25 June, 2021

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The Mystery Of The Assassination Of President Premadasa: Now Uncovered From A Forensic View

By W.A Wijewardena –

Dr. W.A Wijewardena

Assassination of President Premadasa

Ravindra Fernando, Colombo University’s Emeritus Professor of Forensic Medicine and now a Don at the Kotelawala Defence University’s Medical School, has been in the habit of publishing at least one book a year. Many of his books have been on controversial murder cases in Sri Lanka analysed from the point of a forensic medical expert.

Previously, he published on the Sathasivam case, Mathew Peiris case, Wijedasa Liyanarachchi case, Lalith Athulathmudali case, and the case relating to the bomb attack in Parliament. To add to this list, his 31st publication, he has now released a book analysing the assassination of President Ranasinghe Premadasa in broad daylight at a street corner in Colombo on the May Day of 1993.

Gruesome killings of LTTE

Premadasa’s assassination has been surrounded by mystery. Though fingers have been publicly pointed at the Tamil Tigers who had organised themselves as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or LTTE, the group had denied their hand in this gruesome killing. Of course, it had been their practice to deny their role in many other similar killings like the assassination of India’s former Premier, Rajiv Gandhi. Hence, their word should not be taken as the revelation of truth.

But as Fernando has elaborated in the concluding part of his book, Indian authorities had done a thorough investigation into the case and charged the leaders of LTTE of the crime committed, despite the change of political power from Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress Party to his opponents, the Bhartiya Janata Party.

A crime without an offender

A similar course had not been adopted by the Government of Sri Lanka. On the day of the assassination, much of the evidence had been erased by the complete cleaning of the crime scene allegedly on the orders of a top political leader of the ruling party. The reason given had been the need for averting an island-wide riot against Tamil minority which had later been proved as an unfounded fear. Hence, the standard procedure could not be followed, and the investigations had to rely on photographs taken by foreign and local journalists who had rushed to the place immediately.

One year after Premadasa’s assassination, the political power had shifted from Premadasa-led UNP to the opposition and the new rulers may not have the same interest in pursuing the case. As a result, as Fernando has revealed, 12 years after the assassination, the Government had withdrawn the case against even those who had been arrested on suspicion earlier – 40 in number – for lack of sufficient evidence. Thus, the assassination of President Premadasa is marked in history as a crime committed but without an offender.

All the evidence points to LTTE

Hence, what Fernando has done is documenting the events leading to Pemadasa’s assassination from a political, social, and scientific point so that readers could gauge who the culprits were and where the state had gone wrong. Fernando does not say that LTTE is directly involved in the assassination. But the evidence he has presented is suggestive of the fact that it is the handiwork of LTTE. It is the reader who must make that judgment after carefully evaluating such evidence.

As background information, Fernando has taken the readers through the life journey of President Premadasa and the circumstances which had led LTTE to wage war against the legally constituted government of Sri Lanka.

Premadasa, the self-made politician

Premadasa has been a politician who has started his political career as a young political cub and risen to the highest position in the country through his sheer perseverance, determination, and tenacity. According to his own words expressed often at political meetings, he had graduated from the university of life and faced more failures than successes. Each failure had taught him much important life lessons like a person, as a Sinhala saying would say, who had been tempered, an elaborate method of cooking which Sri Lankans have learned from the Portuguese. Thus, he had been a politician without a God Father to protect him. Unlike many other politicians in Sri Lanka, he did not have a strong family background to play his role in politics.

Premadasa’s weakness: Placing unreserved trust in his valet

Even after he became President, he had to face an insurrection by Sinhala youth in the south and Tamil youth in the north and the east. There had been a coup within the party that had led to an abortive impeachment. Through his shrewdness, he had managed to successfully beat those challenges. Yet, there was one weakness in the man as highlighted by Fernando in his book. That was the unreserved trust he had placed in his valet, Mohideen who had run the affairs at his residence, Sucharitha.

While he had been given a very strong protection elsewhere, the security at Sucharitha had been defective due to Mohideen’s addiction to liquor and women. Fernando had implied that Mohideen had been up to his vices without Premadasa’s knowledge. It is this weakness of Premadasa and addictions of Mohideen that had been capitalised by LTTE operatives to breach the protective ring in Sucharitha and have easy access even to Premadasa’s bedroom.

Babu exploiting Mohideen’s weaknesses

The LTTE operative who had been sent to Colombo by LTTE to carry out the gruesome crime, nicknamed Babu, had patiently cultivated his access link for over two years by bribing Mohideen with liquor and women and main security officers with liquor. Babu had pretended so much of innocence in his day-to-day behaviour that nobody had suspected him as a plant of LTTE to assassinate Premadasa. According to the evidence revealed, Babu had the capacity to blow Premadasa up in the sky when he was travelling to his estate in the helicopter or plant a bomb under his bed to dispose him off easily. Yet, he waited until he received orders from the high ups in LTTE.

Choosing appropriate time for assassinating Premadasa

The right opportunity for LTTE to assassinate Premadasa came when the elections were announced for the Western Province Provincial Council in the early part of 1993. A week before the day of the crime, the senior politician and Premadasa’s rival Lalith Athulathmudali was assassinated at an election rally in Colombo. The accusing finger was immediately pointed at Premadasa.

He became so nervous about the bad publicity which these stories were giving him that, at the last election meeting that was held a few hundred metres away from where Athulathmudali was assassinated, he challenged his enemies: ‘Assassinate my body but not my character which I have ardently built whole my life’.

Noticing this agony in a strong President, LTTE decided to strike. An opportunity was provided by Premadasa himself by stepping into the street to organise a May Day procession in a weak security environment. Acting on orders from his handlers, Babu, fitted with a lethal suicide bomb kit to his body, blew up Premadasa and all others who were around him at that time at a street corner in Colombo.

The bloody scene at the site of the crime

Fernando has vividly explained the bloody carnage that had been created by this powerful bomb explosion. There had been human flesh strewn everywhere. Some of the bodies were beyond recognition. That applied to Premadasa too. For the time being, nobody knew what happened to him. Fernando describes how his body was found among other dead bodies: “Next to these two bodies, there was another body on the ground under a stretcher. The body was clad in a short-sleeved shirt and a sarong. There was a wristwatch. The face was damaged beyond recognition due to the blast. The officers identified the body. It was that of President Premadasa”.

Babu too had been blown up into pieces. Inspector of Police Jayasinghe who was at the scene had described it as follows: “There was a body lying upwards, broken below the waist. The upper part of the body was not to be seen. About 12 feet 4 inches from the body there was a head on the right side of Armour Street. There was a hand a few feet away from the head. On the middle of the road, there were two National Panasonic batteries. One was 31 feet 8 inches from the bicycle and the other 31 feet from the bicycle. Pieces of the bomb and parts of the bodies were spread across the road”. That was how LTTE in its heyday struck terror among people by blowing up a very powerful Executive President in his own locality by using a simple but determined assassin called Babu.

A forensic analysis of the crime

Fernando’s objective of publishing the book had been to analyse the forensic side of the whole episode. That he has done by referring to the findings of forensic examinations done by other experts and reproducing a special report which he had prepared on the orders of the Colombo Magistrate who heard the case. Since he himself had not been involved in the original forensic examinations, this report had been prepared by him by making learned judgments on the findings done by others.

Post-mortem of Babu

Babu’s post-mortem was done by Colombo’s Judicial Medical Officer, Dr. L.B.L. de Alwis. Babu’s body had been dismembered and fragmented due to the force of the bomb that had been fitted to his body. Dr. de Alwis, following the due procedure to be observed when conducting the post-mortem of a dead body, had recorded all the details of the injuries which Babu had inflicted on himself when blowing up others in the scene. It was in fact creation of a story out of fragments which had been owned by a whole body prior to the explosion of the bomb.

The most important evidence found was the broken cyanide glass capsule that had been buried to the flesh of the neck, a must which every LTTE cadre should carry with him to take his own life in the event of being captured by security forces. This signature LTTE brand was a testimony that the assassination of President Premadasa was carried out by LTTE, though the organisation had denied its hand in the crime.

Post-mortem of Premadasa

The post-mortem on the body of President Premadasa was also conducted by Dr. de Alwis. This was how he saw the body of the President: “The entire body showed superficial burns, blackening and tattooing. Multiple, circular, oval, elongated, linear and guttered perforating lacerations were observed in the entire body. Due to injuries, there were deformities of the head, face, upper limbs, and lower limbs. Intestines were protruding out through a large laceration of the anterior abdominal wall”. Though the body had not been dismembered, it had been disfigured due to multiple external and internal injuries. Given the power of the bomb used, President Premadasa would not have survived it.

Fernando has explained in detail the post-mortem examinations conducted on other bodies that had been found in the scene.

Fernando’s special report

Fernando was commissioned by Colombo’s Additional Magistrate to present a special expert opinion on all the post-mortem examinations conducted. This he presented in August 1994 and has been fully reproduced in his book. In his report, he has noted the following deficiency: “However, it was unfortunate that the scene was not preserved for a thorough and careful examination by forensic experts of the Government Analyst Department and the experts from the Scotland Yard, who were in the island at the time. They could not inspect the scene and contribute to the investigation”.

Fernando has concluded the report making the following five expert opinions:

1.The deaths of His Excellency the President Ranasinghe Premadasa and others were the result of a bomb explosion.

2.The pattern and the extent of the injuries clearly indicated that the person who was closest to the explosion or who carried and detonated the explosive device was the person identified as Kulaweerasingham Weerakumar.

3.The pattern and the extent of the injuries on the body of His Excellency the President Premadasa indicated that he was very close to and facing the direction of the explosion.

4.The presence of chemical substances of the nitro group on many items recovered confirms that the explosives contained the well-known nitro compounds.82

5.Considering all the information available, it is my opinion that the explosion at Armour Street Junction of the 1st May 1993, which caused death of His Excellency the President other others, was the result of an explosive that was carried and detonated by Kulaweerasingham Weerakumar.

He has also made a very valuable last statement in his report which is valid even today: “As in all political assassinations, the investigation is incomplete unless the motive and those responsible for the lone assailant to carry out the act, if any, are determined”.

A book for every reader

This book is short relative to his other publications. But the rich information he has presented from original sources makes the book a good read for ordinary readers, legal and medical professionals, and students.

*The writer, a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, can be reached at waw1949@gmail.com

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Latest comments

  • 4
    1

    A riveting narration.

    • 4
      2

      The mystery of the assassination still persists in my mind.
      On the day of the assassination, much of the evidence had been erased by the complete cleaning of the crime scene allegedly on the orders of a top political leader of the ruling party.
      The reason given had been the need for averting an island-wide riot against Tamil minority, which had later been proved as an unfounded fear. Isn’t it a fact that the Late President had enemies within his ruling Party. It was just a week earlier that his rival Lalith Athulathmudali was assassinated. Could it have been a retaliation. Have these angles been explored.

      • 3
        0

        One unanswered question in this narrative. Why did Premadasa wave his white handkerchief just before the explosion. Bomb blast by Premadasa went horribly wrong while bomb blast by Rajapakse was roaring success.

  • 13
    2

    what’s the Mystery?
    I thought you were going to reveal some secret ..the real culprit
    how disappointing!

    • 1
      0

      1) Ref: “Some of the bodies were beyond recognition. That applied to Premadasa too. For the time being, nobody knew what happened to him….The face was damaged beyond recognition due to the blast. The officers identified the body. It was that of President Premadasa”.

      I distinctly remember a photo in the press, soon after the bombing, of someone unmistakably Premadasa, & have never understood subsequent comments like those above..

      2) I was very surprised at the instantaneous clearing-up of the site, why it wasnt preserved for investigation, & am not convinced by the reason given here for this.

      3) I wonder if Prof. Ravindra Fernando ever interviewed Bradman Weerakoon re the role of the LTTE in the killing.  Bradman was abroad at the time.  I ran into him on his return & asked his opinion about the LTTE’s involvement.  He said something to the effect that he was totally taken aback because Premadasa was being so obliging to the LTTE that he couldnt understand why they would kill him at that time.

      I wont go any further….

      • 2
        0

        Manel Fonseka: Your observation: “….Premadasa was being obliging to LTTE….” This reminds me of the Rs..200 million given to the LTTE from the Treasury (Mr. Paskaralingam was the then Secretary of the Treasury) and how the Air Force personnel were ordered to pick up their “Negotiating Team” from the Wanni and brought to Colombo. That (the LTTE) team was “Accommodated” at Hilton and the surrounding areas of the hotel were put under “Heavy Guard” by the Army. With this information, (a fact and the truth) I think what Bradman told you (totally taken aback) was correct. NB: I went a “Little” further into your observation.

    • 1
      1

      Rajesh
      You remind me of the child who screamed ‘”The Emperor is naked!”
      Spoilsport!
      *
      True, the extract of the book indicates no fresh insight.
      It would have made a good read if it was a juicy conspiracy theory, even as daft as some we see on these pages.
      *
      Do you believe that India punished the real culprits in the Rajeev Gandhi murder case (that is to exclude the one who died on the spot and the two who killed themselves)?

  • 6
    0

    Whenever a crime takes place, especially a murder, the standard procedure is to preserve the evidence upon protecting the scene of crime. Why was not that standard procedure followed? The story has it that “Unidentified” political higher up “interfered” to clean up the mess, spick, and span. It is relevant, even today, to expose who that high up was and for God’s Sake don’t tell me that it was the late (then Acting President) D. B. Wijetunge so gave orders as dead men tell no tales. Even today, political interference even by a “friendly” inquiry by a politician could interfere what precisely should be a professional decision. Cases in point are then Minister Badurdeen calling then Army Chief Mahesh Senanayake on a matter of detention and Minister Lokuge calling the present Army Chief Shavendra Silva, when the critical issue is the lack of supply of Oxygen. Everyone knows that even today a scene of a motor accident is simply “cleared” if “big-fellows” are involved. In contrast although no law applies to the Queen of UK, all the quarantine procedures were followed in the conduct the funeral of Prince Phillip. Here some are more equal than others.

  • 14
    0

    What is investigative writing ?

    Repeating what we already know !

    Like in everything else our writers must improve their skills.

  • 11
    3

    Is this article a “Contract” to “Market” the Book written by Ravindra Fernando? As stated in a comment above, these facts (incidental and speculative) are well known to us.

    • 1
      2

      ds & S
      I am much tempted to agree.

  • 6
    3

    Premadasa sits at the cross roads of Sri Lankan Politics. He armed the LTTE and massacred the youth behind the JVP insurrection some innocent youth were also targetted and killed. He was also most likely responsible for the brutal murder of Richard De Soysa. The killing of Lalith was also probably carried out by Premadasa. Lalith wore a bullet proof vest. The LTTE signature method of asasination was thru the use of a suicide bomber. But Lalith was shot in the face and head by a marksman. The arming of the LTTE made a bad situation worse. The assasination of Lalith deprived this nation of one more competent leader. Eventually Premedasa paved the way for the LTTE to not only kill him self but to continue on fighting and killing a whole host of talented leaders of Sri Lanka and also Rajive Ghandi. Premedasa destroyed the UNP by setting the stage for the executions of almost all of its leaders including himself. The lone man left standing Ranil Wickremasinghe was eventually kicked to the Curb by his son. The Premadasa’s have ruined a lot. They share the blame for why Sir Lanka never prospers. It is also a prime example of Karma. A country who elects murders to lead them will never succeed.

  • 1
    1

    I wish these authors would publish their books online on Amazon. They soon go out of print and are impossible to find.

    I was trying to find Rohan Gunarathnes book about the Indian Intervention, to show one of my indian friends as he was claiming India had no role in the terrorism in Sri Lanka. Its out of print and impossible to find.

    These are important historical documentation of what this country has gone through. Too important to go into the dustbins lest these follies are repeated by the new generations.

    • 0
      0

      a14455, the book you are referring to is available on Amazon and Abebooks but it is quite expensive. Many original documents etc can be found here if you are interested.
      https://www.satp.org/documents/srilanka

      • 0
        0

        Thank Paul

        yes I see it has come back into print . at 75 $ , wow.. If it was online I wouldn’t have minded buying it . if I buy one of the 2 paperbacks it would be the second time I’m buying the book :)

        The surprising thing was this guy should really know better, He had even been a RAW agent in Jaffna during the IPKF deployment before his Engineering education.

    • 4
      0

      a14455

      “……he was claiming India had no role in the terrorism in Sri Lanka. Its out of print and impossible to find.”

      Its like Sri Lanka had no role in war crimes.

      “These are important historical documentation of what this country has gone through.”

      Is it another Mahawamsa?

  • 3
    3

    Nothing forensic about the investigation. Babu was an LTTE suicide bomber. The Lankadeepa newspaper carried an interview with Premadasa’s official photographer, who recounted in detail How Babu became a familiar face around Premadasa and earned the trust of the security detail, while throwing money around to win friends. All carefully planned by the LTTE.

    • 3
      0

      SarathP

      The Jury is still out on the assassinations of Premadasa, Athulath s**t bomb Mudali, Kathigamar,…

  • 4
    0

    The Mystery Of The Assassination

    No one exposed real killer of late Vijaya Kumaratunga was assassinated on 16 February 1988

    • 1
      2

      You have to ask someone in the JVP for that.

  • 4
    1

    It is SL style investigation. Dr Fernando was never involved in anypart of the investigation, on his own claim. He has come into the issue only later. He has just gone through the already available records, stories, etc to write this so-called investigative book. If his findings are just the repeat of what is being already said, written and documented then how can one call it investigative. He did not find anything new. All knew LTTE was behind the killing even though Premadasa had many enemies among Sinhalese. He was blamed for the killing of Lalith. But this book does not find anything in that direction and has just brushed off theose important concerns in the case. So it is only a narrative based on available documents and he has nothing new to say. The author of this article too is not a professionally or academically suitable person to reviw this book. This looks like I scratch your back and you scratch my back.

  • 2
    0

    Forensic medicine could not play a role as the site of crime had been thoroughly cleaned up. Similar thing happened in Vanni/ mullaiwaikkal etc in 2009. Apart from aerial photographs the world was deprived of evidence for the HUGE massacre of the innocents. President Ranasinghe Premadasa had aided LTTE to get rid of IPKF. In 2004/5, Mahinda Rajapaksa used the tsunami relief fund to bribe the LTTE to STOP the Tamil voters voting for Ranil Wicremasinghe. Can Ravindra Fernando write a book on the Easter Bombing of 2019, a TIMELY event to help for a TERRORISM BUSTER to be elected as the president in november that year.

  • 6
    0

    Dr. W.A.Wijewardena,
    I would like to know whether the Professor Ravindra Fernando have written a book on the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunghe (Sunday Leader)?

    • 4
      0

      Ajith: A “Million Dollar” question you posed. I would add one more name and that is: “Thajudeen”. In this case, Prof. Ravindra Fernando could compile a very interesting book with witnesses, and “Suspects” are still among the living.

  • 3
    0

    I am not sure how this write-up could be in the realms of a Forensic analysis;
    The whole place was washed up in double quick time . Scotland yard came and could not find a clue. They spent a holiday swimming and sight seeing. There was no sights to see at the scene of crime.

    The WASH AND CLEAN OF THE SCENE OF CRIME IS THE KEY TO THIS ASSASSINATION.

  • 4
    1

    Years ago I remember reading a compilation of famous cases(about 10 to 12 cases) which I am not sure was written by Prof. Ravindra. F or by a lawyer which consisted of such controversial cases as Sathasivam, Mathew Peiris and few others. But that was then and now we have more of unsolved cases than closed if there are any. Given the current “low and odor situation” we have, many such offenders in past could have easily gotten away by their political/economic influence. The concern I have with Easter is same, where most alleged accused are dead within a day or two , the places raided were blasted, forensic medicine/ crime investigation as no role to play,because site of crime and evidences are destroyed. So here we have another mass murder with no clues left.

  • 4
    2

    If the Rajapaksas assassinate Minister Sarath Weerasekara (which is highly likely), who will be the prime suspect? Former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka.
    If Sarath Fonseka is assassinated by the Rajapaksas (though not likely as they fear backlash), the main suspect will be Sarath Weerasekara.
    Both the Saraths should know there is a reason for Malaccan Rajapaksas setting them against each other.
    Some people complain that Sinhalese Military Generals, who were instrumental in defeating LTTE terrorism, are denied ovearseas visas. I think it is good. They are safe as long as they are in Sri Lanka. The Rajapaksas are, I think, planning to kill someone overseas. I am not (yet) sure who. But something is brewing.

    • 4
      1

      Champa,
      The Police are carrying off off ordinary people for not wearing face masks. But this idiot Sarath Weerasekara , the Minister in charge of the police, is not arrested even when he doesn’t wear a mask in public. Don’t you think he deserves something worse than assassination?

      • 2
        4

        old codger
        No. Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara is a senior naval officer who devoted his life for the country. It is very disheartening to see that our much respected and much-loved senior military and naval officers have become political doormats.

        • 1
          0

          Political doormats are self-made.

      • 1
        1

        OC.

        …….Dont you think that he deserves something worse than assassination?…………

        Well, how about being infected with the Corona Virus?

    • 3
      0

      Champa,
      .
      Thanks for your grasps about true picture of Rajapakshes.
      :
      Long time we did not hear any of their JAMAL KHASHOGGI style murders. The last I believe the family murdered was – WASIM THADHUDEEN…. not just MaRa but his wife aka GOLD BISCUIT QUEEN, his bastard sons and GOTA are all involved in that misterioius murder. However, knowing all the realities of the multicriminals, they were broght back to power – I think srilanken nation , 7 mio of voters should be made as the best nature in this world…. ha ha ….

  • 1
    6

    Wait…….his name is Mohideen? And everyone is surprised about him betraying his master?

  • 2
    0

    Chiv, those series were written by Justice A.C.Alles.
    Incidentally Dr Fernando dont seem to write about cases such as Tajudeen, Lasantha, murders of Tamils, Tamil students, etc. and it is obvious that his investigative skills are limited only to certain cases and not to all. It is a selective investigative journalism. This is SL.

  • 1
    0

    Prof: Sydney Smith, Prof: Forensic Medicine [ UK] had written about the Sathasivam Murder case under the Title Murder in Ceylon. He was called as a defence witness by Dr. Colvin.R. de Silva who appeared for Sathasivam at the Trial. Justice E.F.N. Gratien was the Trial Judge.

    Sathasivam, the great cricketer that he was, was set free , thanks to the brilliance of his Counsel.

    Prof: Fernando went all the way to Matara to interview the Servant of the Sathasivam household for his write-up about the case.
    Sathasivam was married to someone from the Sir.Ponnambalam Ramanathan family.
    Eventually, Sathasivam settled down in Malaysia/ Singapore.

    Perhaps, Prof: Fernando may write about the contemporary murders a few years later age permitting!

  • 2
    2

    Black Lankan, thank you so so much for recollecting the name for me. It has been many years since I picked that book from my cousin’s law office out of boredom. It turned out to be riveting, as in a crime thriller. I remember two other cases , one involving a famous doctor , (I believe) Kularatna and another case where a young girl from a remote village who had joined the University , was the victim. Soon these will be replaced by books such as ” how NOT TO GET caught, after a murder/rape “

    • 1
      0

      Chiv, yes Dr Kularatne was a physician at Galle Hospital. He and his wife were living separately in the same premises. He was charged with slowly poising his wife with arsenic. He died in prison. Slow poisoning with arsenic is well known worldwide.

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