by Ranjith Jayasundera
There is a raging controversy on about the abduction and release of Frontline Socialist Party leaders Kumar Gunaratnam and Dimuthu Attygalle.
Much of the spotlight is on Gunaratnam alias Noel Mudalige and his alleged offences of travelling under a false passport and overstaying his visa. The Australian Govt is also being blamed in this.
The focus on Gunaratnam alias Mudalige and his alleged misdemeanors deflect attention away from two crucial factors.
Firstly even if Gunaratnam’s offences regarding identity,passport ,visa etc are true it does not justify his being abducted by armed men in a white van and being tortured and interrogated.
Secondly the undue emphasis on Gunaratnam’s alleged wrong doings is overshadowing the major act of state terrorism in this episode which is the aduction of Dimuthu Attygalle. She was a political activist based in Colombo who functioned openly.
If excuses are made for Gunaratnam’s abduction on the grounds that he was an Australian national overstaying his visa obtained under a different name, what excuse can the state make for Dimuthu’s abduction? She was not a foreign national with a different name overstaying in Sri Lanka . So why was she taken away in a white van?
It is perhaps to obscure the seriousness of Dimuthu Attygalle’s abduction that much is being made of Gunaratnam’s alleged offences. A convenient smoke screen is being created.
Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is seething with righteous indignation at Kumar Gunaratnam’s “offence” in obtaining a visa under a different name. I am unaware at the moment of the exact details of what had happened here but news reports indicate that the name change was legal.
But what amuses me is the fretting and fuming by the Defence secretary about people obtaining passports under false names. While pointing the finger at others Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa must realize that similar accusations were made against him four years ago.
I am referring to the Defence secretary’s alleged role in helping former Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) eastern regional commander Vinayagamoorthy Muraleetharan alias Colonel Karuna go to Britain under a false name on a genuine diplomatic passport.
The excreta collided with the oscillator after Karuna was arrested ,detained and convicted in a British court.
The details of this matter were related vividly in an incisive article in “The Sunday Leader” of February 3rd 2008 by Ranjith Jayasundara. It appeared under the heading “The Karuna case unplugged”. Lasantha Wickrematunge was the Editor then.
I posted the article then in full with due acknowledgement on my website “transcurrents” under the heading”How “ Col ” Karuna exposed Colonel Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in Britain ”
I am now reproducing the same “Sunday Leader” article by Ranjith Jayasundera under a new heading on my blog.
Here it is Friends-DBS Jeyaraj
How Gotabhaya ‘helped’ Col. Karuna go to UK on a diplomatic passport under a false name
by Ranjith Jayasundera
The sentencing of Karuna Amman in a British Court last Friday has burst open a legal and diplomatic Pandora’s Box for the Sri Lankan government. Given the rate at which evidence is piling up from all quarters to prove that the government spearheaded the smuggling of Karuna into the United Kingdom , it will soon be impossible to avoid the international ramifications that follow.
Aside from Karuna’s statement to the British authorities-significant extracts of which The Sunday Leader has in its possession-our own investigations consisting of interviews with Katunayake airport officials and immigration officers amongst other eye witnesses to the scene, have served to create a dazzling picture of Karuna’s Hollywood blockbuster style exit from Sri Lanka.
The point man calling the shots according to Karuna was none other than Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapakse, and according to The Sunday Leader’s own inquiries, the government would be hard pressed to prove how so many local and international laws could be flouted in one go without the approval of someone at least as powerful as Defence Secretary, Rajapakse.
Karuna told the British Police that he made his initial request to visit the UK to the Defence Secretary with whom he was acquainted in his capacity as leader of “a breakaway faction” of the LTTE that had “reconciled with the government.”
According to Karuna, he met with Defence Secretary, Rajapakse and asked him to facilitate a trip to England for him, in order to visit his family. Rajapakse had allegedly agreed to take care of all arrangements, and from that point Karuna states he was at ease.
This version of events is just slightly at odds with documentary evidence published last November in The Sunday Leader that indicates that the idea of sending Karuna to the UK originated at a Geneva meeting between EPDP Leader Douglas Devananda, Asian Tribune Editor, K.T. Rajasingham and President Mahinda Rajapakse.
At the meeting on June 15, 2007, Rajasingham had suggested getting rid of Karuna since he had outlived his usefulness and President Rajapakse had replied that he would speak to the necessary defence authorities and handle arrangements from that point on.
‘Partners in crime’
However the bone was split between the Executive President and his kid brother, the Defence Secretary, and the gears of the government machinery got into motion. On August 30, 2007 the Department of Immigration and Emigration issued a diplomatic passport number D1944260 in the name of “Kokila Dushmantha Gunawardena” whose occupation on the passport was given as Director General of Wildlife Conservation.
The photograph on the passport was that of Karuna Amman. The Department of Immigration, it is pertinent to note, comes under the Ministry of Defence, Public Security, Law and Order of which Gotabaya Rajapakse is Secretary and President Rajapakse the Minister.
Despite Foreign Minister, Rohitha Bogollagama repeatedly and vociferously denying that the passport is genuine, our investigations prove that it was. The Sunday Leader learns that British officials have used the most sophisticated techniques available as well as guidelines provided by the Sri Lankan government for identifying valid passports, and as such they are certain that Karuna’s diplomatic passport (in their possession) is valid down to the last detail of its printing. It is possible all records in Sri Lanka were destroyed.
Karuna himself in his statement to the British police was to point out that “in Sri Lanka , without government assistance no one can get diplomatic passports.” After the passport was produced, it was delivered to the Foreign Ministry. Trusted officials then drafted a Third Party Note that was sent with passport D1944260 and several other passports directly to the British High Commission from the Foreign Ministry requesting that visas be granted for the persons included to attend a climate change conference in the UK
On the basis of an understood trust between two governments, the applications were duly processed and the British High Commission on September 5, 2007 issued a six month multiple entry visa on Karuna’s passport, which was subsequently collected from the embassy by Foreign Ministry officials.
After the visa was issued, travel plans for his departure on September 18 were made. Karuna was assigned an escort and a body double from the defence establishment’s Military Intelligence Wing, both of whom accompanied him to the Bandaranaike International Airport from his safe house in Colombo
Whilst Karuna was en route to the airport, instructions were received by various officials at the airport to accommodate a VVIP travelling incognito. Unimpeachable sources have confirmed to The Sunday Leader that Nalaka Bamunusinghe (then director of AASL, and Coordinating Secretary to the President) and Shalitha Wijesundera (then deputy chairman) are amongst those who received presidential instructions to assist Karuna at the airport.
Karuna’s vehicle was met at the main air force checkpoint by an armed air force escort at around 1.45 a.m. and they moved together under cover of darkness down the main airport road, past the departure terminal, and turned left before the arrivals terminal, into a narrow lane leading to the VIP lounge.
At this point, eye witnesses confirm that they witnessed Karuna descend from his vehicle with his two Military Intelligence escorts. Airport Deputy Chairman, Shalitha Wijesundera was waiting for them, and Karuna was handed over to him by one of the intelligence officers, whilst his body double proceeded past Wijesundera to speak with the immigration officer on duty at the VIP lounge. Karuna was then whisked right through immigration by Wijesundera and the intelligence officers withdrew, leaving their charge in the care of the Airport Deputy Chairman.
Meanwhile, SriLankan Airlines flight UL 505 bound for London was scheduled to depart at 0215 hrs on September 18. All passengers had boarded and the aircraft was docked to the sky-bridge on the tarmac. A passenger announcement was made requesting that all passengers be settled as a VIP was about to board the aircraft.
The aircraft’s cabin crew proceeded to close the curtains separating the economy class cabin from the business class cabin. As all air travellers are aware, passengers conventionally board from the left hand side of an aircraft. However at around 0205 hrs, before the aircraft had left the sky bridge, the front right hand side door was opened and an emergency ladder vehicle docked with the plane.
Drove upto aircraft
A vehicle carrying Karuna and Shalitha Wijesundera drove up to the ladder vehicle and stopped. The two got out of the vehicle, and Wijesundera personally escorted Karuna up the ladder and on board the aircraft. After Karuna was seated and buckled in, Wijesundera produced the famous passport, D1944260, and handed it to Karuna, who acknowledged with a nod, before Wijesundera left the aircraft.
Thus ended several years of VIP treatment for Karuna who had enjoyed the best of both worlds-from both the LTTE and then the government. Wijesundera debarked the aircraft, the ladder was retracted, the plane door was closed, and UL 505 took off bound for London’s Heathrow Airport with Kokila Gunawardena alias Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan, alias Karuna Amman, seated in the front row of the business class cabin.
Karuna’s police statement both verifies this series of events, and tells the story of what happened thereon. The ex-TMVP leader disembarked from UL 505 at Terminal 4 of Heathrow Airport to no special welcome. He proceeded through the normal immigration channel at the airport and the immigration officer upon seeing his diplomatic passport, allowed Karuna to pass through without any questioning and without producing a landing card.
The game is up
Karuna left the airport in a London taxi at around 9:30 a.m. on September 18, and it can only be presumed that he proceeded to his Kensington home where he was arrested just over six weeks later.
Having been tipped off as to Karuna’s presence and been provided the exact address of Karuna’s Kensington, London apartment, British police raided the apartment, detained Karuna and seized his diplomatic passport, serving him with papers for illegal entry into the UK under the Immigration and Asylum Act of 1974. Karuna was subsequently taken to the Collingwood Detention Centre where he was detained pending further inquiry.
When investigators examined his passport and visa, they were astounded. Karuna’s passport was legitimate in that it showed absolutely no sign of forgery even upon the most vigorous inspection. His visa also was valid as it had been officially issued by the British High Commission in Colombo
Karuna had not made any false statements to the High Commission in Colombo , as thanks to the Sri Lankan government handling the procurement of his visa, he had no contact with the High Commission whatsoever.
The fact that his visa was granted on the merit of a Third Party Note by the Sri Lankan government through regular channels for diplomatic and VIP travel would have made it nearly impossible for a prosecutor to prove that Karuna had himself committed an offence under immigration law.
Finally, the British police came up with a plan. On December 22, officers visited Karuna at the Collingwood Detention Centre and technically ‘arrested’ him for breach of Section 25 of the Identity Cards Act No. 15 of 2006. Karuna was then moved to the Heathrow Police Station where he was questioned and his statement recorded with regards to the offence of “possessing a false identity document with requisite intention.”
The charge meant that that Karuna had possessed the forged passport with the intent of using it to conceal his identity, and carried a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. In his statement, Karuna admitted that his name was not Kokila Gunawardena and revealed his true identity. (See box for extracts of Karuna’s statement produced in court).
Karuna also admitted outright that he was not a diplomat, was not attending a climate change conference and was not the Director General of Wildlife Conservation. In short, the ex-LTTE deputy spilt his entire story to the police officers.
The British officers could find no evidence to dispute any fact that Karuna had told them and as he had not had any other recorded form of written or verbal communication with any British officials prior to his questioning, the odds were against the investigators to try and prove that Karuna had the requisite intention prescribed by Section 25 (1) of the UK ID Cards Act.
In the Act, requisite intention is defined as “the intention of using the document for establishing registrable facts about himself.” Given the lack of evidence that Karuna had planned to use his passport to register facts about himself, the British charged Karuna for merely “having in his possession without reasonable excuse” his “identity document that relates to someone else” under Section 25 (5) of the Identity Cards Act.
This much less serious offence carries a maximum prison sentence of just 24 months. The case however was watertight, and Karuna pleaded guilty knowing full well that he had no “reasonable excuse” for possessing the diplomatic passport.
On Friday, January 25, Karuna was sentenced to nine months imprisonment and the clock began to tick for the British government to charge him with crimes against humanity.
The Sri Lankan government’s repeated denial of involvement in Karuna’s escape is pathetic, desperate and futile. The British High Commission, whilst routinely refusing to comment on the specifics of the case, has evidence that Karuna’s passport was both delivered and collected from their premises by Foreign Ministry officials.
Investigators in the UK have found absolutely no evidence that Karuna’s diplomatic passport was forged despite utilising all available means. This particular revelation has dramatic ramifications for the UK ’s immigration policy towards Sri Lanka. Assuming the government is to be believed in that it had nothing to do with Karuna’s escape, this means Karuna managed to forge a diplomatic passport well enough to fool not only the UK authorities but also Sri Lanka ’s own immigration officials.
For how could Karuna have boarded UL505 at the Bandaranaike International Airport , an airport brimming with security checks, without arousing suspicion at the airport, especially at the VIP lounge?
Would a Sri Lankan immigration official not have recognised Karuna and known full well that he was not the Director General of Wildlife Conservation? If this is possible, there is nothing to prevent a lesser known face such as Sea Tiger Commander, Soosai or LTTE Intelligence Wing Head, Pottu Amman from forging diplomatic passports and strolling in and out of the country at will. More importantly, the government has through its denial of involvement sent a clear message that Sri Lankan diplomatic passports are not to be taken seriously at face value.
Defence Secretary Rajapakse, having been accused of masterminding the operation and promising Karuna that he would be able to travel to and from the UK at leisure, made a true gem of a statement to IANS after he was accused in court.
Rajapakse began by corroborating part of Karuna’s statement, admitting that Karuna had in fact approached him about visiting England to be with his family. He confirmed that he tried to assist Karuna through the good graces of a ‘friendly third country.’ “I then abandoned the idea of helping Karuna in this matter. And that was a long time ago,” he recalled.
Having already shot himself in the foot by admitting that the two were familiar, the outspoken Defence Secretary then proceeded to pick off his toes with the skill of a veteran military marksman.
“Why should I want to send him away when he could be useful in Sri Lanka ?” queried Rajapakse. We leave it to readers to judge what use the Secretary of Defence, Public Security, Law and Order would have for a man who lined up and executed over 700 unarmed policemen in cold blood.
The Defence Secretary sidestepped the issue of how Karuna was granted a diplomatic passport on his government’s watch, and instead diverted attention on how Karuna obtained a British visa. “I do not know how Karuna got the passport. But to my mind, the question that needs to be asked is, how he got a British visa?” Rajapakse pondered to the IANS, unconsciously hinting that a Sri Lankan diplomatic passport is easier to acquire than a British visa.
“The British visa is not easy to get. There is a lot of scrutiny. The visa seeker, other than a minister of the government, has to go to the High Commission for a detailed interview. This being so, how was Karuna given the visa?” he asked. Well, we know how. It was through a government TPN.
The Defence Secretary too thus holds the line that the government had nothing to do with helping Karuna obtain his visa. That Rajapakse and for that matter Foreign Minister Bogollagama expect the public to take their word against documentation with the British High Commission in Colombo, telephone records, forensic evidence and eye witness accounts to the contrary only goes to further prove their own infantile thinking and their callous disregard for international relations.
Rajapakse in his interview with IANS also invited the British judiciary to question him, mistakenly assuming that he had been accused by the British in court of aiding Karuna: “It was wrong on the part of the British judiciary to have said that I helped him get the passport, without first verifying with me.”
Well if the British authorities wanted an opening, there they have it, from Gotabaya no less.