By Rajan Hoole –
Political Murders, the Commissions and the Unfinished Task – 6
The claims made by the Government and the Police in the weeks following the assassination on 23rd April 1993, as we had averred before, aroused public incredulity and indignation. Amarasena Rajapakse, DIG, CID, is said to have been at a dinner party that evening and was reportedly informed of the shooting 15 minutes later at 9.00 PM. For a man who, acting on a rumour, went to Premadasa’s home and addressed the kitchen staff at mid- night about guarding against the President being poisoned, was accused in the Press of not going to the scene of Athulathmudali’s shooting until after midnight. IP Ranagala who had reportedly said that he was ordered by superior officers not to provide Police security for the meeting was said to be in hiding by the Press.
The body of a dead youth with an identity card having the name Appiah Balakrishnan was found in front of a co-op building on Mugalan Road about 200 yards from the scene of shooting about 11.00 AM the following day (24th). It was then broadcast in the evening news bulletin of the state media the next day (25th) that Athulathmudali’s killer was Appiah Balakrishnan, who was believed to be a member of the LTTE. IG Police, Ernest Perera, later told the Press (Sunday Times 2 May ’93) that the identity card was a fake and that the Police had not given such information to the state media. He did not know how the state media got that information. In effect, a Tamil name had been touted out as that of the killer with no sound evidence.
Suspicion was also created by A.S. Seneviratne, DIG Metropolitan, being placed in charge of the investigation. There had been several attempts on Athulathmudali’s life and he, Athulathmudali, had complained in writing to the IGP and Defence Secretary, General Ranatunge, that he felt a threat to his life from A.S. Seneviratne. There had been several reports of Seneviratne’s complicity in government thuggery – such as the attack on journalists on 10th December 1992 which Seneviratne denied had taken place. A journalist saw a policeman removing an identity card from the Mugalan Road corpse and handing it to A.S. Seneviratne, who put it into his shirt pocket. It was later claimed that the identity card had no fingerprints. It was wiped clean!
The Government seemed eager to wrap up the inquiry. Three witnesses produced at the inquest who identified the dead youth as the assassin were found to be closely associating with SSP Ronnie Gunasinghe. The Counterpoint of May/June 1993 reported that they were all brought and produced by Ronnie Gunasinghe.
Even on 9th May, the Press did not know the identity of the Mugalan Road corpse. The Sunday Times Political Correspondent reported that the Police had swooped on an apartment in Gunananda Road, Kotahena. The report said that an Athula who had rented out part of the apartment to Appiah Balakrishnan and a couple, was a strong supporter of a UNP provincial council candidate, who featured in an attack on Athulathmudali at the Fort Railway Station. Nothing more was made of this significant point, which should have opened up some lines of investigation. The report said that the couple staying there had decamped.
Subsequently, Senior State Counsel Mohan Peiris announced at the Magistrate’s inquest that the dead youth had been identified as Ragunathan by six witnesses, but thought it unnecessary to file their testimonies. On 13th May, Daya Perera, the counsel for Athulathmudali’s family, stated at the inquest that he had information to the effect that Ragunathan had been held at Kirullapone Police Station and had been visited by a member of his family. This was then denied before the Magistrate M.A. Silva by Mohan Peiris. ASP Lugoda of the CDB said that no such person had been picked up by the Kirullapone Police.
We will not go into technical matters about whether Ragunathan died of cyanide poisoning, and whether if he were the assassin, he could have run 150-200 yards with a bullet supposedly fired by a security guard embedded in his back. A more immediate question troubling the public was, how search parties who combed the area in the night missed the body and why it was found as late as 11.00 AM the next day on a public road. Rajapakse (CDN 18.6.93) could only put it down to ‘human error’. He added, “the evidence we have does not suggest that the body was brought later”.
A Scotland Yard team had been invited by Premadasa to assist the Police. Its Review written by Detective Superintendent Alec Edwards which received press publicity in mid- July gave rise to further incredulity. It said that Ragunathan was the killer. But its arguments left something to be desired. As though to exonerate the Police for not providing security for the meeting, it said, “the crime was as audacious as it was innate and no matter how closely policed the rally may have been, the outcome was likely to be the same.”
Tassie Seneviratne says the following regarding the Scotland Yard Review (‘Police Problems’, Sunday Times 30.1.00):
“The Scotland Yard report clearly speaks of a backlash on the government and the police alike. There can be no ‘backlash’unless they were in fact involved!
“Also strangely, Scotland Yard officers took briefings from the very officers accused of the cover up. The head of the NIB, Mr. Z. Wijesuriya, had by this time cultivated a close rapport with an MI 5 officer, Brian Watters, who was attached to the UK High Commission in Colombo in the capacity of a secretary, when the government was faced with the ‘ensuing problem’. The ‘decisive act’ to get down the Scotland Yard officers was suggested to President Premadasa by Z. Wijesuriya and through Brian Watters’ intervention the Scotland Yard team was got down ‘quickly’ and tasked with clearing the government and the police of the blame. When the Scotland Yard officers arrived here, they were housed in Hotel Ramada, which was in fact Brian Watters’ rendezvous. In the evenings Scotland Yard officers, Brian Watters and DIG/CID M.D.A. Rajapakse who was long retired from the police but serving on a contract given by President Premadasa, met frequently at the ‘Library’ at Hotel Ramada where the Scotland Yard officers were entertained. It is reliably learnt that M.D.A. Rajapakse and Brian Watters had a hand in the preparation of the Scotland Yard report.”
The report was so obviously a cover-up, that it further enhanced suspicion of the Government’s involvement.
As though to assuage public disquiet, the CDB produced the first of its ‘confessions’ which was given banner headlines in the Ceylon Daily News of 25th September 1993 claiming a major breakthrough in the Athulathmudali case. A detainee K. Lingeswaran was said to have confessed to having been an accomplice of Ragunathan in the latter’s murder of Athulathmudali. A senior police source was quoted, “It has now been firmly established that the LTTE was behind the Athulathmudali killing. We hope all the wild speculation that it was otherwise will now end.” Ranil Wickremasinghe, as the prime minister, made a statement of similar import in Parliament.
A further confession from Kauseelan, another alleged accomplice of Ragunathan, was ‘leaked’ to the Press by the CDB in January 1997 while the Athulathmudali Commission was in session. But these were lame confessions without connecting links to tell us how the actors interacted and the plot materialised. There is nothing there amenable to independent examination. For example the CDB has told us at different times that Kauseelan and Lingeswaran were accomplices in Ragunathan’s murder of Athulathmudali, but have offered no material facts pertaining to Kauseelan’s link with Lingeswaran. The police officer doing the investigation for the Commission was told by court translator M.K.M. Razeek that Lingeswaran’s confession before the magistrate was typed by Inspector Nilabdeen of the CDB! The government of the day never produced Lingeswaran in open court. But the ‘free press’ went to town on these alleged confessions that are a hallmark of the quality of police work.
The Athulathmudali Commission, along with the Kobbekaduwe Commission, was presided over by Justice Tissa Dias Bandaranayake (Chairman) and High Court Judge G.W. Edirisuriya. Their concentration has been on Ragunathan allegedly having been held in captivity by Sothi Upali, an underworld figure in Minister Sirisena Cooray’s security service. Ragunathan was said by a witness, a drug peddler, to have been taken away from Upali’s captivity at 6.30 PM on 23rd April about 2 hours before the murder of Athulathmudali. There were no witnesses to what then transpired until his body was found at Mugalan Road the next day. The Commission was also at pains to demolish earlier findings (e.g. Scotland Yard Review) to the effect that Ragunathan was the killer, and to identify the real killer.
Earlier two commissioners, High Court Judges D.P.S. Gunasekera and N.G. Amaratunge, had resigned, reportedly because of disagreements with the Chairman. According to police sources, the Chairman had gone against the advice of police officers who screened witnesses and called in persons with such records as brought the proceedings into question. One woman, Rohini Hathurusinghe, who told the commission fantastic stories of crime and conspiracy involving Premadasa and high ranking army officers in the Kobbekaduwe case, was already known by the Police to be a prostitute who plied her trade with soldiers in the border zones. The Chairman reportedly disregarded Police advice and caused a fiasco by summoning her.
A police officer asked about his opinion on the Commission’s conclusions, replied, “I would still like to know the truth. We wanted to investigate the murder of Athulathmudali, but we were not able to.” He said that police officers had sent messages warning Athulathmudali’s family that things were not going well at the Commission, but he is unaware of any protest from the family.
A number of police officers viewed these commissions as political projects.
The weakness in the Commission’s approach was that it depended heavily on the testimony of a sole witness Subash Abeysekere who said he attended to Ragunathan while held in captivity. He was a drug peddler who could hardly stand up to hostile cross-examination by professional lawyers. Thus the Press, which was heavily leaning towards the UNP, was able to campaign against the testimony before the Commission as fiction purveyed by social undesirables. They then peddled the CDB’s alleged confession of a Tamil detainee uncritically, as the most reliable revelation.
The Commission did not pursue the more tangible line of what happened to Ragunathan before he went missing from his area of residence in Kotahena, where he was known. The Commission did not push this line although one police officer, Dias Senanayake, ASP Badulla, told them something significant. A fellow police officer, J.R. Jayewardene, had told him in 1994 that Ragunathan was held unofficially at Kotahena police station and then transferred to CDB custody. The Commission turned briefly to Ragunathan’s earlier residence at Kotahena, but mainly to demolish an alleged LTTEer Kauseelan’s ‘confession’ then being publicised in the Press. We now look at this angle.
To be continued..