2 March, 2024


Organized Criminals Gangs In Sri Lanka & Its Impact On National Security

By Thusitha Bulathgama

Thusitha Bulathgama

Among the classifications of crimes presented by criminologists ‘organized crimes’ holds a notable place. People come together in any society to work to achieve the greatest possible benefit for the least amount of time, money, and effort. They collaborate with others to complete tasks effectively by using the division of labour. In the same way, in the criminal field, they get organized to find more money with less effort and fewer risks. Many scholars in the world have defined ‘Organized Crimes’ in different ways. According to the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime), Organized Crime is a “continuing criminal enterprise that rationally works to profit from illicit activities that are often in great public demand. Its continuing existence is maintained through corruption of public officials and the use of intimidation, threats or force to protect its operations.” While attempting to defend against both internal and external dangers, these organizations make money through their criminal activity. The consensus of authors over the last three decades has led to a common definition of organized crime: “organized crime is a continuing criminal enterprise that rationally works to profit from illicit activities; its continuing existence is maintained through the use of force, threats, monopoly control, corruption, and malpractices of public officials and the rulers.” This definition holds even though different authors have defined what constitutes organized crime from different perspectives. The activities of public officials, interference with the administration of justice, bribery, and business dealings that are part of organized crime are all sufficiently covered by this term.

According to the article written by Professor M. W. Jayasundara, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Sri Jayawardenepura, in the Sri Lankan context, there had been a minor violation of foreign exchange before 1980. The emergence of the underworld criminal gangs was started around 1970s in Sri Lanka. As a result, numerous criminal gangs were operating in the underworld in the early 1980s. Lenin Amarasinghe founded the first such criminal group in Rajagiriya in 1985. He collected money by holding local businesses in the area for ransom. When they were being taken to his custody, those who refused to pay the ransom for him were subjected to severe torture. Consequently. His ransom has been paid by other businessmen to save them from being tortured. The criminal organization led by Lenin Amarasinghe was also engaged in rape and kidnapping, as well as the illegal manufacture and sale of alcohol in Rajagiriya’s “Sakkiliwatta” neighbourhood. Aramba Gedara Upali, also known as “Soththi Upali,” founded the second gang after Lening Amarasinghe sought a ransom from him. Lening Amarasinghe and some of his family members were murdered by the Gang of Soththi Upali in 1986 as a result of hostilities between these two criminal organizations. Following the departure of several members from these two gangs, other members split off to start other criminal organizations. Later, personnel of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Police who fled the forces joined underworld gangs, where they were welcomed by the gang members because such deserters were trained in weapon handling. Due to their inability to find adequate employment, some of the deserters of forces joined gangs of organized crime. To arrest them for deserting the police and the forces, they were also regularly searched by the authorities. In this situation, numerous underworld criminal gangs were operating in Colombo and its suburbs, including Maligawatta, Dematagoda, Maradana, and North Colombo, and they were mostly engaged in the lucrative business of drug trafficking. These gangs, which were based in Nugegoda and Colombo south, subsisted on ransom payments, the upkeep of brothels, and the protection of their patrons. After demanding a ransom from their homeowners, the criminal gangs chased those who had illegally inhabited properties away from their locations. 

Furthermore, when it comes to organized criminal gangs in Sri Lanka, they get the patronage of certain ill-motivated politicians. On certain occasions, those criminal gangs provide security, financial support, commodities and services for these politicians. On the other hand, those certain ill-motivated politicians also offer security and support to keep the underworld operating. Therefore, officials who fight against organized criminal gangs faced various issues. Other organized crime groups in Sri Lanka, in addition to the underworld gangs, engaged in unlawful business ventures to generate significant profits while posing as respectable corporate entities. Human trafficking, the importation of commodities using false invoices, and the importation of prostitutes from other nations are prominent examples of their unlawful economic ventures. Foreign exchange fraud is a significant form of organized crime in Sri Lanka. With the recent records and updates, Sri Lanka has become a victim of the rising crime wave amidst the crisis. Beginning in June, there have been several shootings, which have sparked panic and increased feelings of insecurity throughout the entire community. It has been evident via in-depth investigations that the majority of the shootings were connected to the illicit drug trade taking place between various criminal gangs. In addition to organized crime, Criminal Lawyer Harshana Nanayakkara has mentioned unorganized crime or opportunistic crimes, which constitute about 80% of crimes, will increase. According to the global rates and figures, the South Asian region ranked third among the five regions of Asia with a score of 5.31, while Sri Lanka’s Criminality score is 4.64 and it is ranked sixth out of the eight countries in South Asia, according to the Organized Crime Index tool created by the ENACT program (Enhancing Africa’s Response to Transnational Organized Crimes).

With the serious consequences for public safety, human security, and economic stability, the aforementioned organized crimes have posed a serious and growing threat to Sri Lanka’s national security. Long-term peace, economy and stability in the nation have all been impacted by this. The economic slump has had a negative social impact, which has led to a lack of discipline in society as a whole. The rate of crimes has dramatically grown compared to the previous years, which clearly illustrates the lack of discipline in society, even as organized crime reaches its extreme and takes on many forms while exploiting the growing social dissatisfaction. Frustration over rising living expenses has escalated, and as a result, people are making radical decisions that are bad for both them personally and for the community as a whole. This is why most of the lower-level members of these underworld gangs represent lower-income earners. They joined these organized gangs due to a variety of reasons including financial hardships, association with criminals, growing up in broken families’ unhealthy environments, lack of education, unemployment, etc. By joining organized crime groups, they hope to quickly become wealthy and regain their deprived social privileges. They think that if they have enough money, they may become accepted members of the community.  

Considering the above facts, it is clear that there is a growth of organized crime in Sri Lanka. Another reason for rising organized crimes in Sri Lanka is lack of law and order., mainly due to the interference by interested parties of political and social elites. No matter a person’s caste, race, social status, or wealth, the rule of law must be applied equally to all; yet, this is not always the case, therefore there is no equality. Compared to the other countries Sri Lanka is far behind, considering the matter of the scope of utilizing new technical methods in enhancing the investigation capabilities of the officers engaged in such activities. In comparison to this situation in Sri Lanka, India has an effective method of using technology to combat criminalities despite the level of development in certain cities. Moreover, there should be researches conduct into why some of these crimes are taking place. The criminological aspect is that. People are not born criminal, thus simply pushing and imprisoning someone won’t end crime. Socioeconomic factors play a major role in why people turn to criminals. Also, Sri Lanka Police need to establish a positive image towards civil society in order to ensure the safety and transparency of security within the nation. Restoring faith among civil society will support the identification process of dangerous criminals and such criminal activities, which in regard will be useful for the Sri Lanka Police in their investigation process. The establishment of a secure prison environment is a must in the context of Sri Lanka, with the rise of criminal scenarios.

* Thusitha Bulathgama is a Research Assistant  at the Institute of National Security Studies, the premier think tank on National Security established under the Ministry of Defence. The opinion expressed is his own and not necessarily reflective of the institute.

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Latest comments

  • 5

    While the facts revealed by the writer and their authenticity seem acceptable, the solutions offered fall far behind the practical solution to not just organised crime or a clean police department but to how it can be reduced or rendered unprofitable. Yes, economic woes drive crime; yes, an unfair justice system allows political scum to act with impunity; yes, prison conditions need to focus on rehabilitation etc. However, none of the above will be remedied by having an election and electing another set of politicians who have been part of the problem for so long. The solution lies in a mass uprising of the people, backing the committed educated youth who have demonstrated their sincerity and desire for genuine change, where the existing system is wiped clean, including the frameworks that support crime, impunity and exploitation. It is an urgent need that cannot wait much longer.

    • 2

      LP, We agree that current politicians fill their pockets and their power crazy egos but nothing has been done to ease the shortages of the robbed citizens of their own national wealth. That is why the cry for a system change to be rid of the robber family whom leader is giving cover to. As long as these robbers without jobbing have access to our finances, there is no future for nation.

    • 0

      See the pompous attitude of some young men in SL.he might feel that he could do things just because he knows some politicians.


      This attitude should go.
      these men should be taught a good lession by putting them behind bars for months. Not even german cops would tolerate the kind of verbal attacks. I consider german cops as one of the decent police in the world.

  • 3

    Criminality, in the form of thuggery at the lowest level to subtle corruption & even massive frauds at higher levels, are always present in any country but the level to which it can be suppressed is an indicator of good governance. I would say it was under JR’s watch in the late 70s that violent criminality emerged in the form of communal violence. Subsequently, Premadasa made criminality more blatant with the abduction & disappearances of his opponents with the assistance of the Police & Military, as the case with the murder of Richard de Zoysa. With each regime change, criminality in all forms increased exponentially & now we have the Police & Military officers, Monks in robes, politicians, even at the highest levels, & their cronies, all joining the bandwagon. When the judges at the highest courts are submissive to the corrupt politicians & local Mafioso, honest law enforcement officers are harassed & even banged up with trumpeted up charges, is it any wonder that SL has gone to the dogs? (apologies to the noble animal)

  • 1

    The “Organised criminal gangs” of Sri Lanka are organised with the patronage of the politicians and the Military

    • 0

      “Organised criminal gangs”. Their patrons are Chief Justices and Police Top Brass.

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