Ahimsa Wickrematunge, daughter of slain journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge, has lodged a complaint with the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) alleging that CID Director Senior Superintendent of Police W. Thilakaratne and other officers in the Department are colluding with the intent to confer a wrongful and unlawful benefit, favour, or advantage on Sri Lanka’s former Ambassador to Russia Udayanga Weeratunga, who is facing charges under the Public Property Act in connection with the MiG aircraft purchase deal.
In a letter sent to the Commission last week, Ahimsa cited the transfer of CID officers who had been investigating the case for nearly ten years by CID Director Thilakaratne, so as to stifle the investigations and take the case forward.
Colombo Fort Magistrate Lanka Jayaratne issued a warrant on Weeratunga on 7 February 2018 in terms of Section 63 of the Code of Criminal Procedure Act, and in order to execute the warrant, Chief Inspector Nihal Francis, then of the Financial Crime Investigation Division (FCID), in consultation with his superiors and the Attorney General’s Department, sought the assistance of the Ministry of Defence to seek the extradition of Weeratunga to Sri Lanka from the United Arab Emirates, where he was residing, the letter pointed out.
It said that on or around 21 January, present CID Director Senior Superintendent of Police W. Thilakaratne was formally notified by the Directorate General for the Federal Criminal Police of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that the Federal Supreme Court of the UAE had ruled to allow the extradition of Weeratunga to Sri Lanka, in terms of the lawful extradition request submitted by the government of Sri Lanka, flowing from the warrant issued by the Colombo Fort Magistrate’s Court.
The letter alleges that instead of responding to the request by the UAE’s Federal Criminal Police to make arrangements for the repatriation of Weeratunga, CID Director Thilakaratne instead apprised himself of the evidence that had been gathered against the former by CI Francis’s investigation, and thereafter retaliated against Francis by requesting that he be punitively transferred out of the CID, a request that was granted on 29 January.
“The CID thereafter made no attempt to respond to the UAE Government regarding the repatriation of Udayanga Weeratunga to Sri Lanka. On or about 10 February 2020, Thilakaratne was informed by a very senior official at the Ministry of Defence that Weeratunga was under incarceration in Abu Dhabi and facing grave physical hardship. He was instructed to immediately make arrangements to bring the suspect to Sri Lanka, and ensure he was enlarged on bail without being placed in remand.
“Thereafter, Thilakaratne obtained the approval of the Acting IGP and the Ministry of Defence for two CID officers to travel to the UAE, take custody of Weeratunga, and return him to Sri Lanka. Once CID officers had returned Weeratunga to Sri Lanka, Thilakaratne, accompanied by other CID officers including Emil Ranjan Lamahewa, Assistant Superintendent of Police, personally produced Weeratunga before the Colombo Fort Magistrate Ranga Dissanayake,” Ahimsa informed CIABOC in her letter.
She alleged that at no time did the CID Director inform the Attorney General’s Department that the suspect had been returned to the country, or that they were to produce him before the Fort Magistrate, and when Weeratunga was produced before Magistrate Ranga Dissanayake, he voluntarily elected not to have an attorney-at-law present to represent him and make a bail application, which was a significant indication that he verily believed that he would be enlarged on bail without needing to make such an application.
“When the suspect was produced on the evening of 14 February, Thilakaratne allegedly told Magistrate Ranga Dissanayake that the CID would not be objecting to bail for the suspect, as officers required more time to conduct investigations in order to determine whether he was guilty of any wrongdoing. Neither Thilakaratne nor any of the other several CID officers present filed with the Magistrate the certificate described by Section 8(1) of the Offences Against Public Property Act, to the effect that the monetary value of the public property allegedly cheated by Weeratunga was in excess of Rs. 25,000. This is notwithstanding the fact that the Police have previously and repeatedly noted in reports filed before the Colombo Fort Magistrate’s Court under Case Number B 639/2015 that the sum misappropriated was in excess of $ 6.9 million,” the letter said.
However, despite attempts to get the suspect discharged, he was remanded by the Magistrate till 17 February. When he was produced again in Court on 17 February, CID officers again failed to produce the certificate under Section 8(1) of the Offences Against Public Property Act, prompting the Magistrate to publicly reprimand the CID officers, and cast suspicion on the sudden transfer of Nihal Francis, who he said had conducted a diligent and remarkably thorough investigation of this matter over a five-year period.
“I have followed the alleged crimes of Weeratunga that were investigated by IP Francis for over ten years, as they formed the basis for civil litigation brought against my father, who himself had investigated these matters in his capacity as Editor-in-Chief of The Sunday Leader newspaper, and I am very familiar with the facts of the case and the bulk of evidence available against Weeratunga. Therefore, I firmly believe that were CIABOC to peruse the case record of B 639/2015, call for records from the CID pertaining to the extradition of Weeratunga and the transfer of Francis, and interview individuals familiar with the facts such as Ranga Dissanayake, DSG Thusith Mudalige and CI Nihal Francis, sufficient evidence would emerge to charge and convict CID officers including Thilakaratne, with intent to confer a wrongful and unlawful benefit, favour, or advantage on Udayanga Weeratunga,” the letter said.
“The MiG corruption scandal has already claimed too many lives. I believe that those responsible must be brought to justice, and the matter must be laid to rest, once and for all. An immediate, thorough, and impartial investigation by CIABOC may be the only way to prevent the present CID leadership from releasing Mr. Weeratunga and his co-conspirators of responsibility for their crimes,” the letter added.
Courtesy: Daily FT