By Safnee Ahamed
The Leader of All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) and Vanni District Parliamentarian, Rishad Bathiudeen, is no stranger to controversy in Sri Lankan politics. However, lately it has appeared that much of the controversies involving him are fabricated tales to destroy his repute and standing among the public. Weeks after he was acquitted by Courts of the charge that he had misappropriated State resources to transport voters to Election booths, he has been acquitted by Courts once again. This time he was acquitted of the charges leveled by the then Gotabaya Rajapaksa led regime that he was involved in the Easter Attacks.
At the height of repressive policies against the Muslim community of Sri Lanka, during the holy month of Ramadhan, at midnight a Tweet from the Twitter handle of Rishad Bathiudeen caught the attention of many Sri Lankans. The CID had apparently surrounded his house seeking his arrest without a charge. They had breached the walls of his house in this pursuit. That night, the rain was pouring, and yet his party loyalists and supporters were quick to assemble at his premises. The CID had no reason to provide, but admitted they were present seeking the arrest of Rishad Bathiudeen under provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act, No. 48 of 1979.
That day, the CID did not present a charge, a warrant or the consent of the Speaker of Parliament. Rishad Bathiudeen was not the only person arrested though. His brother Riyaj Bathiudeen was arrested for a second time the previous day on a charge he was previously arrested and already acquitted. It was a clear case of a political betrayal and persecution. The case of oppression against minority communities, especially Tamils and Muslims including political activists, was highlighted in Resolution 46/1 of the 31st Special Session of United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and also Resolution dated 10th of June, 2021 by the European Union (EU). Given that a Parliamentarian had been arrested without following due process, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) had also gotten involved.
Known to one another
The explosions that took place in churches and hotels on Easter Sunday 2019 rocked the nation that had reasonable peace since the end of the ethnic conflict in 2009. The series of coordinated explosions was committed by a radicalized group led by Zaharan Hashim, a notorious deviant who was known for his hateful preaching. One of the suicide bombers (Cinnamon Grand Hotel), Mohamed Ibrahim Inshaf Ahamed, was a Director of Colossus (Pvt) Ltd, and Rishad Bathiudeen was suspected of having connections to him.
Inshaf was married to Fathima Shifka Inshaf Ahamed, the daughter of a renowned businessman and resident of Mannar, Mohamed Alawdeen. He was also the Deputy Treasurer of the ACMC. Bathiudeen also being a resident of Mannar and the Leader of the ACMC had shared a positive friendship with Alawdeen. As a result, Bathiudeen had admitted in his statement to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) that he may have signed as a witness at the wedding of Inshaf and Shifka in 2009. This fact was used to allege that Inshaf and Bathiudeen were related and had a prior relationship. However, the Courts had noted through the case ‘Shanthi Chandrasekaran v D. B. Wijethunga and Others’ that the mere fact of being known to one another could not establish a nexus between Bathiudeen and the explosions.
Supply of Scrap Metals
Douglas Devananda was the Minister of Traditional Industries and Small Enterprise Development in 2013. He submitted a memorandum to the Cabinet of Ministers setting out limitations and measures on the export of non-ferrous scrap metal including copper and brass to support local small scale industries. The memorandum was approved and all State institutions were to hand over non-ferrous scrap metal to the Industrial Development Board (IDB) based on Cabinet Memorandum No. 05/0741/041/012 for supply only to domestic industries. The guidelines adopted thence required a register to be maintained of small and medium scale industrialists and a process was streamlined for this purpose. The IDB was to be the final authority on approvals. By 2013, 313 registered industrialists were approved to acquire scrap metals from the IDB.
Colossus (Pvt) Ltd made an application in 2017 to be registered and Inshaf was its sole Director. At the time, the said Ministry had come under the purview of Rishad Bathiudeen who happened to be the Minister of Industry and Commerce. The IDB had recommended the supply of 360 Mt of Brass and 30 Mt of Copper in the year 2017. However, only 16.85 Mt of Brass had been issued to Colossus. The following year, the IDB recommended a supply of 1800 Mt of Brass and 1200 Mt of Copper, while Colossus received only 100 Mt.
Further to the above, in 2018, the IDB received a total of 950 units of discarded transformers, of which 328 units were sold to Colossus in 2019 and a further 71 units were sold to them in 2019. However, this matter did not come under investigation.
The PCoI had stated in its report that remarkably higher quantities of scrap metal were sold to Colossus at highly discounted rates causing losses to the State. The PCoI report had particularly pointed out that the Chairman of IDB who is said to have approved such sales was appointed by the Minister, thereby drawing a nexus between Bathiudeen and the said sales.
Permission to Export
Colossus were of the business of manufacturing copper wire rods using the scrap metal sold to them. Therefore they required a license from the Controller of Imports and Exports for which a recommendation of the Secretary of the Ministry was required. At the time, the power was delegated to the Additional Secretary to the Ministry, S. Balasubramaniam who had issued the necessary recommendations for the issue of licenses in 2016 for the export of copper wire rods of 6mm in diameter.
Subsequently, in 2018, the export of copper wire rods exceeding 3mm in diameter was prohibited. This caused problems for Colossus who had previously secured the license to manufacture and export 6mm wire rods. In this regard, Inshaf had contacted a Customs Officer, Mohamed Abu Bakr Mohamed Mubeen, seeking permission to export the 6mm wire rods already manufactured. Mubeen was arrested owing to this phone call he had received, but was eventually released upon confirmation that he had denied permission to Inshaf.
Colossus, together with two other companies, had then brought the matter to the notice of Minister Bathiudeen. In this respect, investigations have revealed that seven phone calls were made by Inshaf to the brother of the Minister, Riyaj Bathiudeen and even met him once. However, upon consulting Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, permission was denied who had also informed his brother that inshaf should not be granted an appointment to discuss the matter. Colossus had then escalated the matter by sending a Letter of Demand to the Secretary of the Ministry through Attorney-at-Law Abhimani Randeni, but permission was still declined.
Following this abject denial by Bathiudeen, Inshaf raised the matter with President of the time Maithripala Sirisena who arranged a meeting at the Presidential Secretariat on 27 March 2019. Bathiudeen did not partake in the meeting. The minutes of the said meeting suggest that the Secretary to President Sirisena had granted permission for the export of 260 Mt of copper wire rods exceeding 6mm to Colossus. Upon receiving a copy of the minutes, the Additional Secretary to Bathiudeen’s Ministry, S. Balasubramaniam had approved the request. The Imports and Exports Controller then issued the License to Colossus, who proceeded to make sales and the funds were deposited to their company bank accounts. The B Report indicates that between 01 April and 11 April 2019, export of copper wire rods were made on six occasions.
The statements issued by Sanoon Mohamed Ishaq, Manager of Colossus indicate that on 17 April 2019 and 18 April 2019, Inshaf had withdrawn Rupees 34 Million of the said funds without stating reasons. Evidences suggest that Rs. Two million had been recovered from the house of the sister of Inshaf and further Rs. 18 million had been handed to Rilwan, the brother of Zahran. These were said to be parts of the money withdrawn by Inshaf.
The investigations had revealed that both Rishad Bathiudeen and his brother, Riyaj had phone conversations with the Additional Secretary S. Balasubraminam on 27 March 2019. It had also revealed that Balasubramiam also had received a phone call from Inshaf on the same day. The investigations were to observe if there was a nexus between the phone calls and the explosions. The letter of Ayesha Rishad, the wife of Bathiudeen addressed to the president reveals that the calls exchanged between the Bathiudeen and Balasubramiam concern certain development activities in the Industrial Estates of Mannar-Kondachi and Welioya.
The questioning of Rishad Bathiudeen by the CID on the phone calls had revealed the same answers. The said phone calls also coincided with the granting of recommendations by Balasubramaniam to Colossus, which had been the object of suspicion. However, the phone call lasted only a little over a minute and could not have been sufficient to discuss the contents of the meeting. The evidence was inconclusive to deem any connection between the explosions and Bathiudeen. Bathiudeen was therefore granted bail on 14 October 2021 as the investigations revealed no details.
When the CID arrived at midnight on 24 April 2021, they had already conducted reasonable amount of investigations. A few days after his arrest it was revealed that the phone conversations were the solitary contributor to the suspicions of the CID. There was no phone conversation on the said date between the Bathiudeen brothers and Inshaf, and therefore the phone calls to Additional Secretary Balasubramaniam seemed a little farfetched for it to be deemed reasonable suspicion under Section 6 (1) of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act, No. 48 of 1979 (PTA).
Furthermore, a Detention Order issued under Section 9 (1) of the PTA required the Minister to have reasonable suspicion. However, considering the objective purpose of arrest, there did not appear to be sufficient evidence to support any reasonable unlawful activity. He was nevertheless detained for nearly 6 months before securing the recommendation of the Attorney General to receive bail. No further evidence could be presented before Courts to compliment the charges, and therefore, on 02 November 2022, Bathiudeen was acquitted from all charges concerning the Easter Attacks.
It is now settled that despite all the envy and anger of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa led regime directed towards Rishad Bathiudeen could not implicate him for any crime related to the Easter Attacks. Extensive investigations carried out by the CID revealed naught. However, the extensive coverage given to his arrested severely tainted his repute and had the effect of painting an image that Bathiudeen had been the mastermind behind the attacks. The malicious and deliberate attempts to frame false charges against an innocent man purely borne of political vengeance has now been exposed.
The innocence of a man wrongly arrested and detained has now been established. Yet what could be the punishment for such heinous acts of political revenge by politicians in authority? The real culprits and perpetrators of the Easter Attacks continue to walk freely. They may evade the investigations of investigating authorities and the due process, but they could never escape the eyes of god.