Former navy chief, Wasantha Karannagoda, has been accused of conspiracy to murder and made a suspect in the internationally-condemned killing of 11 young men a decade ago.
Colombo Fort Magistrate Ranga Dissanayake impounded the retired admiral’s passport on Friday after police named him the 14th suspect in the botched abductions for ransom carried out between 2008 and 2009.
The police Criminal Investigation Department (CID) told the magistrate that Karannagoda, 66, had also aided and abetted the illegal confinement of the 11 young men by navy personnel directly under him. He was also accused of concealing information as well as trying to mislead investigators.
The former admiral is accused of conspiring to commit offences under sections 296 and 338 of the Penal Code which carries death penalty on conviction. He is also accused under sections 199 and 200 relating to failure to inform about a crime and providing misleading information.
The magistrate was also told that the attorney general will indict Karannagoda and the 13 other co-accused in the high court.
CID detectives have uncovered chilling details of how men directly linked to Karannagoda carried on a lucrative “white operation” abducting children of wealthy business families and killing them after extorting money from them.
One of the naval officers had used a car from the victims and given it as a birthday gift to his wife. While investigating the abduction of the young men, the CID stumbled on another double murder of businessmen carried out by a naval unit which operated from the Welisara camp. A van stolen from those two victims had been cannibalised, but police were able to trace some of the parts.
There were reports of some navy personnel meeting with mothers of the victims and forcing them to part with their gold jewellery in exchange for the return of their children, a promise never kept.
The most chilling evidence presented to the magistrate on Friday was that Karannagoda knew about the killings, but took no action to prevent them or secure justice for the victims.
An internal naval investigation had revealed sordid details of the organised criminal activities of navy officers and men under Karannagoda who not only kept silent when he was told about the plight of five of the 11 men.
“Had admiral Karannagoda taken steps at the time he was told about the five children who had been illegally incarcerated by the navy, they could have been saved,” an investigator told the magistrate.
One of the victims, Rajiv Naaganathan, while in navy custody had been able to communicate with his parents using mobile phones of his captors till May 21, 2009. The CID found evidence that the young men had been detained in locations controlled by the then navy spokesman D. K. P. Dassanayake and Commander Sumith Ranasinghe.
Police have found evidence in respect of the abduction and murder of 11 children belonging to Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim communities, but the authorities believe many more would have been killed in similar fashion at a time when “white van” abductions were common.
Eight suspects – all navy personnel – are currently on bail and four are in remand custody. Karannagoda is most likely to join the four in remand custody, but police have failed to track him down till Saturday.
Police also investigated the background of the 11 victims and found they had no links or involvement with the separatist Tamil Tiger guerrillas and that they had been abducted by the navy purely for the purpose of extorting money from their wealthy parents. Two of the victims were Sinhalese – Kasthuriarachchi brothers from Kotahena. There were three Muslims. The tri forces — army, navy and the airforce — had in writing confirmed that the victims were in no way wanted by them.Investigators have uncovered evidence to show that the abductions were purely to extort money from the families of the young men.
The investigation has emerged as a test of the new government’s commitment to ensure accountability, according to international rights groups. They have raised the issue at several international fora, including the UN Human Rights Council.
-Second admiral involved-
Two months ago, the country highest-ranking military officer, Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne, was granted bail under strict conditions that he will not interfere with witnesses and investigator probing his cover up of the abductions and the murders.
He was freed on two sureties of one million each. He was also warned not to interfere with witnesses or use his official position to intimidate investigators.
Wijegunaratne had influenced the police Inspector-General Pujith Jayasundara to transfer the CID’s lead detective handing the case, Inspector Nishantha Silva, according to a letter the IGP wrote in ordering Silva’s transfer. However, following an international outcry, the transfer was cancelled and Silva was reassigned to the case.
Wijegunaratne is accused of helping the escape of Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi, a navy intelligence officer and chief suspect in the murders. Hettiarachchi, who is separately accused of involvement in the 2006 murder of a Tamil legislator, was captured in August.
Prosecutors also told the court that Wijegunaratne and his bodyguards tried to abduct a key witness, another navy officer Lt. Commander Laksiri Galagamage, who had previously testified against him.
Karannagoda initial complainant
The case came to light in May 2009, just 10 days after the end of the war against the Tamil Tigers. Karannagoda in a letter to the then Colombo Deputy Inspector- General Anura Senanayake had complained against his own aide-de-camp L. Commander Sampath Munasinghe. That report alleged Munasinghe was suspected of involvement with “terrorists” and wanted police to investigate what had been found in his room.
Investigators found that a day before Karannagoda complained to the police against his own ADC, with whom he had a personal issue, the navy chief had been informed of the organised criminal racket navy personnel were carrying out.
Karannagoda had tried to get Sampath Munasinghe arrested while shielding the others involved in abduction, extortion and murder, the magistrate was told. Sampath Munasinghe had by then gone underground.
The police at the time had made no progress, but the case was revived after the new government came to power in January 2015. Much of the incriminating evidence had come voluntarily from navy personnel who knew about the criminal activities of their colleagues.
Sections of the Penal Code under which Karannagoda has been reported to court on Friday:
296. Whoever commits murder shall be punished with death.
338. Whoever wrongfully confines any person for the purpose of extorting from the person confined, or from any person interested in the person confined, any property or valuable security, constraining the person confined, or any person interested in such person, to do anything illegal or to give any information which may facilitate the commission of an offence shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, and shall also be liable to a fine.
199. Whoever, knowing or having reason to believe that an offence has been committed, intentionally omits to give any information respecting that offence which he is legally bound to give, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both.
200. Whoever knowing or having reason to believe that an offence has been gives any information respecting that offence which he knows or believes to be false, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both
The identified 11 victims:
The 14 accused are;
1) Sampath Nilantha Munasinghe
2) Ranasinghe Pedige Sumith Ranasinghe
3) Thilakarathnage Lakshman Udayakumara
4) Nalin Prasanna Wickremasuriya
5) Thammita Ihalaghedara Dharmadasa
6) D. K. P. Dassanayake
8) Muthuwa Hennadige Mendis
9) Kasthuriarachchige Gamini
10) Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi
11) Sanjeeva Prasad Dilanka Senaratne
12) Imbulana Liyanage Upul Chaminda
13) Anton Fernando
14) Wasantha Karannagoda