By The “Sunday Times” Political Editor
Chief Inspector Nishantha de Silva, who was head of the Organised Crimes Investigation Division of the CID, fled Sri Lanka on November 24 without official leave. The government has learnt he was Geneva bound and has sought asylum in Switzerland. It has now transpired that two days before his departure from Colombo, CI de Silva had surrendered his service issue pistol and motorcycle. Even this fact has not been brought to the attention of higher authorities or the new government leaders.
This has fuelled fears that there was an organised effort to send him out of the country with assistance from those outside the CID. Such fear is based on the association of a group with CI de Silva over the many investigations he was conducting.
CI de Silva worked directly under the CID’s former Director, Senior Superintendent Shani Abeysekera, who has since been transferred as Personal Assistant to the Senior DIG (South). Abseysekera in turn worked under Senior DIG Ravi Seneviratne, to whom then President Sirisena granted a one-year extension after his retirement. It ends this month. It has come to light that Chief Inspector de Silva took along with him copies of documentation relating to several high-profile cases.
These included documents/statements/records relating to investigations into the murder of Lasantha Wickremetunga, Editor of the now defunct Sunday Leader, the alleged abduction and killing of cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda and the abduction and torture of Keith Noyahr, Associate Editor of the now defunct Nation newspaper. That is not all. He had also taken along documents relating to investigations of alleged murders or human rights violations by military personnel including cases that are now pending.
The fact that the CID, once the most coveted institution in the Police Department, had deteriorated to become a political tool has been cause for concern in recent years. This has been highlighted many times in these columns. One aspect, which is now under probe after orders of the present government, is the degree to which the CID collaborated with outside parties in the conduct of investigations on politically related cases.
One accusation, if true, is chilling. Investigators want to determine whether a few of the key investigations were subjective. That is whether they first decided on or were told of the suspect and then they went looking for evidence. Little wonder they could not connect, thus delaying many indictments. As reported before, in one high profile case, a wrong person has been targeted. The coming weeks and months will bare details of how this has been going on.
The task of investigating the alleged Swiss embassy staffer abduction has also fallen on a CID team. However, it has not been easy for them. On Thursday they failed to obtain the identity or statement from the local female staffer. Nor were they able to obtain surveillance video footage from them. The team has also made a request from the nearby Japanese embassy for copies of video footage from surveillance cameras in its premises. “The Police are seeking a statement from the victim and the embassy so they could proceed with the investigations expeditiously,” a Foreign Ministry source said.
Former Law and Order Minister Ranjith Madduma Bandara claimed at a news conference that the Swiss embassy local staffer was kidnapped at gunpoint by those in a white van. However, it is not clear from where he learnt that the abductors carried a weapon or came in a white van. His United National Party (UNP) also condemned the incident. He said “we urge the President not to make the CID inactive. If it continues, the drug mafia will increase and so will robberies and thefts.” The former Minister appears unaware that the drugs menace is tackled by the Police Narcotics Bureau while crime (thefts and robberies) is handled by different police stations. With such knowledge how he ran the Police then is puzzling.
The issues arising from Chief Inspector de Silva’s sudden departure from Colombo, the abduction of the local staffer at the Swiss embassy and issues arising from them are sure to reverberate at the next UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions in Geneva in June next year.
A propaganda blitz is certain to flood the media. This is if CI de Silva chooses to come out with those documents which only relates to his investigations. Some aspects have already come into question. A newly sworn-in State Minister simply dismissing issues before the UNHRC as a thing of the past is a joke. It is a public display of their ignorance and a sign they were beginning to learn from nursery classes onwards.
This week, The New York Times reported on the abductions together with CID arrests of web journalists who had reported on different issues. This is sure to be exploited. Like the introduction of the US backed resolution and the resultant wide publicity, the previous government was unable to counter the propaganda emanating from them. New state sector officials leaking identical reports to the media about the travel ban on 702 CID personnel also appears to have done more harm than good. It has demoralised higher ups in the Police Department. Some are questioning the legality of it. The reports overseas have placed the new government in bad light with the accusation that detectives, who probed bribery and corruption allegations, were now being punished. The new government needs the Police not only for the peaceful conduct of the parliamentary elections, like the presidential, but also for the continued maintenance of law and order.
The Defence Ministry’s move to scrap the Police Media Division is widely welcome. At present the focus is most on the spokesperson or the one who tells the story and not the story itself. They have successfully managed the art of news management in the absence of enterprising reporters who, like detectives, closely followed the police round in the past. OICs of police stations were barred from speaking to the media so that news management could be done by headquarters, often on the directions of the political apparatus.
Since the Police are a civilian outfit and deal with the civilians, the MoD will be better served by a professional communication team that could protect the interests of both the department and national interest. Many lessons could be learnt from the April 21 Easter Sunday massacres where various finds including kitchen knives and bread knives were officially reported. Yet, not one involved linked to the incidents probed by the CID has been tried in courts; nor their foreign links established.