On August 7, 2016, the Colombo Telegraph carried a story under the heading “Weliamuna Appeared For Lasantha’s Murder Suspect Under Rajapaksas’ Watch: TI Director Now Evades Questions” which said that Weliamuna, who is the Director of both Transparency International and its Sri Lanka Chapter had appeared on behalf of Piyawansa, an Army Intelligence Officer.
Piyawansa was accused of purchasing five SIM cards which were used in the murder operation of Wickrematunge. Piyawansa is alleged to have purchased the SIMs under the name of Pitchai Jesudasan whose ID card was stolen by Piyawansa. Jesudasan reportedly died in remand custody during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency.
Even though a journalist attached to the Colombo Telegraph made repeated attempts to contact Weliamuna for clarification over his decision to appear on behalf of Piyawansa, Weliamuna continuously evaded phone calls, text messages and even emails sent to him over a period of several days.
However, after the article appeared in the Colombo Telegraph, a frantic Weliamuna and several of his friends had tried to convince editors and journalists of several English and Sinhala newspapers to provide space for ‘Weliamuna’s side of the story.’ However, only ‘Sathhanda,’ a Sinhala newspaper had granted Weliamuna space for his Q & A.
In the interview, Weliamuna says that he appeared for Piyawansa in Supreme Court because Piyawansa’s human rights were violated.
In the questions Colombo Telegraph sent to him, we did ask him to clarify his position, which he chose to ignore. Weliamuna accepts that Piyawansa was released from all charges on the basis of a decision of the higher court after he appeared on his behalf.
Incidentally, most of the questions in Weliamuna’s interview published in ‘Sathhanda’ were what the Colombo Telegraph sent him via email. However, both Weliamuna and the newspaper have not explicitly mentioned Colombo Telegraph anywhere in the interview.
In the interview, Weliamuna’s answer to the question whether he is an advisor to the President is not clear. Colombo Telegraph asked him: “Do you currently function as an Advisor to the President of Sri Lanka? If yes, in what area do you provide advice on.” The question was based on a caption and picture published by Transparency International website in June 2016 where they described Weliamuna as a Presidential Advisor (Please see image here) while he is seen standing next to President Maithripala Sirisena at the Anti-Corruption Summit in London. Weliamuna is also the current chairman of the Stolen Assets Recovery Task Force.
In the interview, Weliamuna also admits that he has appeared for other Army personnel to get their due promotions.
Clarifying as to why he avoided the questions sent to him by Colombo Telegraph, Weliamuna had said: “I will not speak to any media organization or journalist that has been attacking me”. However, the Colombo Telegraph would like to place the following facts and allow it’s readers to decide if the website was working on the interest of the public or if it was carrying out a witch hunt against Weliamuna as claimed by him.
In May last year, the Colombo Telegraph carried several articles along the lines that Weliamuna and several senior lawyers was paid Rs. 3.5 million from public money to carry out an inquiry into corruption and malpractices at the SriLankan Airlines. Subsequently, Colombo Telegraph requested for a breakdown from Weliamuna as to how much he and the rest of the team was paid respectively taking into account the large sum of money that was invested in this report. Weliamuna however never responded to the question. As a government that came into power pledging transparency, and good governance, the Colombo Telegraph believed it was appropriate that people be informed about how the new government was spending the public money. “There ought to be transparency on both the framework set for the inquiry and the basis for charging – the danger is this ends with those involved profiteering without [the public gaining] adequate benefits”, a Finance Ministry official told Colombo Telegraph.
Subsequent to Weliamuna’s claim that Colombo Telegraph had launched a witch hunt against him, the website spoke to a reader selected randomly to obtain his views on Weliamuna’s statement. The reader, Manjula Kandadarage said that in his opinion there was no witch hunt and the Colombo Telegraph was merely carrying out the fundamental pillar on what journalism is built on, which is ‘finding out the truth.’
“I don’t see this as a witch hunt or a personal grudge, and Colombo Telegraph was merely asking questions keeping the public interest in mind. For someone who is talking about transparency and accountability and especially with his position as the Director of Transparency International, he should have answered the questions,” the reader said.
Incidentally on August 7th the day the article on Weliamuna appeared in the Colombo Telegraph, UNP Working Committee member and media head Krishantha Cooray telephoned journalist Munza Mushtaq who wrote the story and questioned as to why she was ‘attacking’ Weliamuna.
Cooray had no idea who wrote the article as the article which was published did not carry any bylines due to the fact that apart from Mushtaq, another journalist from the Colombo Telegraph News Desk also worked on the story. Only Weliamuna knew about Mushtaq, as it was she who contacted him and emailed him the questions with regard his decision to appear on behalf of Wickrematunge’s murder suspect. The Colombo Telegraph believes that Weliamuna would have made a complaint about the journalist to Cooray, who in turn called her and questioned her as to why she wrote the story.