In a bizarre turn of events, one of the highest ranking former legal officers and former Assistant Solicitor General (ASG) President’s Counsel Shavindra Fernando informed court yesterday (21) that he was not in a position to reveal details of the 11 disappeared youth by rogue elements of Sri Lanka Navy (SLN), Colombo Telegraph learns.
When the case was called before Colombo Fort Magistrate’s Court, PC Fernando appeared after failing to give his statement to the Police Criminal Investigations Department on five consecutive occasions, and a team of counsels led by Nalinda Indatissa PC appearing for him informed that the ex-ASG would not divulge information on the matter, covered allegedly under ethics of confidentiality and attorney-client privilege provided for in Rule 31 to 38 Supreme Court (Conduct of and Etiquette for Attorneys-at-law) Rules of 1988. According to Fernando’s counsel although their client was supposedly agreeable to share information and had requested for instructions from Navy but the latter had denied permission, instructing him not to divulge any information whatsoever.
If found to be true this would be a major incident by Sri Lanka Navy to undermine the independence and the authority of the judiciary, legal experts opine.
Sources told Colombo Telegraph that following Fernando’s complicity in the matter, the Attorney General’s Department too had taken a position of not safeguarding the ex-ASG telling court that the Department would neither intercede not appear on behalf of Fernando PC.
The Magistrate had reportedly ordered that notice be issued to Navy in order to ascertain whether it had instructed Fernando PC not to divulge information and also instructed the CID to proceed under Section 255 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CCP) enabling investigators to record a statement from the ex-ASG.
Earlier providing a statement to the CID, former Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) Commander then Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda told the investigators that once he got to know of rogue elements in the Navy he at once informed Shavindra Fernando PC who was heading the legal division in the Navy to take immediate action. However it has now come to light that not only Fernando PC failed to take any action but deliberately tried to cover up and hinder evidence by intimidating witnesses, pressurizing the Police to favour some naval operatives and exerted duress (as prosecutor) in order for his name to be removed (as suspect).
Whilst Admiral Karannagoda was implicated in the case, President Maithripala Sirisena, who came to power vowing to resolve these cases last week promoted Karannagoda to the rank of ‘Admiral of the Fleet’, which was criticized by many.
In addition, the promotion comes hot on the heels of Attorney General admonishing inter alia the Acting IGP for not completing and the undue delay in the cases pertaining to the assassination of The Sunday Leader Editor-in-Chief Lasantha Wickrematunge, murder of ruggerite Waseem Thajudeen, abduction of The Nation Deputy Editor Keith Noyahr and the shooting of 17 aid workers in Mutthur along with the disappearance of the 11 youth.
Last year, the senior-most serving military officer – incumbent Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Admiral Ravindra Wijeguneratne’s was charged for his alleged links to the abductors of 11 youth along with Karannagoda also being charged for having knowledge of the crimes.
In February 2019, in a bizarre turn of events, CID informed Court that telephone records of certain accused in the case, accessed and available only to the private telephone operator in question has been inexplicably deleted for unknown reasons via high-profile intervention.
This is not the first time that evidence and / or witnesses had been tampered with in the case, as Lt. Commander Galagamage Laksiri who is a key state witness in case was assaulted by CDS’s security detail in front of none other than CDS himself on November 25, 2018. When Lt. Cdr. Laksiri later arrived at the Fort Police Station to record a statement, naval officers pressurized the Police not to record the same and when the Police visited the Navy Mess the next day, it was found out that CDS’ aides had tampered with vital CCTV footage.
Earlier Admiral Wijeguneratne was arrested on 28 November 2018 and remanded until the 5 December. Before his arrest, it was reported that the CID unearthed fresh evidence of how Admiral Wijeguneratne harboured and protected Navy Sampath from arrest.
Startling revelations point out that the suspect Navy Sampath who was attached to the Trincomalee Naval Base had resided in the Officers’ Quarters at the base after fleeing lawful custody with the backing of certain officials of Sri Lanka Navy with the concurrence of the incumbent CDS, the CID further informed the Court.
The Police had brought to the notice of the Court that Admiral Wijeguneratne had provided facilities, securities and instructions to the suspect in order avoid lawful arrest.
In addition, under auspices of the Admiral, a sum of rupees five hundred thousand had been handed over to the suspect by Rear Admiral Hettiarachchi from an account maintained by the Commander of Sri Lanka Navy, for the suspect to travel abroad.
During the 51-day illegal coup, one of the first moves of President Maithripala Sirisena was to order the transfer of the Officer in Charge (OIC) of the Organised Crimes Unit of the (CID) – Inspector of Police Nishantha Silva to the Negombo Police Division who investigated this matter along with other high-profile cases such as Lasantha Wickeramatunge murder case and Keith Noyahr abduction case, bypassing the National Police Commission.
Colombo Telegraph reported that Director CID Senior DIG Ravi Seneviratne informed the National Police Commission revealed that President Sirisena ordered the transfer of Silva after Chief of Defence Staff Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne, a suspect in the Navy abductions case, fabricated false allegations against the CID officer at a security council meeting. The move to transfer the CID finally proved to be futile as the National Police commission made a swift intervention and inquired from the IGP about the circumstances leading to the transfer of Nishantha Silva. Upon the Police Commission’s inquiry, IGP Pujith Jayasundara issued a backdated letter and withdrew the transfer of Silva. (By Sandeepa Perera)