4 December, 2020

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The Presidential Security Division Under Chandrika

By Rajan Hoole

Dr. Rajan Hoole

Dr. Rajan Hoole

Law Enforcement and the Security Services: Politicisation and Demoralisation – 5

The old PSD trained by the Israelis became inactive after President Premadasa’s assassination. When Chandrika Kumaratunga contested the provincial council elections in 1993, those close to her were on the lookout for an unofficial security team apart from the official police security team. A notable member of the former was Morris Amarasinghe alias Baddegana Sanjeewa, a vehicle seizer for a finance company, and persons associated with him. Many such persons, after Kumaratunga became president, were absorbed into the PSD, the reserve or were discharged with favours – liquor licences have been cited in the Press. Chief Inspector Nihal Karunaratne who had served in the BSO under DIG Udugampola came into her security team, as ASP, PSD and became responsible for her security.

The original reasons for Chandrika Kumaratunga looking for additional security personnel, often thugs linked to the SLFP or SLMP, are understandable. She was vulnerable in 1993. But once such an outfit was put together under the auspices of the State in the form of the PSD, the temptation to use it for unlawful purposes was bound to be strong. Arming thugs as auxiliaries under the State was practised during the UNP regime. Under the Jayewardene regime for example, Gonawela Sunil was given a government job. Under Premadasa, Sothi Upali is said to have been a sub-inspector in the Police Reserve. The PSD then, however, did not generally get involved in scandal. There were others for dirty work. Under Kumaratunga, personnel from the PSD have acquired a reputation for thuggery, corrupt practices and worse.

Nihal Karunaratne

Nihal Karunaratne

A man central to the controversy surrounding the presidential circle is the President’s media advisor Sanath Gunatileke, an actor, former Premadasa supporter and UNP provincial councillor. Following the 1994 presidential election he was appointed to that position at a salary of Rs.25,000/= per month – the same as the President’s. He seems to have rather played a role in exacerbating the President’s problems with the media.

The Counterpoint of February 1995 pointed to his lack of credentials for the job and to the fact that his appointment had not been intimated to the Cabinet, and stated, “If his appointment is of dubious merit, then his role and function as media advisor is even more mind-bogglingly mysterious!” It continued, “Mr. Premadasa who was widely rebuked for his arbitrary ways could hardly have bettered this in terms of its lack of merit.”

“The need to determine the source and range of his power, despite so little in terms of obvious credentials to recommend him for such responsibility, is a legitimate element of the public’s right to know”, the Counterpoint said. It added in conclusion,

“…his continued tenure in that office despite serious allegations by senior journalists has irrevocably compromised and tarnished this government’s commitment to a free and forthright media.” The allegations included brutal assault on an editor.

At that time, the Government was yet new, and after the UNP’s record, there was a tendency to overlook these as peccadilloes on the part of a leader who was going to deliver great things for the country. But rivulets unchecked tend to become rivers and then floods, and hopes about what the Government would deliver tend to become a mirage. In time allegations and suspicions concerning the presidential circle, reports of unfair influence in commercial dealings and the use of thuggery through associates of the PSD, have multiplied. Taking into account PSD Sergent Amarasinghe’s connections, the PSD becomes more than an arm of the Police. It has the combined resources of the state as well as some notable elements in the underworld.

J. Tennekoon, a close associate of Sanath Gunatileke’s, was asked to appear in the Fort Magistrate’s Court on 29.9.99, on a cheating case. Upon his failure to appear, the Magistrate, Mervyn Wijesinghe, issued a warrant for him to be produced on 6.10.99. Tennekoon was the second suspect in an alleged defrauding of Pounds Sterling 50,000. The first suspect Lakshman Hulugalle was absconding. On 6.10.99, the CID filed a report from the Attorney General which stated that no charges could be framed against Tennekoon. The Magistrate held that it was a violation of procedure for the CID to use the AG’s report as a pretext for not executing the arrest warrant.

There then resulted a courtroom drama. The counsels for Tennekoon made the extra-ordinary claim that their client faced danger to his life because of revelations he had made to the CID about a conspiracy to topple the Government. (Needless to say that the CID is yet to make anything of these revelations.) The Magistrate reissued the warrant for the suspect to be produced in Court on 13.10.99.

The Magistrate was two days later (Sunday Times 10.10.99) interdicted by the Judicial Service Commission on earlier charges of a technical nature pertaining to alleged procedural lapses concerning issue of arrest warrants and impounding of passports. The JSC secretary A.W.A. Salaam termed these ‘suspicious actions’. According to the Sunday Times report above, Mervyn Wijesinghe had been bypassed despite the former Chief Justice G.P.S. de Silva recommending him for promotion to the High Court more than once. This interdiction, according to observers, comes under the very Sri Lankan selective disciplinary action against officials who do not toe the line.

Others close to the JSC maintain that the timing of the interdiction was a mere coincidence. However, this came also at a time when the new JSC, less than a month old, was itself under controversy. Justice Mark Fernando who was overlooked for Chief Justice was also denied his due place on the JSC. There was also a petition being investigated by the Supreme Court where the new CJ in his former capacity as AG is alleged to have interfered with an inquiry into gross misconduct by another magistrate. Thus even if the interdiction of Magistrate Wijesinghe was routine, its timing was a public relations blunder, if not a convenient one for someone influential, and an act that was bound to further suspicion of political interference.

When Tennakoon presented himself in Court a week later, the new magistrate, A.R. Heiyanthuduwa, discharged him on the basis of the report filed by the Attorney General. The Sunday Leader charged that Tennekoon was being given security by, among others, H.D. Shantha whom the Editor had complained to the Police, was in the group which, in mid-1998, attacked his home, along with Morris Amarasinghe. The group opened fire at the editor’s home and the Police failed to investigate.

Questions have also been raised about the gunning down of Rohana Kumara, editor of the Sinhalese journal Satana (Battle) on 7th September 1999 in the Mirihana police area – where according to The Sunday Leader, Amarasinghe’s gang operates. The deceased editor, who specialised in scandal, is reported to have worked closely with Sanath Gunatileke and later fallen out. Kumara then accused his erstwhile friend and the PA government of corruption. Kumara had several influential enemies with whom he had similarly fallen out.

According to responsible sources from the media, Rohan Kumara was followed from Borella on his way home and was gunned down by persons waiting in a vehicle near his home, suggesting a co-ordinated operation by an institution with resources. It was known that he was going to write a story about the PSD. Pressmen have pointed a finger at the PSD. Thus when ASP Nihal Karunaratne, Director PSD, tells the press that the vehicle used in the Kumara killing did not belong to the PSD, it says nothing. According to our media sources, the police investigation into the murder is at a standstill after the men working on it were transferred out.

Further, when in February 2000 a police party from Kelaniya led by an inspector raided Morris Amarasinghe’s home to arrest a gang of criminals, ASP Karunaratne went there and reportedly interfered with the proceedings. So cautious was the police party that it reportedly sought clearance from the IGP before making the arrest of criminals harboured by Amarasinghe. A police source told the Sunday Times (13.2.2000) that Morris’ gang is linked to dozens of killings and alleged that he had amassed enormous wealth through underworld operations, which included extortion, gaming houses and brothels. It was further reported in the Island (19.2.2000) that four of the persons arrested from this officer’s house and remanded are suspected of involvement in a number of killings.

In reply to some allegations made by Ranil Wickremesinghe, President Kumaratunge said on the matter above that she would take the ‘strictest action’ after the Police carry out ‘a completely independent investigation’ and report back to her. In the same letter, the President said about the Rohana Kumara murder referred to above, that the Police had found no evidence of PSD involvement. She added that an interim report on the investigation had said that Kumara’s mother strongly suspected the involvement of a sub-editor of his journal, who according to the mother, had an affair with Kumara’s wife (Island of 26.2.2000). Nothing more has been heard about the promised investigation or action.

One sees here distributing signs of the President getting distracted and becoming personally involved in the minutiae of law enforcement, in matters that should have been routinely decided at a low level. This deference to persons who are, in the public mind, cronies, contrasts sharply with the shabby treatment accorded to DIGs Ariyasinghe and Perinpanayagam, and SSP Nimal Fernando (see below) who did the job of an honest investigator.

From what the public could see, ASP Karunaratne had become a law unto himself. So far, there is no evidence against him, but only public fears that have not been allayed, and which the system refuses to allay. At the President’s swearing-in ceremony on 22nd December 2000, Karunatne was reported by Waruna Karunatilleke and other senior journalists as having said that Karunatilleke was on his hit list. Karunaratne has denied this in press interviews. But the proper thing would have been for the IGP to order an inquiry, record statements from the concerned parties and frame charges for unethical conduct if Karunaratne is found to have made such threats. In the absence of such, the latter’s denial receiving publicity in the state media only tends to confirm the allegation.

It was reported in the Press (e.g. Sunday Leader) in early March 2000 that the President had presented a special cabinet paper recommending Karunaratne’s promotion to SP. Karunaratne’s rank was 171 on the seniority list of ASPs. We understand from a senior officer that the report is not incorrect, but that the PSC had a problem with acceding to such an exceptional recommendation that might lead to petitions in court by those overlooked.

Such situations when they become the pattern lead to a serious credibility gap. They raise a further question about a powerful state institution that is also inordinately defensive of its personnel with known underworld connections. If the officer in charge of it could, with impunity, threaten people in effect with murder, can those above him go on being blind to the kind of intrigues that may occur in his private councils?

We now move on to the fate of an honest officer who fell foul of several powerful persons, including the PSD.

*To be continued.. Next week – The Fate of an Honest Officer and the Road to Anarchy

*From Rajan Hoole‘s “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power – Myth, Decadence and Murder”. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To read earlier parts click here

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