Although four days have elapsed after the Mexican National Day, Chief of Defence Staff Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne, who left the shores to attend the event on behalf of President Maithripala Sirisena, has still not returned to the country.
Wijegunaratne left the country last week, under Sirisena’s blessings, despite a high-profile investigation against him for allowing Chandana Hettiarachchi alias Navy Sampath, the main suspect of the abductions and murders of eleven youth, to evade Police arrest.
It is now clear that Wijegunaratne, the most senior active military officer in the service, will not be arrested by the CID, due to Sirisena’s intervention.
Sirisena, who is also the Defence Minister overlooking armed forces, has ordered the CID to refrain from arresting any senior Army officer, and file legal action against them if they are involved in any wrongdoing. ‘
The order has been given to the CID despite the opposition of several senior Cabinet Ministers, including Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne, a closest ally of Sirisena, and Finance and Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera.
Sirisena almost stormed out of the special Cabinet meeting he summoned over the matter, last week, when Senaratne said the President should take the blame for “protecting criminals and murderers”.
What remains a hot topic in the political circles is the reason behind President Sirisena’s unusual intervention to protect Wijegunaratne despite serious allegations against him. In addition to summoning the Police Chief and senior CID officers, Sirisena also went on to convene a special Cabinet meeting last week, to prevent the Police from arresting Wijegunaratne.
Suspicions have now been raised whether Sirisena’s unconditional backing of Wijegunaratne is due to the latter’s involvement in purchasing of a Russian warship for double the price of its actual value, through a Rs. 20 billion deal with Russia’s war machinery, JSC Rosoboronexport .
Wijegunaratne ascended to the position of Navy Commander as his predecessor, Admiral Travis Sinnaiah, was forced to retire by Sirisena due to his opposition to the purchase of the Russian ship.
President Maithripala Sirisena and his closest associates, including some of his family members, were pushing hard for this deal and Sinnaiah, to them, was a stumbling block. It was Wijegunaratne who took over the post after Sinnaiah and cleared the path for the Russian deal.
Wijegunaratne signed the deal when three different committees appointed to look into the procurement, refused to give approval to proceed with it.