Rajapaksa Clan and Acolytes Possessed Baby Elephants Illegally in Fraud of Elephantine Proportions.

By

Nirmala Kannangara

Following the change of regime one week ago, environmental organisations have come up with a list of the owners of illegal elephant calves in the country, of which Hambantota District MP, Namal Rajapaksa, former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, former Chief Minister Uva Province Shashendra Rajapaksa and former External Affairs Monitoring MP Sajin Vass Gunawardena have been accused of having illegal elephant calves.

Chairman Ancestral Elephant Owners Association (AEOA) Raja Senanayake said Hambantota District MP, Namal Rajapaksa owns two illegal baby tuskers which was a gift by Maharagama Roshan alias Ali Roshan and Ven. Kolonnawe Sumangala Thera of Devram Vehera Pannipitiya.

“This Ali Roshan is into elephant smuggling business and has gifted more than 50 elephant calves to powerful people to escape from the legal net. Kolonnawe Sumangala Thera too is involved in this racket and to be in good books with the powerful politicians he too was involved in gifting these baby elephants to the then powerful politicians.

Former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, former Chief Minister Uva Province Shashendra Rajapaksa and former External Affairs Monitoring MP Sajin Vass Gunawardena has been gifted with one elephant calf each by ali Roshan and Sumangala Thera. These are the records the AEOA has but a recent survey shows that these politicians own more than one elephant calf,” Senanayake alleged.

Meanwhile environmental organisations accused the Rajapaksa regime of allowing their stooges to capture elephant calves from the wild killing mother elephants and instructing the Wildlife Department to register the elephant calves via bogus documents.

“Namal Rajapaksa, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Shashendra Rajapaksa and Sajin Vass owned elephant calves too were amongst this illegal registration,” sources alleged.

Meanwhile, Director Species Conservation Center Pubudu Weeraratne accused the Director General Department of Wildlife Conservation, H.D. Ratnayake of not taking any action to arrest the illegal elephant calves in the country although they have given the list of names of the owners to the department.

“It is hilarious how the Director General (DG) sending his officials to the residence of MP, Sajin Vass to nab an elephant calf soon after the new regime came into power. What did he do all these years without taking any action against those who own illegal elephant calves? What is the reason for Ratnayake to act ‘quickly’ to send a team to the MP Vass Gunawardena’s residence in Ambalangoda? This is merely to save his post in the new regime,” Weeraratne said.

According to Weeraratne, Ratnayake and former acting DG, Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) Udeni Wickremasinghe were involved in registering elephant calves captured from the wild illegally in contravention to the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance (FFPO) No: 2 of 1937.

Although it has come in the limelight that the DWC in contravention to the FFPO have registered smuggled elephant calves accepting fraudulent supportive documents to prove the ownership, Environmental Organisations queried why the DWC failed to cancel these illegal registrations and take the animals in to the custody of Wildlife Department.

“Several incidents in the recent past have caused grave concern amongst us in this connection and the registration certificates/licenses in the audit report are completely inaccurate and that the report does not describe the elephants that have been registered under such licenses,” Weeraratne said.

Weeraratne accused DG Wildlife of registering applications that comes with inaccurate documents which was proved at the investigation conducted by the Wildlife Ministry officials.

“A committee was appointed to look into the frauds that were taking place at the Wildlife Department. At the initial investigation conducted by the Wildlife Ministry, it came to light how several elephants have been registered in contravention of the law with the knowledge of the Wildlife Department’s higher officials. The loss of the domestic elephant registration and annual licensing book came to the light in August 2013, although it has actually gone missing since October 2012. It was only in October 2012 that the misplacement was brought to the notice of the then Director Operations who is now the Director General and the then Deputy Director (Legal) Chandani Wilson. However these officials have deliberately failed to notify this serious issue to the subject Minister, the Ministry Secretary or to the then Director General nor took any action to find out as to how this happened and who was behind the sinister move. It was questionable as to why no action was taken. Wilson has simply put a note to the report stating that it was ‘noted’” Weeraratne alleged.

According to the report, after the missing of the elephant registration book a new a book has been replaced immediately by Ratnayake and Wilson without the consent of their superiors.

“In the new registration book, the registration documents for year 2012 have been signed by the present DG although he was not the DG at that time. Cross examining an officer attached to the Legal Department the investigation team has found out that there were few blank pages in the new registration book although registration documents have been issued” states the report

“There should be a proper way to follow this procedure. There is no way the DG or any other official bypass this method. In this instance what has happened is that the DG has issued registration licenses but most of them have not been documented in the new book. This shows how Ratnayake, Wilson and the others were behind illegal registration racket,” Weeraratne added.

According to the audit report, registration number 161 shows the contents in the license contradict the details given in its application form. It says that although the application was submitted to register an elephant, the license has been given to a tusker.

Meanwhile The Sunday Leader is in possession of few elephant registration applications and their registration licenses to prove that the Director General has signed the registration documents that contained inaccurate details. In regard to registration number 358 and 359 although applications have been submitted for registrations in 2008, the elephants have been registered only in 2013.

Reliable Wildlife Department sources confirmed to The Sunday Leader that these two registrations have been submitted on the same day under two names and different address but the applications have been filled by the same handwriting.

“It is one person who has applied for the registrations in two different names. Although it says that they have paid the license fees to get the registration, there were no such receipts in the Wildlife Department documentations,” he added.

Deputy Director (Legal Enforcement) D.M. Weerasinghe giving evidence at the investigation states, “When license No 359 and 358 were investigated it was found that false documents have been submitted with the applications. In license No: 359, the elephant calf is from Opatha Walawwa, Ganegoda. Instead of submitting a certificate from Ganegoda, Grama Niladhari (GN) the applicant H.C.S. Karunaratne has submitted a certificate from a GN in Pitakotte South. In addition the required Veterinary Surgeons report too has been obtained from a Veterinary Surgeon in Rajagiriya. It was the same with the license No: 258 which too was submitted with false documentations.

Although these two elephants were from two different addresses the wildlife officers have been able to inspect them at 62/2 Ramanayake Mawatha, Hokandara. Hence these two registrations are done fraudulently to give registration for illegal elephants. The DG and the Deputy Director Legal (Enforcement) have to take the full responsibility of this fraud as only these two officers have signed the documents”.

According to him when the application was submitted on December 20, 2008 by H.C.S. Karunaratne the height of the elephant calf was given as three feet ten inches but the registration certification too has given the elephants height as the same as in the application.

“After five years this elephant calf has not grown tall but was the same height as in 2008. This is one fine example of how Ratnayake was ignoring the details but giving out licenses for the smugglers,” added the sources

Meanwhile Deputy Director Weerasinghe further states how he was able to unearth another fraud carried out by the DG, the Deputy Director Legal Enforcement together with the applicant who is non-other than the Fort Magistrate Thilina Gamage.

According to Weerasinghe, the applicant Magistrate Thilina Gamage has sought for a license to an elephant he has bought from another party. The elephant was a registered animal (license No: 334) and the given documentations for a new license were all fake.

“Since I felt that this is not a genuine application I went in search of the former owner to the given address. To my surprise there was no such address. I then had to go to the Homagama Divisional Secretariat to find out about the other documents submitted with the applications. Even the letters submitted with the application carries forged signatures of the GN and the Divisional Secretary. Imagine this has being done by the Fort Magistrate,” says Weerasinghe in his report.

Meanwhile the audit report issued by the Auditor General’s Department last year has clearly stated that forged signatures, pre-dated applications, questionable veterinarian’s reports and documents containing blatantly false information and non-existent addresses have been used to obtain illegal permits for the captured elephant calves

“After environmental organisations raised their concern about the illegal elephant registration taking place at the DWC, the Auditor General’s Department conducted investigation and recorded testimonies on dubious cases- for permits number 331, 334, 258 and 359. Auditor General’s Department investigations have unearthed the rackets and according to the report, permit number 334, issued to Chandrarathne Yatawara has raised eyebrows of their officials. The report queried why the DWC reissued a permit to Yatawara despite being previously revoked for containing a false address and forged signatures. The case was highlighted earlier this year when Parliamentarians P. Harrison and Anura Kumara Dissanayaka charged in Cabinet that Colombo Fort Magistrate Thilina Gamage was having an illegal elephant calf,” said Weeraratne.

The audit query confirmed that no one named Yatawara has resided in the address given in the application form and the signatures of the District Secretary Homagama and the Owitigama Grama Niladhari affixed to the application were found to be forgeries. Furthermore, former and current Grama Niladharis of the area testified that no female elephants ever resided at the given address and no elephant births ever occurred at that address. The audit report also states that the photo attached to the application didn’t match the baby elephant presented for the permit and the baby elephant was recorded to be three years old in 2008 and in 2012, the same elephant was ‘five years’ old, with height and front foot size unchanged.

“Administrative assistant who is accountable for the application has admitted that although the application was submitted on March 27, 2012, was pre-dated as November 12, 2008, which was a poya holiday. She has stated that the date had to be changed on the ‘request of senior officials,” he said.

The audit report observed similar discrepancies with three other permits, shockingly overlooked by DWC officials.

“In registration number 331, issued for Ajith Gamage of Hokandara, the Grama Niladhari and the veterinarian who submitted reports in support of the application have later confirmed the government auditors the letters were issued on the request of Ajith Gamage.

“Although the Auditor General’s Department in their report has stated that the DWC has bypassed the registration rules, it is questionable why the Ministry or the former government take any action against any of the culprits but safeguarded them. It was done solely to reciprocate the DWC officials who have registered the elephant calves belong to the politicians illegally,” environment sources added.

Courtesy:The Sunday Leader