Anurangi Singh and Aanya Wipulasena
On the night of May 17, 2012, the Sri Lankan rugby captain was found dead in his burning car near Shalika Hall on Park Road, Colombo 05. The death seemed sinister and mysterious at the time, but Narahenpita Police ruled that Thajudeen’s death was a result of an accident.
Nevertheless, rumours continued to swirl about the sporting icon’s death, especially in light of his connection to rugby, the sport favoured by all three of then President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s sons, and allegations of a sordid love triangle that had allegedly put Thajudeen in the crosshairs of the powerful ruling family.
Three years later, Rajapaksa was defeated in an election and a judge finally ruled that Wasim Thajudeen had indeed been murdered.
Four years after the investigation into his murder resumed, at least one person involved in the cover-up is facing trial.
Last month, the Attorney General served an indictment on former Senior DIG Anura Senanayake, who will become the first accused person to face trial in connection with the 2012 murder.
Senanayake was indicted on June 27, and now faces charges in the Colombo High Court under Section 198 of the Penal Code – for attempting to cover up the sportsman’s murder that was ruled a “motor traffic accident” until the case was reopened in 2015.
The 90 page indictment served on the retired SDIG, who played a powerful role in security affairs during the tenure of the Rajapaksa administration, states that Senanayake had “committed an offense by ‘knowing or having reason to believe that an offence has been committed, causes any evidence of intention of screening the offender from legal punishment, or with that intention gives any information respecting the offence which he knows or believes to be false’.
Senanayake’s trial is set to begin in October.
On June 28, one day after Senanayake’s indictment was filed, the Attorney General’s Department informed the Magistrate’s Court where the Thajudeen murder is still under investigation, that another key player in the cover up of the sportsman’s murder would be indicted soon.
Prof. Ananda Samarasekera was arrested by the CID in October 2017, on charges that he had falsified the post-mortem report into Thajudeen’s death and destroyed evidence in the case. Samarasekera served as the Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) at the time of the Havelocks rugby captain’s murder.
CID investigators told court that Samarasekera had deliberately removed certain parts of Thajudeen’s body and that those had been transferred to the private medical campus SAITM, in Malabe. Following his retirement as JMO, Prof. Samarasekera served as Vice Chancellor of this private Medical school.
In 2015, after ruling Thajudeen had been murdered, the Magistrate ordered the exhumation of the victim’s body and a new post mortem by a special three-member team of forensic specialists. This report found that Wasim Thajudeen’s chest plate, windpipe and two long bones which had symmetrical fractures were missing from the remains of the slain Rugby player.
Startlingly, the contents of the second post-mortem also revealed that Thajudeen had in fact succumbed to injuries during a brutal assault. The ruggerite had multiple lacerations and fractures on his head, legs, chest area and neck. The report also contradicts Samarasekera’s original finding that the victim died of Carbon Monoxide poisoning, which is possible when someone is killed trapped within a car during a road accident. Instead, the second post-mortem concluded that the cause of death was the “effects of multiple injuries caused by blunt weapon(s) and effects of fire”.
In other words, Wasim Thajudeen was beaten to death.
The second post mortem also notes as follows:
“Considering all the observations and comments given above, we are of the opinion that the deceased was not driving the vehicle at the time of the said accident or commencement of the fire. It is highly probable that the incapacitated person was kept on the passenger seat by another person (P10)”.
Prof. Samarasekera’s medical licence to practice was cancelled by the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) for a six month period after a complaint was lodged at the Council about his conduct , while being Colombo JMO – to hide evidence of the Thajudeen murder.
The Professional Proceedings Committee (PPC) of SLMC, decided to conduct a trial considering the gravity of the issue. The PPC consisted of the President of SLMC (Prof. Carlo Fonseka) and six other members of SLMC.
PPC decided that during the course Thajudeen’s post-mortem had been conducted without following or adhering to all aspects of the procedure. Further to that, the committee decided that ‘Guidelines on Ethical Conduct for Medical and Dental Practitioners registered with the Sri Lanka Medical Council’ had been violated by Professor Samarasekara.
Barring this relatively mild disciplinary action by his peers, Prof Samarasekera has faced no other punishment for his alleged role in the murder cover up. Senior lawyers explained that the Attorney General’s Department has shown a reluctance in the past to prosecute Judicial Medical officers for actual crimes committed in the line of duty. However, Deputy Solicitor General Dilan Ratnayake, who handles the Thajudeen file, told the Colombo Additional Magistrate that Samarasekera would soon be facing trial as the second accused in the murder case.
Narahenpita OIC Sumith Perera has been cleared of all charges, and now appears to be cooperating with the Attorney General’s Department as a witness in the case against SDIG Anura Senanayake. For the former ruling family, the Thajudeen murder investigation has touched very close to home. The Defender bearing Licence plate number WP KA 0642 that the CID believes was used to abduct Wasim Thajudeen on the night of his murder was donated by the Red Cross Society (SL),to the Siriliya Saviya charity run by former first lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa .
The CID reported to Court that the vehicle was subsequently repainted first blue and then black- reportedly on the orders of Yoshitha Rajapaksa, the former President’s second son, at a garage in Colpetty.
According to investigators who reported facts in this regard to the Magistrate in September 2018, the garage had been instructed to repaint the Defender by an individual named Deen, who was employed as a marketing executive at the Carlton Sports Network, the channel run by Yoshitha Rajapaksa.
Rajapaksa’s top cop in the dock for murder cover up
The indictment against Anura Senanayake, a former top cop who worked closely with senior officials in the Rajapaksa administration, provides glaring insight into the role he played to cover up rugby player WasimThajudeen’s murder.
Soon after Thajudeen was found dead in his car, the rushed investigation concluded that death had been caused by a fatal accident and hushed up. In 2015, after the case was reopened by the CID and facts reported to court, Colombo Additional Magistrate Nishantha Peiris concluded that there was sufficient evidence for Thajudeen’s death to be considered a murder. He ordered the exhumation of the rugby player’s body for a second post mortem by a three member team of JMOs.
The indictment further states that Senanayake, having knowledge that the rugby player had been murdered and with sufficient evidence to believe so, had nevertheless ordered Narahenpita Police to conduct an investigation into the death as an “accident” and not as a suspected murder.
Making a statement before the Magistrate 10 June, 2016 the OIC Crimes of the Narahenpita Police station, Sumith Perera said he had “acted under specific instructions given by the former SDIG.”
“The SDIG instructed me not to be too eager about this particular investigation. Had I flouted his instructions I too would have had to face the same fate as Thajudeen. I am a father of two. I didn’t want my children to lose their father so I acted according to the instructions given to me,” Perera said making a statement in court.
IP Perera also said that SDIG Senanayake had asked him to bring Thajudeen’s father to meet him.
“I met SDIG Senanayake on the 18 or 19 of May, 2012 and I was instructed to investigate the route that Thajudeen’s vehicle took on the day of the incident. He further instructed me to bring Thajudeen’s father to meet him, and I did.”
Thajudeen’s father had arrived at Senanayake’s office the next day, Perera’s evidence claims.
Inspector Perera further states that he entered the office of Senanayake and briefed him about the investigations he had carried out which only took about three minutes. Then IP Perera informed the SDIG that Thajudeen’s father was seated outside.
“When I entered the office OIC Narahenpita, OIC Kirulapone, SSP Ranaweera was already in the office. At that time SDIG was scolding OIC of the Kirulapone police station about why he was not informed that Thajudeen’s wallet had been found by officers at the Kirulapone station,” Perera said in his statement before the Magistrate.
Senanayake then left his office to speak to the father who is seated just outside his office, IP Perera relates in his testimony. Approaching WasimThajudeen’s grieving father, AnuraSenenayake was heard saying the inquiry had revealed his son had been killed in an accident and that it was not a murder.
Inspector of Police Thissa Sarathchandra who was the Narahenpita Traffic OIC at the time of Thajudeen’s murder in both his statements to the Criminal Investigation Department as well as in his statement before the Magistrate states that he was clearly given instructions by Senanayake to conduct an inquiry into the matter treating it as a fatal accident and not as a murder inquiry.
“When I arrived at the scene of the incident at about 6.30AM on May 17, there were several police officials at the place, including OIC of Narahenpita; Damien Perera and Inspector (crimes division) Sumith Perera were there,” Sarathchandra said.
Sarathchandra added that SSP Sanjeewa Darmarathne, SP Chandana Athukorale, SP Ranaweera, DIG Colombo Gunawardena and Senior DIG Anura Senanayake were also present at the scene of the incident. He revealed that while Senanayake had arrived there in a white Defender jeep and had inspected Thajudeen’s body, he had not given any instructions before leaving the scene.
According to the traffic OIC’s witness statement, even though road accident investigations are conducted by the Traffic Branch, for some reason Thajudeen’s death had been investigated instead by the Crimes division, as a fatal accident. “During my service I have never come across an incident where a vehicles catches fire this way as a result of an accident. Even if that was the case it is something that should be investigated by the traffic department of the area. However, most senior officials were present at this crime scene which raised suspicions,” Sarathchandra said.