President Maithripala Sirisena summoned an emergency cabinet meeting to defend the country’s senior-most military officer who is facing imminent arrest for allegedly shielding a mass murder suspect, but failed to secure agreement.
The noon meeting of the cabinet ended after heated exchanges, sources close to the administration said adding that the President failed in get support and the issue was put off until the return to the island of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Cabinet ministers had been told to maintain silence over the issue until the return of Wickremesinghe who is visiting Vietnam.
There had been no denial of recent media reports that Sirisena had advised military commanders not to cooperate with ongoing police investigations involving abduction, extortion and murder during the former regime.
Sirisena was miffed that the police Criminal Investigations Department (CID) had collected evidence against Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne and also obtained a court order for his arrest before he left the island for Mexico on Monday.
The Admiral had left the country to attend the national day of Mexico which is on September 16. He slipped out of the country even as he was summoned to the CID to record a statement about his alleged involvement in obstructing the arrest of a mass murder suspect.
The CID has already told court that Admiral Wijegunaratne gave half a million rupees in cash to help navy intelligence officer Hettiarachchi Mudiyanselage Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi, the main suspect in the abduction and murder of 11 children escape arrest.
The CID has uncovered chilling details of how children and young men of wealthy families were abducted for ransom by a gang of navy officers, allegedly led by Hettiarachchi, and subsequently killed after holding them at naval facilities in Colombo and Trincomalee between 2008 and 2009.
The alarm was raised by the then navy commander, Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda who complained to the CID during the former regime of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. However, the case has dragged with powerful political interests protecting the suspects, police said.
It was not immediately clear Wijegunaratne would return to the country although he had asked the CID for a fresh date to make a statement.
Several other navy intelligence officers, including former navy spokesman D. K. P. Dassanayake who were arrested in connection with the murders have now been released on bail.
Admiral Wijegunaratne was caught on camera in December 2016 assaulting a television journalist at the Hambantota harbour, but despite a huge public outcry, President Maithripala Sirisena granted him an extension of service and later promoted him CDS.
His successor Travis Sinniah took office in August last year pledging no forgiveness for his officers who may have committed crimes taking the cover of the island’s drawn out separatist war.
But Sinniah, regarded as one of the most honourable officers in service, was terminated in just two months after he was denied an extension of service.
President Sirisena declared his opposition to both the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) and the CID in October 2016 during a meeting at the Sri Lanka Foundation.
“I condemn the actions of FCID, the CID and the Bribery Commission,” Sirisena said.
“They should not work according to a political agenda. If they do, I will have to take stern action against them. I deplore their recent actions and I want to express my disgust.”
Sirisena aid military commanders who led a successful campaign to crush separatist Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009 should not be humiliated by bringing them to courts.