By Rajan Hoole –
Political Murders, the Commissions and the Unfinished Task – 3
The suicide bomber who killed Premadasa on 1st May 1993 was said to be Kulaveerasingam Veerakumar (23) alias Babu, from Jaffna. Nearly all the details given to the Press came from Amarasena Rajapakse, DIG, CID. He had the distinction of being kept on extension 3 years past the mandatory retirement age of 60 by the Premadasa government. He disclosed in a statement to the Press on 4th June, that at 12.45 PM on 1st May while Premadasa was supervising a feeder procession for the UNP May Day rally at the Armour Street-Grand Pass Junction, Babu left his bicycle near Premadasa’s vehicle and walked towards Premadasa. Three of Premadasa’s security men tried to stop him, when his valet E.M.P. Mohideen signalled the security men to let Babu pass. Just then, Babu exploded a device strapped to him, killing besides himself, Premadasa, Mohideen, SSP Ronnie Gunasinghe and several others. Evans Cooray, a journalist who usually accompanied Premadasa, is said to have survived because he went to make a telephone call.
A controversy that arose then was the cleaning of the site of the blast one and a half hours after the incident, contrary to the standard police practice of cordoning off the area and allowing the detectives to look for clues. According to the Sunday Times (16.5.93), the CID blamed the CDB for this, and CDB said they only followed ‘orders from the top’, so as to avert a major disaster – presumably communal violence. This according to the Police was justified since the magistrate had visited the scene. They tried to contact the Scotland Yard team investigating the Athulathmudali murder, but they were evidently out of Colombo in the Yala wildlife sanctuary. There was indeed a tense situation and looking back from now it may be unfair to fault the Police on this score.
We give the police versions as transpiring in their inquiries. At the press conference on 3rd June, Rajapakse was at great pains to make out that Premadasa did not know Babu. Mohideen, he said, had been raised by Premadasa from his childhood and was totally loyal to him, sleeping regularly outside his door. But Babu became friendly with Mohideen and some members of the security staff by catering to their weakness for wine and women. Babu, he said, had accompanied Premadasa on at least 5 outstation trips by travelling in the advance security vehicle.
Prior to this conference, the information appearing in the Press is briefly as follows: Babu had come to Colombo about two years before the assassination. He had paid Rs. 650,000 to the Sinhalese owner (Raja) as advance to rent a grocery shop in front of Premadasa’s residence Sucharita. He spent as much as Rs. 4,000 at a time to entertain Sucharita staff and police officers, several of whose photographs were in his album. But he did not himself participate in these orgies.
Rajapakse further said at the same press conference (3rd June) that Babu had owned 3 lorries to transport goods to Jaffna, then part of the LTTE controlled area. He said that Mohideen had used his influence to get these vehicles through checkpoints in Vavuniya. He later added (press report, 7 June 93) that these vehicles probably passed unchecked and would have been used as a means to smuggling explosives into Colombo. A few days later (Sunday Times 13.6) it was revealed that the ASP in charge of the Presidential Security Division (PSD), a constable and two members of the presidential staff were arrested under the PTA and that the wild orgies had taken place at Sucharita itself. Babu it is said, had moved freely around Sucharita and that the four detained had kept him away from the President several times.
This was not the end of it. The revelations drifted further into the surreal, as though some fiction writer were pouring out the wildest dreams of Sri Lankans. The CID further revealed (Island 14.6.93) that Babu had been in close touch with 25 members of the PSD who enabled Babu to travel in vehicles of the advance party during Premadasa’s outstation tours.
A further revelation coming from Rajapakse was that he had on 9th March the same year received information that there would be an attempt to poison Premadasa. He had then communicated this to Premadasa at Sucharita and went on to address the kitchen staff at mid- night. He advised them to buy their vegetables from different places and to give information immediately of any suspicious persons sighted. Gunatilleke, DIG, PSD, was present. After feeding through press conferences rising expectations of grand police swoops and sensational court trials of treacherous cops, the affair fizzled out as a damp squib. No one is sure what was going on in Premadasa’s intimate surroundings. It has been pointed out by fellow police officers that if Rajapakse had bona fide information about an attempt to poison Premadasa, his duty was to inform the IGP. Again how seriously Premadasa took this police officer who was solicitous of his safety, it is said, is reflected in Premadasa asking him to talk to the kitchen staff.
During the July 1983 violence, Rajapakse was as SSP, Director CID. That was when a number of Leftists, including JVP leaders, had been taken into custody following Government allegations that they were the miscreants behind the holocaust. In a private conversation, the head of a government department who regularly visited the detainees expressed scepticism about those accused by the Government being guilty of the violence. Rajapakse, according to this witness, responded promptly, saying, ‘We will find the evidence’. Rajapakse also conveyed to Lionel Bopage, who was then the JVP’s general secretary, an invitation from the ‘top’ to join the UNP.
Frank de Silva was DIG, CID, when Premadasa was elected president in December 1988 and went out on an overseas assignment on 8th April 1989. When he returned a few days later, Rajapakse who was DIG, Kandy, was in his place. (Udugampola was then moved to Kandy from Anuradhapura.) The letter transferring Frank de Silva to DIG, Administration, was sent out the same day he went overseas. He found out on inquiry that the decision to transfer him was neither the IGP’s nor the Defence Secretary’s, but had come from the ‘top’. During the proceeding February, Bennet Perera, an able officer who was SSP, CID, was moved out and Chandra Jayewardene who in 1983 was ASP, CID, under Rajapakse was moved in.
Rajapakse’s revelations suggest that Premadasa’s surroundings were brimming with louts, lewd men and traitors. A warning had apparently been received 53 days earlier of an impending attempt on Premadasa. A correspondent in the Sunday Island had pointed out that rather than lecture the kitchen staff, Rajapakse and DIG, PSD, ought to have checked out their backgrounds as well as those of others on his staff and the PSD. If Babu had moved freely around the place, surely someone would have alerted those responsible. After all, a Tamil anywhere is an object of suspicion. We are also asked to believe that almost a whole platoon of PSD men had been bought over willy-nilly by Babu’s largesse.
This is hardly credible. Priyadharshana Senanayake who had been in the STF and later on the security staff of J.R. Jayewardene and other VIPs, had been assigned to Sirisena Cooray, Premadasa’s right-hand-man and cabinet minister, in 1992. During this period Sothi Upali, an underworld figure in Cooray’s employ too used to don STF uniform, sport a T-56 rifle and mix with the professional security men of Cooray’s as well as STF men assigned to Premadasa. Senanayake told the Athulathmudali Commission that the professionals resented this and had complained to their superiors, but to no avail. We are left to wonder whether Babu travelled on the floor- board of one of Premadasa’s advance party vehicles or if he too wore a uniform like Sothi Upali.
We are also treated to another sensational lapse. Babu it seems was able to send his lorries up and down to the North without having them checked by the Army and Police teams in Vavuniya. It was further suggested by the Police that this facility was used to smuggle explosives into Colombo. Mohideen, Premadasa’s valet, is credited with having helped Babu in this matter. If so, then Mohideen had an influential line of contact with the army hierarchy controlling the northbound checkpoint. We do know that corruption was rife and a good deal of money changed hands between traders and high ranking security personnel. But when such corruption leads to the death of the President, it becomes too serious a matter to stop with disclosures at press conferences.
We do not know if this part of the investigation about the valet Mohideen’s highly influential connections ever took place. The Police seem to have been content with peddling lascivious stories about wine and women as a substitute for serious investigation.
Premadasa was personally a hard working, abstemious man. There was nothing trivial about him. He held onto power with much going against him and was to the end an effective administrator. But one cannot avoid the conclusion that his style entailed a certain looseness around him. This enabled him to maintain unorthodox contacts. It may also be noted that while his predecessors operated from upper class residential areas as Colombo 7, Temple Trees in Colombo 3 or Queen’s House in Fort, Premadasa functioned largely from his working class base in Colombo North. This looseness also enabled him to be very secretive about his contacts and his dealings, which were crucial to him at critical times. It was also a weakness.
Upon further inquiry, Babu’s role seemed difficult to pin down. Several persons who were directly or indirectly in Premadasa’s circle doubt that the LTTE was responsible for his death. One suggestion was that the bomb was one that was thrown, rather than a human bomb. To begin with a number of officials who had been close to Premadasa, including Evans Cooray who always accompanied him on his trips, found Babu a total mystery. Only Premadasa’s daughter Mrs. Dulanjalee Jayakody testified to having seen Babu “in the Sucharita area” (Island 10 June 94).
There was then the question of the bicycle that came from Pettah and turned into Armour Street. Except for Rajapakse’s statement, we do not know of any testimony on record that the rider was Babu. The unprofessional conduct of the Police has also left room for doubts to be raised. For example, are there proper records of the location and custody of body parts of the supposed suicide killer? The head is reported to have been recovered more than 25 yards away from the scene. However two journalists from the Yukthiya and Lankadipa who went to the scene a short time later saw a head and two feet in sports shoes being shoved inside a police jeep, and Reuters has a photograph of the jeep where the severed feet are clearly shown.
Rohan Gunaratna, in his International and Regional Security Implications of the Sri Lankan Tamil Insurgency (1997), shows a picture of the head of Babu with a lump of flesh proceeding from the neck. Opposite this picture is that of a youth who is said to be Babu’s brother who was involved in the LTTE’s purchasing network in South-East Asia. In a later photograph shown by the Police, the hanging flesh had been cut off. Except for minor bruises, the face was fairly clean. This led a person who was called to identify the head to believe that Babu was a victim of foul play. We will now examine other testimony.
To be continued..