Two key suspects in the Avant Garde floating armoury case had already left the island shortly before Attorney General Dappula De Livera ordered the CID to arrest eight individuals implicated in the high profile money laundering and illegal weapons smuggling investigation.
The CID had informed the Attorney General that Chairman of Avant Garde Maritime Services, retired Major Nissanka Senadhipathi and retired commodore Vishvajith Nandana Diyabalanage had already gone overseas, Coordinating Officer to the AG, State Counsel Nishara Jayaratne said.
The CID had learned that Senadhipathi had travelled to Singapore, State Counsel Jayaratne said.
Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed fundamental rights applications filed by five of the suspects seeking to prevent their arrest in connection with the Avant Garde floating armoury probe.
With this legal hurdle cleared, AG De Livera ordered the CID to immediately take all eight suspects into custody.
The current Secretary to the National Police Commission (NPC), the independent institution charged with the discipline and transfer of police officers, Saman Dissanayake is among the eight suspects in the case. NPC insiders revealed that Dissanayake had arrived at the Commission for a short time on Friday, but left in a hurry. His mobile telephone has been disconnected since then. Several attempts to reach the NPC Secretary proved futile. Dissanayake was an additional secretary to the Ministry of Defence and allegedly authorised the unauthorised lease of weapons to Avant Garde Maritime Services.
Speaking to the Sunday Observer, State Counsel Jayaratne said that the Department was not sure if Dissanayake had also left the country. The Attorney General would make a decision on how to proceed, she said, adding that no decisions had been made yet about how the suspects could be repatriated to face charges.
Former Additional Secretary to the Ministry of Defence Damayanthi Jayaratne is also among the suspects the CID has ordered to arrest. However, Jayaratne fled to New Zealand in 2015.
Others facing arrest are Major General (Rtd) Palitha Piyasiri Fernando, Major General (Rtd) Karunaratne Banda Adhikari Egodawela, Air Vice Marshal (Rtd) P.B Premachandra and President of Rakna Lanka Victor Samaraweera.
Meanwhile, the Attorney General also instructed the CID to name Premachandra, Jayaratne and Samaraweera and present them to courts. The suspects are facing charges under the Firearms Ordinance and Explosives Act in relation to 813 unlicensed automatic weapons and 200,935 live ammunition found on Ship M.V. Avant-Garde.
In addition to this three of the suspects, namely Senadhipathi, Premachandra and Saman Dissanayake stand accused of falsifying evidence for which they face charges under the Penal Code.
The controversial maritime security firm is believed to have racked in millions of dollars from leasing weapons licensed to the Sri Lankan Government through the company’s floating armouries operating off several continents. Weapons were provided to Avant Garde, through the Defence Ministry owned Rakna Arakshaka Lanka, without Cabinet approval or any Parliamentary oversight of the weapons transactions.
The Avant Garde case is one of the biggest corruption investigations the CID and the AG have been dealing with since the fall of the Rajapaksa regime in 2015.
Former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa is also facing separate corruption charges under the Bribery Act, for causing losses to the state to the tune of Rs 11.4 billion.
According to the Attorney General’s instructions the Police have been requested to present a progress report of the arrests to him by tomorrow (8). However by Saturday the CID had failed to arrest a single suspect connected to the case. Despite repeated attempts, the Sunday Observer was not able to reach Police Spokesman SP Ruwan Gunasekara for comment.