The Attorney General has reopened a 15-year-old case into the killing of murder suspect Army Suranga, a Sri Lanka Army special forces deserter turned underworld gangster, in a bid to secure the extradition of former CID Inspector Nishantha Silva.
AG Dappula De Livera, who retires within a few months has ordered the arrest of CID ASP Lalith Ratnayake, SI Premakumara and former CID IP Nishantha Silva over the killing of murder suspect Army Suranga in June 2006.
Army Suranga confessed to killing notorious underworld kingpin Ruwan Kumara alias Wambotta shortly before his death in Sevanagala, on the borders of the Udawalawe sanctuary. Following a magisterial inquiry, the Army Suranga case went cold over a decade ago.
The fresh effort to penalize former IP Silva comes as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Government scrambles to prevent vital evidence regarding war crimes and atrocities committed against political opponents and journalists reaching a new United Nations database of evidence from Sri Lanka which will be operational within a few months.
Colombo Telegraph learns that the Government is specifically planning to target Sri Lankans living overseas, some of whom have been granted political asylum. Fears are mounting inside the highly militarized administration where accused war criminals and human rights abusers hold senior positions, that Sri Lankans overseas with knowledge of past atrocities could contribute to the UN evidence database.
The intelligence services have already identified the whereabouts of at least one journalist-asylum seeker formerly attached to a state broadcaster with knowledge of battle-field atrocities, Colombo Telegraph learns. Silva, who authored countless B reports on crimes committed when the Rajapaksa administration last held office, could also become a crucial resource for a UN evidence-gathering team.
The warrant for Silva’s arrest, the second warrant issued for the former CID detective, will be on a murder charge. Lawyers said the move would allow the Government to make a case to the Swiss Government for extradition, while also discrediting former IP Silva as a potential witness and his investigations into human rights abuses, by painting him out as a man wanted on a murder charge.
Silva fled to Switzerland soon after the 2019 presidential election.
As Officer in Charge of the Gang Robberies Branch of the CID, IP Silva’s portfolio involved a bundle of criminal investigations that went to the heart of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s activities when he served as Secretary to the Ministry of Defence during the Mahinda Rajapaksa presidency. The Gang Robberies Branch (GRB) dealt with crimes that had shocked the public conscience and were emblematic of the brutality of the 2005-2015 Rajapaksa regime.
The branch handled the Lasantha Wickrematunge murder investigation, the abduction and suspected murder of Prageeth Ekneligoda, the abduction and murder of 11 Tamil youth by a gang of racketeers who were serving members of the Sri Lanka Navy, the abduction and torture of journalists Keith Noyahr in 2008 and the attack on journalist Upali Tennakoon in 2009. The GRB investigations led by Silva closed in on the terrifying Triploli Platoon, a military intelligence unit operating out of the Maradana army camp and led by then Major Prabath Bulathwatte. Silva’s investigations revealed that Bulathwatte’s unit was assembled under the special directive of then Secretary of Defence Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his National Intelligence Chief Kapila Hendawitharana with a specific mandate to surveil, intimidate and harass journalists. The Tripoli Platoon was implicated by IP Silva’s investigations in Wickrematunge’s murder, Noyahr’s abduction and the attack on Tennakoon. Before being stationed in Maradana to pursue media personnel in Colombo, Bulathwatte and his team was based in Jaffna, where northern journalists were repeatedly targeted, attacked or killed.
As lead detective at the GRB, IP Silva was at the forefront of these investigations and became the public face of the investigations as he trudged to court monthly to deliver to reports in open court to magistrates supervising the CID investigations into these politically charged violent crimes.
Soon, Nishantha Silva became the main target of the posse of high-profile criminal lawyers aligned with Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his family, who suddenly began to appear for lower ranking military personnel accused of murder and abduction, especially concerning political targets such as journalists.
These lawyers and groups mobilized to oppose the “witch hunt against war heroes” including legions of rabid Buddhist monks, persistently referred to the CID inspector as “Nishantha Candappa” alluding to the fact that Silva hailed from Tamil stock. The slur was also intended to cast doubt on Silva’s motives, as his investigations led to multiple arrests within the military establishment.
As one of the CID’s most competent, Silva was regularly commissioned for other high-level probes, for instance the rape and murder of the Jaffna schoolgirl Vidhya Sivaloganathan in 2016. After weeks stationed in Jaffna, a team led by Silva cracked the case, helping the Attorney General to secure a conviction and death sentence for the seven men accused of her murder. In the Sivaloganathan case, the Jaffna High Court commended Silva and the CID team for their swift and meticulous investigation that nabbed the schoolgirl’s attackers.
IP Silva was also a key investigator in the CID team that disproved the allegations against Dr. Shafi, the Kurunegala Teaching Hospital surgeon who was subjected to a vicious witch-hunt by SLPP aligned groups that propagated claims that the Muslim doctor had forcibly sterilized Sinhalese women. Dr Shafi was incarcerated for several months over the false claims, and only released on bail after the CID conducted a stunning investigation that exposed a complex conspiracy by the hospital director and senior police officers in the region, aided and abetted by the far-right nationalist newspaper Divaina. Dr Shafi and his family were run out of their hometown by the scandal. Silva’s involvement in the case also made him a target of far-right groups operating under the patronage of the Podujana Peramuna and the Rajapaksa family. (By Janakie Mediwake)