After Sri Lanka’s Criminal Investigations Department (CID) told a magistrate court here about “top-secret death squads” that were reportedly linked to the defence establishment of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s time, his brother and former Defence Secretary Gotabaya denied the charges on Tuesday.
Monday’s CID submission, based on former army chief Sarath Fonseka’s testimony, pertains to the assassination a newspaper editor Lasantha Wickrematunga in January 2009, a case that Gotabaya Rajapaksa has denied involvement in.
News agency AFP on Monday reported that the CID told the court the “death squad” was involved in a range of abuses against the media during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency, in which 17 journalists and media staff were killed.
While the CID’s submission, according to news reports, accused Gotabaya Rajapaksa of giving orders to the secret military outfit that reportedly targeted journalists and political dissidents, the former Defence Secretary categorically denied the allegations. “He [Fonseka] was the army commander at that time. If he knew of such a death squad, why did he not take any action on them. He was completely wrong in not taking action,” Mr. Rajapaksa told The Hindu.
Mr. Fonseka led the armed forces’ final offensive against the LTTE in 2009, but fell out with the Rajapaksas soon after. Following his futile attempt to challenge Mahinda Rajapaksa in the 2010 presidential election, he was arrested and convicted on charges of corruption and inciting public disorder and stripped of all military rank. He was in prison until he was released following orders signed by former President Rajapaksa in May 2012. In March 2015, President Maithripala Sirisena conferred the highest military rank of Field Marshal on the retired army chief-turned-politician.
A powerful Defence Secretary during his brother’s Presidency, Gotabaya currently faces charges of corruption that reportedly caused a $75 million loss to the country, allegations he has denied. His name also figured in the ongoing investigation of another high-profile case — the murder of Tamil legislator Nadarajah Raviraj in 2006. According to a news report published in the State-run Daily News in February 2016, a former police constable, who turned state witness, had claimed that the former Defence Secretary arranged a payment of Rs. 50 million to the Karuna faction to murder the Tamil MP, referring to Karuna Amman, or Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, the former LTTE member who later joined the Rajapaksas.