On January 8, 2009, it was a diplomat in the Indian High Commission who phoned me and said that Lasantha Wickremetunga had been ‘shot dead’. I was out of Colombo at the time and was not able to go to the Kalubowila hospital where he had been brought following the attack. I was one of those who had a personal debt to Lasantha which I was never able to repay. Later at the Barney Raymond’s funeral parlour where Lasantha’s remains lay before being taken to his house in Battaramulla, Sarath Kongahage doing an astrological analysis told me that Lasantha was not able to survive the sub period of Saturn in the major period of Rahu. The latter is a malefeic planet that basically ruins lives and makes everything go wrong. It drives one from pillar to post and makes one wander from place to place with no relief in sight. The major period or Rahu lasts 18 years and the sub period of Saturn kicks in about six years into the major period of Rahu. Had he been alive Lasantha would have been under the influnce of Rahu till around 2020.
From what we have seen happening after his death, it would appear that even in death Lasantha has had no escape from the influence of Rahu which drives those under its influence from pillar to post. The investigation into his death has become a political football which various parties have been kicking around to achieve their own goals. Even his body has been exhumed from its resting place in the course of these investigations which have been leading nowhere. In the wake of Lasantha’s death the UNP which was then in opposition hurled accusations at Sarath Fonseka saying that he was responsible for Lasantha’s death. Then nine months later, the UNP was fielding Sarath Fonseka as their candidate for the Presidency. The newspaper for which Lasantha worked and basically lost his life for, supported that candidacy and they admitted to accepting money from the UNP during Fonseka’s election campaign to increase the number of copies printed.
After the election, Lasantha’s successor as the Editor of the Sunday Leader became the main witness against Sarath Fonseka in the white flag case which saw SF getting jailed for two years. Today Sarath Fonseka whom the UNP originally accused of killing Lasantha is a UNP Minister and an electoral organizer. Now there is an obviously politically orchestrated attempt to turn the investigation in a different direction. The story titled “Police cover up in Lasantha murder emerge after key arrest” which was published in the EconomyNext website and reproduced as the lead story in last week’s Sunday Island stated that “The arrest of a retired senior Deputy Inspector-General has revealed how the police scuttled its own investigations to protect military intelligence men who carried out the assassination of editor Lasantha Wickrematunge… Senior DIG Prasanna Nanayakkara who is currently in remand custody has allegedly instructed his juniors to not only botch the investigation, but also destroy evidence gathered from the crime scene, according to a confession by Senior Superintendent Hemantha Adhikari. It was Adhikari who led the investigation into Wickrematunge’s assassination in January 2009 under the immediate supervision of DIG Nanayakkara…”
We will be going into the statements made by the various suspects taken in the latest spate of arrests in a later article. It has to be borne in mind that none of these suspects are accused of killing or even knowing anything about who killed Lasantha. They have been taken in on charges of concealing evidence relating to this investigation. That investigation is moving in a certain direction which needs separate treatment. We will not take it up here except to call into question some assertions made in the above mentioned EconomyNext article which we find questionable. The assertions taken verbatim from their article are as follows:
1. “The court has already been told that the military intelligence was involved in the killing and that the then head of military intelligence Kapila Hendavitharana was heading a killer squad and he reported directly to then Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.”
2. “A former minister in the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, Mervyn Silva, had publicly accused Gotabhaya Rajapaksa of killing Wickrematunge, a charge he has denied.”
3. “Wickrematunge had told colleagues as well as many others that he planned to take “Gota to the cleaners” over an allegedly corrupt deal in purchasing four MIG jet fighters for the air force. The so-called MIG deal is currently being investigated by the FCID and Lasantha was killed a few days before he was due to disclose details of the transaction at the Mount Lavinia courts.”
Firstly, as Gota himself clarified in an immediate rejoinder to this article in EconomyNext, and as was known to this writer as well, at the time that Lasantha was killed Major General Kapila Hendavitharana had retired from the Army and was the Chief of National Intelligence, a civilian cabinet approved position in the Ministry of Defence and his job was coordinating the work of the various intelligence services in the country. He had no operational troops under his command and even if he gave a command to any officer who had operational troops, they were under no obligation to carry out such orders as he had no authority to issue orders to operational troops.
Secondly, what kind of credence can anyone attach to statements made by Mervyn Silva who is regarded as a joker by all and sundry? The TV stations deliberately broadcast the inanities he utters from time to time to give variety to their news bulletins. This writer knows for a fact that Mervyn Silva was also in the yahapalana conspiracy from the very earliest days in which it was being hatched. In the wake of Maithripala Sirisena’s victory, Mervyn made various statements against the Rajapaksas and he did say that Gota was responsible for killing Lasantha. It was only too obvious that Mervyn was trying to curry favour with his new masters by turning on the Rajapaksas. In any case, it is now about three years since Mervyn went to the CID with some files to make those accusations and if there was any substance in them, the CID would not have to go to the lengths of arresting the policemen who carried out the investigation in their search for evidence against Gota.
Finally, the EconomyNext article implies that Wickrematunge had been killed by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa because he had been planning to ‘disclose details’ of the MiG deal at the Mt Lavinia courts. So we are called upon to give credence to a statement that Lasantha who is dead and cannot testify is supposed to have told unnamed people whose identities are not known. This is not even hearsay evidence because for something to become hearsay evidence there has to be be some identified person who claims to have heard a specific thing being said. Furthermore, this talk of taking Gota to the cleaners in court gives the impression that there was some judicial inquiry into the MiG deal and that Lasantha was going to give evidence against Gota. What Economy Next has not told the public is that this was not a judicial inquiry into the MiG deal but a case filed in the Mt Lavinia District Courts by Gota himself claiming damages from the Sunday Leader for publishing falsehoods about the MiG transaction. They have also failed to reveal that Gota won the case and the Sunday Leader was ordered by the court to publish an apology to Gota.
The Economy Next article says revealingly that “…with consensus that the February 10 local council election defeat was due to the government’s failure to arrest high profile killers, there is new urgency in the Wickrematunge case…” This makes clear that arrests are to be carried for a political purpose. How can one expect justice and fairplay when investigations and prosecutions take place for such reasons? In their eagerness to find Gota guilty of Lasantha’s murder, the yahapalana side seems to have forgotten where things began.
Lasantha was not the only mediaman attacked
On February 26, the Lanka News Web website carried an article titled “Rajapaksas’ plot to implicate Fonseka in Lasantha murder” under a photo of an ebulliently smiling Sarath Fonseka giving the thumbs up sign. The article went on to say “As we reported previously, Sarath Fonseka will be sworn in as the law and order minister. A conspiracy is still on by the Rajapaksas as well as several former and serving military officers to prevent that from taking place, as they know that he would revive the suspended investigations into murders, fraud, corruption, abductions etc. that took place during the previous regime. Top officials of the armed forces and the police met the president and the PM and spoke against Fonseka being given the ministry. Especially those accused of the murder of Lasantha Wickremetunga have become worried. The then commander for the western region Maj. Gen. Amal Karunasekara is implicated in the killing.”
“Those who try to get Fonseka blamed too, say it was he who had appointed Karunasekara to the position. However, Fonseka cannot be held responsible for every act by Karunasekara, merely because he appointed him. Karunasekara acted on the direct instructions of the then Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who did not care if the military hierarchy was made aware of what was happening. Gotabhaya got Karunasekara appointed as the ambassador to Eretria, a country closely connected to the LTTE which bought light aircraft from that country. After his connection to the Lasantha killing became known, he was recalled in 2012 as part of a campaign to save those responsible.”
“In 2016, eyewitnesses to the Lasantha murder identified Army intelligence member Sergeant Major Udalagama at an identification parade. Now, all those connected to the incident have become worried. They should have been behind bars by now had the ministers in charge of the judiciary and the police worked according to the mandate given by the people in 2015. The criminals struck deals with the rulers and remained free. But, they know that that will not be possible with a person like Fonseka. That is why they are trying to prevent his appointment as the law and order minister.”
This Lanka News Web article has not revealed how they got the information that Maj. Gen. Amal Karunasekara had operated under the direct instructions of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and not Sarath Fonseka. Has there ever been a Director of Military Intelligence in this country who has not been under the command of the Army Commander? Besides, it makes no reference whatsoever to the pronouncements made by Joseph Michael Perera and Ranil Wickremesinghe in Parliament both before and after Lasantha was murdered, about the numerous attacks carried out on journalists during the Rajapaksa government. In the year 2008, there was a spate of attacks on journalists. Among those who were brutally assaulted were Keith Noyhar, Namal Perera, Mahendra Ratnaweera and Upali Tennakoon. On July 8. 2008, exactly six months before Lasantha was murdered the then Chief Whip of the Opposition, UNP parliamentarian Joseph Michael Perera making a special statement in Parliament pointed the finger for all these incidents directly at the then Commander of the Army, Sarath Fonseka. What Perera said in Parliament in Sinhala on 8 July 2008 went as follows.
“On June 30, a group of people who arrived in a white van with wooden clubs had carried out a brutal assault on Namal Perera who was employed by the Sri Lanka Press Institute and Mahendra Ratnaweera employed at the British High Commission, in the city of Colombo in a high security zone. On an earlier occasion, the Deputy Editor of The Nation Keith Noyhar had been abducted by persons in a white van, who brutally assaulted him and then let him off. In addition to this, almost on a daily basis in the City of Colombo and in the North and East, we hear of media men and ordinary people being abducted, held for ramsom, assaulted and killed by persons arriving in white vans. The government has not not arrested anybody in this regard yet. Because they have allowed these things to happen we believe the government is complicit in these hapennings. After Parliamentarian Lakshman Seneviratne revealed during a debate on the state of emergency that the abductions in the city of Colombo were being carried out by a former Air Force officer called Nishantha Gajanayake, he was arrested and kept in custody for a while.”
“During that period the number of abductions went down to some extent. But then a key officer in the military had paid his bail and got him released which points to the Defence Ministry being involved in all this. On the other hand, journalists who write against the government, who criticize the government, and who do analyses of defence matters, and who criticize the military and who expose the frauds and other misdeeds that take place in the military are being abducted and brutally assaulted by a special group operating directly under the Army Commander. We have been informed of this by persons serving in this special unit. If this is not so, we challenge the government to arrest and charge the persons responsible for these acts…”
What Ranil said following Lasantha’s murder
This statement couldn’t be any clearer. The Chief Opposition whip was pointing his finger directly at the Army Commander Sarath Fonseka. Most importantly, he stated that he had been told that the Army Commander had a special unit to attack journalists by persons serving in that unit itself – which means the UNP had inside information to be able to make this accusation and to name persons. Speaking in Parliament on the same day, Parliamentarian Lakshman Seneviratne pointed out that in an article in the defence ministry website on June 5, 2008, Major General Sarath Fonseka had stated that journalists who criticize the war effort against the Tigers are traitors and that any means necessary should be employed to put a stop to their traitorous activities. On June 8, 2008, the BBC reported what Chief Opposition Whip Joseph Michael Perera had said in Parliament in an article titled “Sri Lankan general behind attacks” stating that Sri Lanka’s main opposition party has accused the country’s most senior army officer of being behind violent attacks on reporters and that Opposition MP Joseph Michael Perera told parliament that the attacks were carried out by a “special team” controlled by Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka.
When Lasantha Wickrematunge was murdered, six months later on January 8, 2009, Parliament was in session. It was Dayasiri Jayasekera who first broke the news in Parliament that Lasantha had been ‘shot’. Parliament ended its session on January 8 unaware that Lasantha was dead. JVP Parliamentarian Sunil Handunnetti also spoke on the basis that Lasantha had been badly injured in the attack. The next day on January 9, the then Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe stated in Parliament amidst an uproar that a group that is not under the control of the government (anduwe palanaya yatathe nethi) has killed Lasantha Wickrematunga. He repeated himself and stated that there is a group that is not under the control of the government which had expanded its activities this week and that the Sirasa TV station had been attacked and Lasantha Wickrematunga killed.
The Opposition Leader’s repeated assertion that these were deeds done by a group over which the government had no control was obviously because as a politician, he knew that no politician and no government would carry out such daft attacks on journalists as had been happening in the past several months in 2008. To this date most people even in the media have no idea why Keith Noyhar, Namal Perera, Mahendra Ratnaweera and Upali Tennakoon were attacked. The reasons were too frivolous to have been noticed by anybody. If there had been a sustained campaign by these people against an individual or against a government, then the attacks on them could be ascribed to those writings. However none of these journalists were of the type who would maintain a sustained attack on anybody.
A politician would never have attacked them. So the then opposition knew that these apparently senseless attacks were being carried out by some non-political person wielding unbridled power for real or imagined slights which nobody knew anything about. The special statement made by Chief Opposition Whip Joseph Michael Perera six months earlier on July 8, 2008 and the Opposition Leader’s statement of on January 9, dovetailed with one another. Later that day on January 9, 2009, the Opposition Leader made a special statement in parliament on the killing of Lasantha Wickremetunga. This statement which was in Sinhala went as follows:
“Hon Speaker, under Article 43 of our Constitution, the Cabinet should rule the country and be responsible to this Assembly. If Cabinet is unable to control a part of the government, then that diminishes the authority of Parliament as well. What we understand from the killing of Lasantha Wickrematunga yesterday and the attack on the Sirasa TV Station the day before yesterday, is that there is a group that this government has no control over. The armed forces are upset at the events of the past week. They say that the entire country is being jeopardized due to the deeds of a few individuals in the military intelligence set up. That is the group over which the government has no control. The Prime Minister takes no responsibility for it and neither does anyone else. This group is responsible only to the Army Commander and through the Army Commander to the Defence Secretary.”
“To rectify this situation, we suggest to the government that all these groups operating in Colombo should be placed under a police DIG or the (Military) Commanding Officer Colombo. Motorcycle groups should not be allowed to operate except under their supervision. Groups that operate without such supervision should be arrested. Otherwise, they will not stop at hitting us, they will hit you as well. In a situation like this, it is not only the opposition, the UNP and the media that are at risk. The same risk exists for the government as well. The threat will turn towards the government as well. That is what I am trying to say here. We also request an international inquiry into the killing of Lasantha Wickrematunga. But I will say one thing. The government has lost control of these intelligence groups that report to the army Commander and through him to the Defence Secretary.”
“This situation will not end with incidents such as that of Lasantha Wickrematunga, you too will be hit because their ultimate aim will be to take away the powers of the Cabinet to rule the country. Therefore this is a threat to this entire assembly and not a threat to just one group or one political party. There is a threat to the Judiciary as well so they too should be given protection. We agitate here to protect this assembly, but the threat is not limited just to this assembly. After the killing of Lasantha Wickrematunga, we request this government to provide protection to this assembly and I make this statement to the entire country.”
Note the then Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s repeated insistence that firstly these attacks were being carried out by a group that was not in control of the government and secondly that it is not just the opposition that is at risk from these killer squads but the government itself. Even though the present Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and senior member of the UNP Joseph Michael Perera had made these statements and have never withdrawn them, and the latter in fact had said that he was making his statement on the basis of inside information, no investigation has been initiated on those lines but instead policemen are being arrested on the charge that they had concealed information, which gives rise to the suspicion that this whole exercise is another red herring thrown across the trail.