After months of failing to make representations in the Gampaha Magistrate’s Court where SSP Shani Abeysekera has been arrested on charges of fabricating evidence, the Attorney General swept in to make strong objections in the Gampaha High Court where the former CID director’s bail application was being taken up on Wednesday.
The hearing took place days after Shani Abeysekera reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus.
It also comes in the wake of the AG agreeing to bail for Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyan, a SLPP MP who was in remand on charges of assassinating TNA MP Joseph Pararajasingham at Christmas Mass in Batticaloa in 2005.
Grave concerns have been raised about Abeysekera’s safety after he was transferred to a military installation in Polonnaruwa from the Mahara Prison where he has been in remand since August 2020. Abeysekera is being held on charges of planting firearms in order to frame ex DIG and contract killer Vaas Gunewardane for the murder of businessman Mohammed Shiyam.
The Gampaha High Court will decide on whether bail is to be granted to Shani Abeysekera and police sergeant Sugath Mendis who has been arrested in connection with the same case on December 7, more than a week away.
Lawyers for the former CID Chief are expressing serious concerns about Abeysekera’s treatment protocols and diagnosis because he suffers from several underlying conditions that have resulted in death for other corona virus patients in Sri Lanka, including diabetes and high blood pressure.
The AG has struggled to determine its position on the CCD investigation into alleged complaint that Abeysekera planted evidence to frame Vaas Gunewardane because the department secured a successful conviction of a death sentence against the former top cop in that case. For months the AG’s Department has avoided sending state counsel to the Gampaha Magistrate’s Court claiming that the investigation file was yet to reach the department.
But legal observers pointed out that the AG was perhaps fearful that in the current political climate, progress on the fabrication of evidence charge could get its prosecution overturned. A determination of a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court which heard Vaas Gunewardane’s appeal is still pending.
During proceedings at the Gampaha High Court where Abeysekera’s bail application is being heard President’s Counsel Wasantha Navaratne Bandara, appearing for the former CID director called the AG out on the department’s conduct in this investigation. Interestingly Navaratne Bandara himself is a former AG’s Department prosecutor.
“Since the day Abeysekera and Mendis were arrested we have told the Magistrate’s Court that the AG’s assistance should be obtained with regard to this investigation. Even the Magistrate several times told the police to seek the assistance of the AG. But for four months the AG has not sent a lawyer to the Gampaha Magistrate’s Court. Now the department is sending a deputy solicitor general to object to bail for the suspects,” Navaratne Bandara scoffed during his submissions.
Navaratne Bandara said that the AG’s Department has had a file on this matter since 2014, but the CCD had arrested Abeysekera without seeking the advice of the AG. This incident took place on March 14, 2014. The complaint has been made on June 24, 2020 – six years later.
“Who is the owner of the firearms at the centre of this case?” Counsel for Abeysekera queried, replying his own question with “the murderer DIG Vaas Gunewardane owns the weapons”.
Who is Shani Abeysekera?” asked his lawyer. “Shani Abeysekera is the greatest detective in the Sri Lanka Police Department. His investigative prowess was so spectacular that he was nicknamed Sherlock Holmes. The AG has secured countless convictions as a result of Abeysekera’s meticulous investigations. If it was Shani’s habit to fabricate evidence, how is it that the learned counsel at the AG’s Department never realised the evidence was doctored? If evidence has been fabricated, the officials who handled the Vaas Gunewardane file should also be held responsible” Navaratne Bandara argued.
Counsel for Abeysekera argued that as CID Director his client had relentlessly pursued perpetrators of violent crimes. “They could not buy him off. They could find no evidence linking him to wrongdoing. So they arrested him on trumped up and frivolous charges” Navaratne Bandara PC charged.
He reminded the court of former CID Sergeant Sugath Mendis’ statement to the Magistrate upon his production in court following his arrest in August, that the CCD officials had told him he would be safe if he agreed to accuse Abeysekera of wrongdoing.
Three of the shotguns in question in the current firearms investigation were registered to ex DIG Vaas Gunewardane and had been issued to him by the police armoury according to records, Navaratne Bandara said. The President’s Counsel noted that under these circumstances Vaas Gunewardane who is currently on death row should also be arrested in connection with this case.
“It is one law for Shani Abeysekera. One law for Vaas Gunewardane,” Navaratne Bandara PC claimed.
“Dignified police officials like Shani Abeysekera are arrested before the files are sent to AG. When it comes to everyone else, they wait for AG’s instructions to arrest,” the President’s Counsel said, pointing to a clear pattern of a witch hunt against the former CID Chief.
Navaratne Bandara PC noted that Shani Abeysekera had been lauded by the AG’s Department itself for his criminal investigations.
During Shani’s tenure at the CID he brought several murderers to book, including the Royal Park killer Shamendra Jayamaha, Duminda Silva who was convicted of killing Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra, ex DIG Vaas Gunewardane, the rapist-killers of school-girl Vidya Sivaloganathan and countless others.
Abeysekera’s lawyer told Court that the Government thinks the ex CID director would flee the country if he is granted bail. “Shani is not the kind of police officer who runs away. 30 times they summoned him to try and find something to implicate him. Each time, he showed up to answer the summons. When he was transferred from the CID he did not run away. He filed a fundamental rights petition,” the President’s Counsel pointed out.
The Government could not bring a successful prosecution against Shani Abeysekera, he said.
“He is being kept in prison so that they can parade him before various commissions of inquiry in handcuffs,” Navaratne Bandara PC charged. “It’s a black mark on the entire police force. The purpose is to instil fear in the entire police force” he charged.
It was usual practice, Abeysekera’s lawyer argued to present evidence along with the suspect in court. “To date these firearms are yet to be produced. But because charges cannot be credibly brought against Shani, they are keeping him in remand and getting some entertainment out of it,” the President’s Counsel accused.
He urged the AG’s Department to remember that their salaries were paid by the Sri Lankan public and not politicians.
Responding to Shani Abeysekera’s counsel, Deputy Solicitor General Shanil Kularatne said that the Department was still studying the matter and were opposing bail. DSG Kularatne said that two witnesses had claimed they had been coerced into incriminating Vaas Gunewardane in a firearms case by Abeysekera and others. He explained that the murder case was different from the firearms case file which had been active since 2014. “While the murder was being investigated, the CID recovered a haul of firearms. A separate file was created for that investigation” DSG Kularatne explained.
DSG Kularatne argued that the High Court could not grant bail to Abeysekera and Mendis when the charges against them were for intimidating and coercing witnesses.
“Nishantha Silva who is wanted in connection with this case has fled the country. No one even knows how he left and whether he left by boat or airplane. Therefore it is not suitable to grant bail to Shani Abeysekera at this time” Kularatne continued.
He added that five witnesses had come forward to testify against Abeysekera in this case.
“This is just another case for us. 55 officers at the CCD have tested positive for COVID19. It is amidst all these obstacles that the investigation is continuing. Therefore they should be given the opportunity to do their investigation and the suspect should not be granted bail,” DSG Kularatne said, swiftly adding that he was speaking “off the record” about the troubles at the CCD.
Jumping in, Navaratne Bandara PC said: “What are you trying to say off the record. I demand it is recorded. Record it. This is shameful.”
Counsel for SSP Abeysekera continued:
“The DSG spoke of five witnesses giving statements against Shani. He declined to name them. I will tell you who they are. They are the subordinates of the murderer Vaas Gunewardane. That is why he refused to name them. These statements are made on June 17, 2020 and June 21, 2020 six years after the firearms are discovered. This is a grossly belated complaint and is therefore highly suspect. The AG is in possession of the file OW 216/2014 sent to the Department by Shani Abeysekera and the CID. Is this how they carry out an investigation?”
DSG Kularatne: The CCD has been infected with COVID….
Navaratne Bandara PC: “යන්නේ කොහෙද මල්ලේ පොල්…. Who says you have to wait until an investigation in complete to seek AG’s advice? My learned friend claims that they have no idea how Nishantha Silva fled the country. This is perfectly fair, because they no longer have the investigative power of officers like Shani Abeysekera in their ranks. If Shani was still around they would have figured these things out very quickly”.
The DSG claims that they have no idea how the firearms came to be in that location. But the police reports repeatedly note the fact that the weapons belong to ex DIG Vass Gunewardane. So what are they saying? Shani did the investigation into Shiyam’s murder and got Vaas Gunewardane put in jail. Naturally his associates are angry with him. That is why six years later they make this complaint. These are not two cases, they are two parts of the same case.
Before the case was concluded High Court Judge Nimal Ranaweera refused to make an order transferring Shani Abeysekera to the IDH for treatment, saying it was beyond the scope since it was a health issue. The determination on bail will be made by December 7, the judge said. (By Chinthika de Silva)