Colombo Telegraph can now reveal the shocking saga of how President Maithripala Sirisena stepped in to prevent the arrest of former Navy Commander Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda by influencing the Attorney General and the judiciary ahead of his fundamental rights petition being heard in the Supreme Court on Thursday March 7.
President Sirisena who is now in charge of Law and Order was briefed ahead of time about the AG’s plans to indict Karannagoda for allegedly aiding and abetting the murders of 11 youth abducted by a Navy gang in 2008 and for deliberately concealing evidence about the abductions. The aiding and abetting murder charge being non-bailable the former Navy Commander would have been arrested by the CID once the charges framed by the AG’s Department were read out to him.
Colombo Telegraph learns that following a thorough briefing on the issue by Solicitor General Dappula De Livera, President Sirisena had claimed he would not stand in the way of the law taking its course against all those who had been involved in the kidnapping and murder of the 11 youth.
The fear of being remanded drove Wasantha Karannagoda, Sri Lanka’s commander of the navy during the final phase of the war into hiding from the CID by February 21 the day he was scheduled to appear before the CID. After pursuing him at two of his known residential addresses in Colombo 05 and in Kotte, the CID reported to the Fort Magistrate that Karannagoda was absconding and the Fort Magistrate impounded the former Commander’s passport and ordered the Controller General of Immigration to stop him from leaving the island.
While being a fugitive from justice Karannagoda used his high-end legal team led by President’s Counsel Romesh De Silva to file a petition in Supreme Court on 22 February trying to block his arrest by the CID. Romesh De Silva PC has become the lawyer of choice for suspects in high profile criminal and corruption investigations who want to get their arrest by law enforcement agencies blocked. When the case initially came up on February 28 Supreme Court Justice Priyantha Jayawardane recused himself from the case claiming that he had once appeared for Karannagoda while he was practicing as a private lawyer. But before he recused himself Justice Jayawardane tried to get the AG to agree to give an undertaking to Romesh De Silva that his client Wasantha Karannagoda would not be arrested by the CID until the case was taken up again on 7 March. The AG flatly refused to give this undertaking to Court which meant that if the CID found the former Navy Commander between February 28 and March 7, Karannagoda could still be arrested. The AG was represented in the Supreme Court on February 28 by Additional Solicitor General Viraj Dayaratne.
The former Navy Commander continued to remain in hiding from the law.
On 6 March the eve of Karannagoda’s case in Supreme Court businessmen and media captains Tiran Alles and Dilith Jayaweera met President Sirisena. Both Alles and Jayaweera are members of Team Gotabaya. Both are under criminal investigation themselves for financial dealings during the Mahinda Rajapaksa presidency.
During the meeting with Sirisena, Alles and Jayaweera begged the President to request the CID not to arrest Wasantha Karannagoda. They told him that if Karannagoda was arrested he would not be able to get bail due to the seriousness of the charge.
President Sirisena offered to speak to the Attorney General’s Department on the ex-Navy Commander’s behalf. While offering to speak with the AG, President Sirisena quipped to Jayaweera and Alles: “Those two (AG and SG) are constantly running to me asking me for promotions to the Supreme Court. I can talk to them”.
After the meeting with Alles and Jayaweera, Sirisena spoke with Attorney General Jayasuriya and instructed him that the AG’s Department should not insist on the arrest of the former Navy Commander.
Accordingly the next morning – 7 March – shortly before the case was due to come up in Supreme Court, Attorney General relayed the President’s instructions to the state attorneys who would represent the CID in the case filed by Karannagoda. The message was clear – there was no longer a need to insist on arrest.
Meanwhile based on his chat with Sirisena on Wednesday Alles relayed the information the President had given him that the AG and SG were angling for promotions to the Supreme Court.
A shrewd litigator, Romesh De Silva was well aware that Justice Buvaneka Aluvihare who was presiding that day was entertaining hopes of becoming the next Chief Justice. A promotion of Attorney General Jayasuriya to the Supreme Court could stymie those plans since an AG can be elevated to CJ automatically.
Last Thursday 7 March Romesh De Silva PC appearing with attorneys Sugath Caldera and Niran Anketell made submissions for two hours and 10 minutes. His first salvo – which lawyers said were aimed at immediately prejudicing the bench – was to tell the three judges that the AG and the SG were seeking promotions as judges of the Supreme Court. The situation was a “disgrace” he said and that AG’s Department was not what it used to be.
He then launched an attack against the CID, calling their investigation politically motivated and even referring to CID IP Nishantha Silva as the “hangman”. Distorting facts reported in CID B reports and claiming that the former Navy Commander could have got away with murder in May 2008 because he and his men were war heroes but had still chosen to make a complaint to the police De Silva said his patriotic blood was boiling because of how the CID had conducted its investigation to implicate “the man who won the war for us”.
Officials from the AG’s Department remained silent throughout the vicious attack on the AG and the CID never even protesting against De Silva’s malicious claims against their own boss. ASG Dayaratne also never saw fit to defend CID IP Nishantha Silva the first respondent in Karannagoda’s petition, whose counsel he was supposed to be.
Instead all the false facts reported to court about frivolous charges against Karannagoda, the lack of evidence, the former navy commander’s actual role in the sordid story of how men under his command abducted and killed boys from rich families for ransom were never corrected for the court record.
At one point Justice Surasena even asked the AG if there was really enough evidence to indict Karannagoda since Romesh De Silva had painted a shocking picture about a shaky case that the ASG with all the facts the CID had given their ‘legal team’ never tried to counter or set straight.
In fact ASG Dayaratne told court that the AG’s primary interest in the case was not the arrest of a suspect hiding from the law and wanted on a charge of aiding and abetting the murder of 11 young boys.
The surreal day in Court ended with Romesh De Silva having his way with the three-judge bench of the Supreme Court. Led by Justice Buvanekha Aluvihare the bench refused to allow President’s Counsel J.C. Weliamuna who was appearing on behalf of the mother of one of the abducted boys to make submissions in the case. The judges appeared to be so pliant towards De Silva that they even allowed him to make changes to the order.
All three justices who heard the case were former judge advocate generals who had served on military tribunals when they were officials at the AG’s department.
In the face of Sirisena’s blatant interference in the process of justice and his unashamed partisanship towards members of the former Rajapaksa regime the UNP Government has chosen complete silence. Despite the 19th Amendment’s best efforts to make the Office of the Attorney General independent by preventing his removal except through a Resolution of parliament the AG’s Department remains a pliant institution ever willing to be manipulated by those wielding political power.
Update: Contacting Colombo Telegraph after this report was published Jayaweera denied meeting President Sirisena. The media boss said that he had not met President Sirisena in many months. He also claimed that he was not under investigation.
However several sources confirmed the meeting between the two businessmen and the President. Jayaweera was also present in court on both dates that the Karannagoda’s FR petition came up. On the 7th media reports said Jayaweera’s mobile telephone had been on during the hearing. When the SC judges were ordering the date and time at which Karannagoda was to present himself before the CID it was Jayaweera who confirmed that Monday at 9AM will be suitable for the former Navy Commander. Dilith Jayaweera and Admiral Karannagoda are known to be close associates.
Jayaweera’s claim that he was not under investigation is also false. Jayaweera was investigated for stock market manipulation through the infamous pump and dump schemes by the FCID in 2015. But after the sacked former FCID boss DIG Ravi Waidyalankara began making “deals” with criminal and crooked elements of the Rajapaksa regime he concluded the case.
In 2015 the Colombo Magistrate’s Court ordered a full report on the controversial share transactions of then SEC Chairman Nalaka Godahewa, Dilith Jayaweera, Sarvajana Anandaraj Ameresekere and Varuni Amungama who is Jayaweera’s business partner at TRIAD and Derana. Jayaweera and several other high net worth investors are under scrutiny by various law enforcement agencies for alleged involvement in share price manipulation and insider trading at the Colombo Stock Exchange. A FCID case into alleged share manipulation by Citrus Leisure, the company headed by Jayaweera has been referred to the Attorney General as well as several other Securities and Exchange Commission related cases that have implicated the media boss. (By Ramani Bulathgamuwa)