Five days before the parliamentary election the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration which has seen its popularity plummet in recent months moved to arrest former CID Director SSP Shani Abeysekera, a police official that the regime has had in its cross-hairs since it won the November 2019 poll.
Incongruously Abeysekera has been arrested by the Colombo Crimes Division on charges of fabricating evidence in a 2013 case which resulted in the trial and conviction of the bent copper DIG Vass Gunewardena. A High Court trial at bar found the DIG guilty of accepting a contract to murder the businessman Mohamed Shiyam in Bambalapitiya in May 2013. At the time when Abeysekera arrested two rival businessmen, Mohammed Fauzdeen and Krishantha Koralage, the pair confessed to contracting DIG Vass to abduct and murder Shiyam. Abeysekera arrested Vaas Gunewardane DIG in June 2013 and charged him with Shiyam’s murder. In November, the former DIG, his son and four police officers under his command were sentenced to death by the High Court for the contract killing of Shiyam. It was an open secret at the time that Vaas Gunewardane had high-level protection from the Rajapaksa regime which was defeated in January 2015. DIG Vass Gunewardena appealed his conviction in the Supreme Court and in 2019, a five judge bench of the highest court of the land upheld his conviction by the Trial-at-Bar. Vaas Gunewardane, a DIG was running a contract-killing squad as a side show to police work, and he enjoyed protections of the highest order. On multiple occasions during the investigation, Colombo Telegraph learns that Gotabaya Rajapaksa, then Defence Secretary under his brother Mahinda’s presidency, sought to interfere with the investigation and prevent Vaas Gunewardane’s arrest and trial.
For eight months President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has tried to find a way to arrest Abeysekera who was removed as CID Director within days of Rajapaksa assuming office as President. A coordinated witch-hunt against Abeysekera, a decorated Special Task Force soldier, began in earnest after the presidential election. The Rajapaksa administration launched between 20-30 investigations regarding Abeysekera’s conduct, in order to arrest and charge him, Colombo Telegraph learns.
There are murmurs in upper ranks of the regime that once Abeysekera is behind bars on any pretext the regime can manufacture, his life would be in danger from various criminal elements he has put in prison during his policing career.
Activists are gravely concerned that Abeysekera’s life could be in serious danger while he is in prison.
Sources told Colombo Telegraph that Abeysekera’s arrest in connection with the Vass Gunewardane conviction and investigation is aimed at ensuring the road is paved for the bent police officer to be granted a presidential pardon following the parliamentary election. The charges of fabricating evidence will then lead to similar manipulation of evidence charges in the Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra murder investigation in order to allow President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to pardon his former favourite Duminda Silva, who was convicted of the murder. “This is the first step towards that goal,” a senior police officer told Colombo Telegraph. “By throwing doubt on Shani’s murder investigations they can work on getting the murderers out of jail.”
The senior police officer now retired complained that Abeysekera would not find much support from political actors who swept to power in 2015 pledging to investigate murders and abductions when the Rajapaksa administration was last in power. “Shani was just doing his job. He was investigating. His investigations revealed dangerous things for the current president and it is essential to Gotabaya Rajapaksa that Shani is discredited and his investigations are exposed as frauds” the police officer, now retired told Colombo Telegraph speaking on grounds of anonymity.
Before he was interdicted under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa Shani Abeysekera had served nine years at the CID under several presidents. Abeysekera has had FBI training, and is known as Sri Lanka’s top sleuth, responsible for cracking complex murder cases. His meticulous investigations have often left little work for prosecutors. Abeysekera led the investigation into the Royal Park murder, which was prosecuted by no less than the serving Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya when he was at the Attorney General’s Department. Shani Abeysekera has more than two dozen murder convictions under his belt during his work at the CID.
In fact when Abeysekera’s stellar career at the CID was rewarded and he was appointed Director CID, then Attorney General Jayantha Jayasuriya, who now serves as the country’s top judge, paid a glowing tribute to the police officer.
““The quality of investigations he has carried out to-date has always been exceptional,” said Attorney General, Jayantha Jayasuriya told a newspaper in an interview, encouraging junior CID officers to “follow in Shani’s footsteps”, “adding that in his personal experience, the burden on prosecutors was substantially eased by Shani’s “marvellous and comprehensive investigations” and detail-oriented approach to interviewing suspects and witnesses alike.”
Shani Abeysekera remains one of the few Sri Lankan police officials to graduate from the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation’s elite FBI National Academy in Virginia. Early in his police career, Shani joined the Special Task Force and underwent rigorous paramilitary training before being deployed at various camps throughout the Eastern Province.
Ironically, Shani Abeysekera’s sleuthing and counter-terrorism credentials were so solid that he led investigations into the failed assassination attempts on the lives of President Chandrika Kumaratunga, former Army Chief Sarath Fonseka and former defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa himself.
The current President’s ire against Abeysekera goes down to his leadership for investigations that have hit too close to home for Gotabaya Rajapaksa, including the Lasantha Wickrematunge assassination, the Keith Noyahr abduction and torture, the Prageeth Eknaligoda disappearance case and the Wasim Thajudeen murder investigation. Abeysekera’s investigations have also led to trials against Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s acolytes including Nissanka Senadhipathi who was gun-running using Sri Lankan government weapons with Gotabaya’s blessings and Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda who has been accused of murder in the Navy abductions case.