A love triangle may have helped trigger investigations into what has become Sri Lanka’s worst abduction and murder case by a rouge unit under former navy chief Wasantha Karannagoda, the Supreme Court was told.
Documents filed in the highest court suggest that the horrendous kidnappings and killings took place right under the nose of Admiral Karannagoda who was initially the complainant, but later turned out to be one of its main suspects.
The alarm was raised in May 2009 when Karannagoda complained to the police against his own Aide de Camp, Lieutenant Commander Sampath Munasinghe with whom he had a personal issue.
Karannagoda accused Lt. Commander Munasinghe of collaborating with terrorists, but in the initial police complaint there was no mention about the abductions and killings carried out by navy personnel. However, the navy’s intelligence unit had weeks earlier informed Karannagoda about the gruesome goings on.
The love triangle came out into the public domain when the mother of a victim filed a petition with the Supreme Court on Tuesday. She wants to be a party against Karannagoda’s application seeking an order to prevent his imminent arrest.
The court has been told that Karannagoda was driven by a personal animosity against Sampath Munasinghe who was having an illegal affair with his wife Asoka Karannagoda.
Mrs. Saroja Naganathan, whose young son Rajiv was abducted by men under Karannagoda and later killed, asked the court not to grant an order in favour of the former navy chief.
The police Criminal Investigations Department wants to arrest him as the 14th suspect in the killing of 11 young men who are from the Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim communities.
The CID investigations in addition to written assurances by the army, navy and the air force found that none of the victims had any links with terrorism. The abductions had been carried out purely with criminal intent to extort money from their wealthy parents.
Karannagoda’s fundamental rights application was put off for Thursday after one of the three judges on the original bench – Priyantha Jayawardena – recused himself.
Saroja Naganathan maintains that Karannagoda was responsible for the murder of her son as well as several other young people between 2008 and 2009. Police have uncovered evidence in respect of 11 victims, but the actual number is said to be three times more.
She says that Karannagoda first complained against his ADC, Sampath Munasinghe, only to spite him because of an illicit affair he was having with the navy chief’s wife Asoka.
“…evidence have elicited allegations and counter allegations against Lieutenant Commander Sampath Munasinghe, who also alleged that the initial
complaint made by Karannagoda was due to an illicit affair that Sampath Munasinghe had with Karannagoda’s wife and one of the wife’s relations.
“The complaint made by the Karannagoda was not in respect of the abduction of the children,” according to the nine-page petition filed before the Supreme Court by attorney, President’s Counsel J. C. Weliamuna on Tuesday on behalf of Mrs. Naganathan.
Colombo Fort Magistrate Ranga Dissanayake has already impounded the retired admiral’s passport last month after police named him the latest suspect in the botched abductions for ransom carried out between 2008 and 2009.
Karannagoda is accused of conspiring to commit offences under sections 296 and 338 of the Penal Code which carries the death penalty on conviction. He is also accused under sections 199 and 200 relating to failure to inform the authorities about a crime and providing misleading information.
However, in his Supreme Court petition, Karannagoda has said he had informed the then defence secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, about the abductions. This is the first time that Rajapaksa’s involvement in the case was brought to light by any of the suspects.
CID detectives have already uncovered chilling details of how men directly linked to Karannagoda carried on a lucrative “white van 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 which was never kept.
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 the investigators probing his cover up of the abductions and the murders.
Admiral Wijegunaratne has become the first military chief to remain in service while on remand.
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 recently. 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.
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