a connection Wasim Thajudeen had with Yasara Abeynayake, who was dubbed in certain media reports as the ex-girlfriend of Yoshitha Rajapaksa, led to the murder. The CID has still not informed the Magistrate whether Yasara Abeynayake is linked to Thajudeen’s death, in any manner.
Yasara Abeynayake is the daughter of teledrama director Ananda Abeynayake and the granddaughter of veteran actor the late Gamini Fonseka. She was given a diplomatic posting to Australia by the previous government and was recalled by the present government in February.
When asked about the controversy, Abeynayake told the Daily News that she never had any relationship with Wasim Thajudeen. “I have never met him in person,” Abeynayake, who was the former head of the CSN sports channel, said.
“Recent newspaper reports mentioned that it might be a murder. If it is a murder I hope those who have committed it will get the maximum punishment,” she added. Abeynayake also urged websites and other media stations to refrain from publishing “false and baseless” reports.
“Why can’t they let the innocent departed rest in peace? Why are they tarnishing his memory and my reputation by coupling me with a person I have never met in my life?” she asked.
However, according to a representative of Thajudeen’s family, who spoke to the Daily News on the condition of anonymity, suspicions can be directed at several issues.
“It was not only the girl. He had enemies as he opposed some party’s moves to take over Havelock’s Club of which he was the captain. We all know who controlled Rugby over the past few years and what they did through their proxies. After Thajudeen’s death, his enemies were able to fulfill their wishes without any obstacle. That is why every aspect of this case has to be investigated,” the family member said adding that they had immense faith in the country’s judiciary.