Department of Excise sleuths have been involved in targeting teenagers over a period of time, especially those from reputable families and extorting large sums of ransom monies for their release, Colombo Telegraph can reveal today.
A group of victims made up of several parents when contacted by Colombo Telegraph confirmed that collectively they are proceeding to file a Fundamental Rights case under the constitution of Sri Lanka against human rights violations.
Helen Meegasmulla was recently appointed to the post of Excise Commissioner General.
In a startling investigative discovery over a two-year period, Colombo Telegraph has credible information to confirm that high-ranking officers from the Department of Excise have been using different methods to lure and arrest and at times torture unsuspecting youth especially for drug-related offenses, in order to extort whopping sums of monies from their families.
These acts which still prevail mainly in Colombo and its surrounding suburbs, run concurrently between various stations due to the original group of operating officers being transferred to different stations. However it all began a few years back, when a group of Excise Officers were working together and were attached to the Special Operations Unit, working under the supervision of Superintendent of Excise Rohan Wijeratne.
The used methods vary from luring youth to purchase recreational drugs, especially at parties and night clubs, by using their own decoys to sell it, to drugs being delivered by mail or courier to their residences.
In reported incidences narrated by victims, it was told that once youth are arrested at either parties or night clubs, they are taken to their Department of Excise Offices and tortured into providing confessions under duress.
In some related cases in order to obtain confessions, arrested youth are handcuffed and hung by the beam of the ceiling and mercilessly hit with hose pipes. They then get the parents of the youth to their station and inform them that their children have confessed to their crimes and that they would be produced in High Court.
Parents are sternly warned that their children will not be granted bail for such admitted offences and will subsequently be jailed for lengthy periods of time.
Large sums of monies ranging from such as Rs 1 to 2 million are then demanded for their release. Parents are barely given a couple of hours to find such ransom money for the release of their children.
Most emotionally drained parent victims speaking to Colombo Telegraph said that they would part with whatever they possessed in order to have their children saved.
“If we decided to take on these Department of Excise Officers using the proper legal means, it is going to take time to prove our childrens’ innocence,” said one distressed parent who did not want to be identified.
“Our children will be in remand custody in the interim for a considerable period of time. They could be harassed whilst being in custody too. The unscrupulous Department of Excise Officers frame these children in such a way, they basically don’t give you much options at that time. So almost all parents pay these large sums of ransom monies, take their children and go away. Individually we are weak and they take advantage of that. But collectively when we victims are united or if we have a fall back option when in distress, we can prevent abuse of this nature from taking place” the parent went on to say.
However after ransom monies are paid the youth are still produced in court on a fabricated offence, imposed a fine prior to permitting the parents to take their children home.
Victims believe that this is done to prevent them from filing legal action against the Excise officers, despite knowing that they were being victimized.
Meanwhile another parent claimed that his son had received a letter in the post that contained a drug resembling a sheet of small stamps which was neatly concealed.
“Apparently this is a type of a hallucinating drug that is used by placing a piece of the torn off stamp under the tongue,” the parent said.
“No sooner this letter arrived, Excise sleuths raided our residence and arrested my son. We had to pay a fortune in ransom money to get our son released. Till to date we do not know who sent that letter addressed to my son,” the parent said.
In other related cases, Excise Department sleuths are reported to visit houses of youth, especially where they know they can bully their way through parents and arrest their children for questioning.
They claim they are acting on a tip off. They then forcibly handcuff and take them away to their station. Subsequently forced confessions are obtained and parents are forced to pay ransoms for the release of their children.
Several victims when contacted by Colombo Telegraph revealed that they have been petrified to report such incidents of abuse, citing fear of being continuously victimized, but more so don’t think the current government will provide them fair justice and protection.
When Colombo Telegraph investigated these issues further, it was shocking to find that in fact these Excise Officers were acting with freedom, working in tandem with certain underworld figures, lawyers and under the protection of those holding office in parliament.
However, during our in depth investigation into these allegations, Colombo Telegraph obtained startling evidence of several voice recordings, where Department of Excise Inspector Thilak Disanayake is badgering a parent victim and eventually extorting money. The confirmation of Dissanayake’s recorded voice was listened to by a reliable source within the Department of Excise who identified him.
Meanwhile Colombo Telegraph contacted several other victimized families who named and identified perpetrators in these rackets comprising Department of Excise inspectors and officers: Thilak Disanayake, Nishantha Ratnayaka, A.S. Chaminda, Prasana Pathirana, Mohan Sampath Wijekoon, Wijesekara, Chinthaka and a now interdicted staff member Shamika Lakshan.
Stated below are several accounts as described by parent victims:
1) A parent speaking to Colombo Telegraph on condition of anonymity said: “My child was alone at home as my wife and I were away. This is when these officers came home and kidnapped our son. He initially got a call from one of his friends late at night, who said he was outside his gate and needed help. When he opened the front door, several Department of Excise Officers who had by then secretly entered our garden pounced on my son, took away his mobile phone and punched him mercilessly. They had in fact rounded up two other boys prior to driving to our residence to kidnap my son. They then bundled my son into the van much against his wishes and wedged him on the floor in between the seats. Even his screams for help were not heeded by our neighbours as it was way past midnight. They then punched him continuously on his head till he almost passed out. When they got to their office, the officers then handcuffed him and hung him on the beam of the ceiling. My son was then hammered with hose pipes on his back until he fainted. His wrists were cut and bleeding due to the handcuffs and in fact the scars are visible even till to date. After he regained consciousness, they got him to confess under duress and also touch certain parcels containing drugs. They also got him to sign a blank statement page. They themselves then recorded a statement of their choice on the blank page my son was forced to sign. It was only after that and around 3am did they permit my son to call us. They demanded Rs1.5 million at first and frightened us saying that my son was one of the most wanted drug dealers in the country and that if they produce him in High Court he will be sentenced to 10 years in prison. They gave us only a couple of hours to find this money, if not they said they were going to take him to courts. We had no choice but to give them the money they demanded and save our child. They reduced the extorted amount to Rs 10 lakhs after we kept on pleading that we did not have that kind of money at our disposal. However, after giving them the demanded money they still said they have to produce my son in court. They then falsely planted some cannabis on him and filed a charge. We had to further incur several thousands of rupees on top of this to pay a lawyer to appear in court and also pay a fine. On this particular day the other two boys’ parents also paid several lakhs of rupees in a similar fashion. These Excise Officers extorted a couple of millions of rupees only from us that night. I sent the Bribery Commission an email on their official address about this incident, but till to date, I am still to get a response from them. I am not sure if some of them in there are also involved in this racket.”
2) Another parent speaking to Colombo Telegraph also on condition of anonymity, as his son is still a student, said: “In my case my son and a group of his friends were arrested by these same officers Dissanayake, Ratnayake and Chaminda at a party they had attended. A group of boys, including my son, were given some recreational drugs by some other boys who were also revelers at the party. Little did my son and his friends realize that these boys who gave them the drugs were part of the same team that was working closely with these Excise Officers. Mid-way through the party these Excise Officers raided the event and arrested my son and his friends. On this particular day nearly ten boys were taken in to custody by them to their office and after several hours they ordered my son to call us. By this time Dissanayake, Ratnayake and Chaminda had completed all their formalities and when we arrived they told us that are children would be produced in High Court and sent to jail. On that particular night all of us parents had to pay money between the ranges of Rs 3 to 5 Lakhs each. It is confirmed that when monies are extorted, Dissanayake, Ratnayake and Chaminda also give these informant boys a commission from the collection.”
3) An account of a single mother victimized by these Excise Officers on two accounts told Colombo Telegraph: “The first time around I sold my gold chain and borrowed more money from my retired father to pay them Rs 8 Lakhs and save my child. Then six months later they came a second time when my father and son were at home. My son had nothing on his possession or were there any drugs in the house. When my 70-year-old father resisted their entry, they just pushed him away and he went sprawling on the floor. They then said they are taking my son as some other boy had mentioned that he had supplied him some drugs. These are all false allegations. They just take them to their office and force confessions out of them. This time around I had to borrow 3 lakhs from my friends to pay these scrupulous Excise Officers. At this rate I will have to sell myself on the streets or commit suicide, as I can’t take this anymore.”
Meanwhile Colombo Telegraph contacted the current Department of Excise Special Operations Bureau Superintendent Channa Weerakkody for clarification on the allegations made against these identified Excise sleuths.
Superintendent Weerakkody said: “Yes, I have received several verbal complaints that there have been numerous allegations made against these officers. These crimes reported had taken place before I was transferred here to oversee this unit. Prior to us moving to our current office located at Nawala Road near the Open University, the Department of Excise Special Operations Bureau was located at Park Lane in Borella and prior to that down Baseline Road opposite the Trillium Residencies.These were the two located offices where these crimes have allegedly have said to have taken place. However, all these officers whose names are mentioned have been transferred to other stations within the island. None of them work under me at present. I can personally vouch that under my watch none of these abductions and extortion have taken place nor will it take place under my supervision in the future. Please do publish my mobile number and that of my O.I.C. Hemantha Pathirage in your story and do urge anyone who has been victimized to contact us. Also please do inform the general public that our numbers are open 24/7 and to not hesitate to contact us at any time if they are being victimized.”
Sources close to the Department of Excise when contacted by Colombo Telegraph said: “A couple years ago there were these groups of Excise Officers who all worked closely as one unit. There was Mohan Wijekoon, Prasana Pathirana, Thilak Disanayake, Nishantha Ratnayaka, A.S. Chaminda, Wijesekara, Chinthaka and Shamika Lakshan. They set out each night targeting to make a whopping sum of Rs 5 million.”
“However, all of them have got transferred to different stations and now run their own individual units of kidnap and extortion. Mohan Sampath Wijekoon and Chinthaka run the Colombo City unit. A.S. Chaminda is attached to Excise Station Kesbewa, Thilak Disanayake and Nishantha Ratnayaka are attached to Excise H.I. Station in Jayawardenapura whilst Prasana Pathirana and Wijesekara are attached to the ACMI Bottling Plant in Hanwella,” they went on to say.
Elaborating further our sources said “Shamika Lakshan was interdicted from the Department of Excise after he was caught with drugs by the police. However his case is pending and he is out on bail. However, he still operates with all of these units on an individual basis and has the protection of a current government Cabinet Minister. All of them act with impunity due to the current governmental support they receive. This is a massive mafia operation.”
What was startling was when our sources went on to expose the rest that supported this operation.
“There are lawyers who work in tandem with them and pretend to be supportive to victims when in fact they collect large sums of monies for their legal services and also to pay off the extortion monies to these Excise Officers. There are also certain judges who provide rulings in their favour, especially when innocent parties are produced on false charges to courts. Then they do have certain JMO’s who would provide any medical report they require. This is besides key underworld figures who provide various services as and when they require,” our sources said.
Commenting further our sources said: “Now that they have been scattered they are making a huge effort to congregate once again. Thilak Disanayake has a brother who works within the Sri Lanka Administration Services and is responsible for submitting recommendations for government servants transfers. He is currently trying his utmost best to influence his Commissioner General to get A.S. Chaminda transferred to Jayawardenapura, so that he can join his brother Thilak Dissanayake and Nishantha Ratnayake. This is besides Mohan Wijekoon who is making every attempt to be transferred to the Department of Excise Special Operations Bureau. This is the key place where officers are permitted to go on raids island wide. Currently those positioned in other stations could only conduct raids in their respective areas. However, Thilak Disanayake and Nishantha Ratnayaka, who are currently stationed at Jayawardenapura, are managed by a Chief Inspector named Jagath Perera. He is a weak Chief Inspector and Disanayake and Ratnayaka run circles around him. He can’t handle these guys and they assign any duty that they prefer to do. They go on illegal raids to other parts of the country, arrests youth and bring them to Jayawardenapura whenever possible. They are not supposed to do that. With many of these alleged perpetrators stationed in different stations at present, they still use different kinds of modus operandi. For instance they now rent a van and go arrest youth out of their periphery. Then they park the vehicle on the streets and call the parents. They collect the money wherever they have parked their vehicle and extort monies and only then do they release the kidnapped youth. Most of these officers who have been involved in these abductions have got used to a lifestyle that cannot be supported by their government servant drawn salaries. The Bribery and Corruption Department should investigate all of these guys and find out as to how they have improved their life styles through all these ill-gotten wealth. They collect huge sums of monies like this and all they do is go and gamble in casinos. They are very reluctant to even go to their homes after duty. On numerous occasions even their wives come over to the office and complain to the Officer in Charge that their husbands are not coming home. They say that their Excise Officer husbands continuously complain that they are assigned several raids and the demands of their jobs don’t make it permissible for them to go home often.”
When Colombo Telegraph inquired as to how this menace could be wiped out, our sources said: “We are fortunate that for the very first time a woman named Helen Meegasmulla is to be appointed as the head of the Department of Excise. She is tough and the ideal choice. These guys are worse than terrorists. This is a different type of terrorism that has to be quashed in a different manner. Only those who have been victimized will understand. Firstly the government needs to provide the assurance and protection for victims to come forward. They need to fearlessly come forward and provide details of their cases. The government needs to get involved and gain the collective support of the Special Task Force, Police Narcotics Department, Commission to Investigate Bribery and Corruption and the judiciary to expedite reported cases. There is no way out otherwise.”
If in the event you are been made a victim under similar circumstances, please do contact the Excise Department Special Operations Bureau immediately:
Superintendent Channa Weerakkody – 0777682443
Officer in Charge – Hemantha Pathirage – 0714428206
(By Jacqueline Senanayake)