By Rajan Hoole –
The 1990s: The Culture of Untruth and a Perilous Vacuum Part 3
Although Jayewardene’s style was described as patrician, his success was mainly as a juggler. Increasing disorder was the hallmark of his governance. He manipulated his ministers and balanced disorder cropping up in one place by creating disorder elsewhere. Periodic explosions were inevitable. He had no direct contact with the shock troops, but earlier he had them organised through Cyril Mathew and the JSS. Premadasa with his own shock troops was given the leeway to do his own thing, but no minister was allowed to take the upper hand. This arrangement undoubtedly got out of balance with Mathew’s departure and then the JVP insurgency. Things being as they were, as much as the people longed for it, there was absolutely no hope that Jayewardene would crack down on crime and corruption.
It fell to Ranjan Wijeratne, confident after his suppression of the JVP, but a novice to the ground rules of realpolitik under the UNP, to try his hand. The activities of his BSO (Bureau of Special Operations) could not help treading the toes of Colombo’s great and the good. After Wijeratne’s death, the BSO was harassed and eventually wound up and its head Udugampola had to go underground. The following is from Udugampola’s statement released from underground on 4th April 1992 which first appeared in the Attha and then in other papers (e.g. Island 6th April 1992):
“The attack on the BSO was not from human rights activists but from highly placed corrupt persons within the Police Force itself. When the BSO raided the Flamingo Club a long list of kick-backs to high police officers and other powerful or influential persons was discovered there. When Joe Sim’s establishments were raided there was incriminating evidence found there too. The late Mr. Ranjan Wijeratne was aware of all this and took his steps against Joe Sim after confidently showing the strength of his hand by making a public announcement in Parliament itself. It was unfortunate that Mr. Wijeratne was killed soon after this when he was working on other matters too which were unearthed by the BSO.”
In fact, the events referred to by Udugampola were very much in the news for weeks before Wijeratne’s death. Joe Sim was a 33-year-old Singapore businessman who had been in this country for 11 years. According to Dinesh Watawana (Sunday Times 10 March 91) quoting business circles, “[Sim] crowned himself as a powerful and influential man among the elite of Colombo … At the time of his sudden and unexpected deportation, Joe Sim had several high profit businesses to his credit in Sri Lanka. His Tribond Group operated Thai-Chinese restaurants… and managed four joint- venture casinos. The travel agencies he operated produced thousands of players from abroad for his casinos everyday….. With personal money and the help of an Australian consultant, Sim started a mine for blue sapphires near Kandy. He planned to open a casino in Kandy as well.”
The Press, looking for something newsworthy, started dropping broad hints about Sim’s close involvement with the powerful group comprising the bosses and godfathers of the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC), the old commercial district of which had become Premadasa’s pocket borough. Premadasa’s chief lieutenant and minister of housing, Sirisena Cooray, had earlier been mayor of Colombo (Cooray succeeded to the secretaryship of the UNP upon Wijeratne’s untimely demise). There were rumours in circulation about Joe Sim and other foreign casino bosses operating with forged documents obtained with high-level connivance. An event, which sensationally presented Joe Sim’s closeness to the Colombo Municipality group, was his presence at the 125th anniversary celebrations of the CMC as a VIP invitee. The chief guest was the Chinese premier Li Peng.
Watawana’s article further says, “[Sim’s] list of invitees for a new year’s eve party last year at the Hilton Hotel included several top politicians and security brass, police say.” The principal reason for his sudden deportation by the CID is said to have resulted from his having become a liability and embarrassment to the Government. We reliably learn that the Police who searched Joe Sim’s house, found a photograph of one of the country’s top-most ladies posing with Sim’s family.
The anger against the BSO in leading circles could be gauged from an unprecedented incident, which occurred on 13th July 1991. Three BSO officers, Munidasa, Anthony and Kalupahana, went to the Harbour area to inquire into a case of smuggling. They were arrested by the Colombo North Police and detained under Emergency Regulations for six days without being given the reason for their arrest. The incident surfaced in a Fundamental Rights petition filed in the Supreme Court on 13th August. The affair was clearly orchestrated from higher up. The respondents cited included A.E. Sharvanandan, SP, Colombo North and A.S. Seneviratne, DIG (Metropolitan). The area is one where the CMC group has zealously protected its interests. An instance of this is the disappearance of Ananda (Kochchikade) Sunil, an SLFP organiser in the area, at the height of the July 1983 violence. Sharvanandan, then an IP, was named by the wife as one of abductors of Sunil (Sect. 19.5).
By the year’s end, the BSO was virtually wound up. It is also said that Udugampola’s differences with Premadasa had also an element concerning the formers brother who was a major in the army. Premadasa, when approached, is said to have refused to intervene in a police matter involving the brother. The Government was also under pressure regarding its Human Rights record. After its fashion, it addressed one crisis by creating another. DIG Udugampola was retired and placed on compulsory leave prior to retirement from 15.1.1992. It reopened the Liyannarachchi case which had been concluded in March ’91 with minor strictures being passed against Udugampola. In the meantime in a public relations exercise, the Government stated the following in its Human Rights Status Report for 1991:
“With the retirement of Premadasa Udugampola who headed the Bureau of Special Operations, the BSO had been stripped of all its weapons. BSO has been under attack by human rights activists because of the controversial nature of its activities”.
It was, as Udugampola later pointed out in his statement, a blatant misrepresentation. No one accused the BSO of human rights violations. In early 1992, the Police made an application to reopen the Liyannarachcy case and a magistrate’s notice was issued to Udugampola to report to the CID. Mr. Denzil Gunaratne, senior counsel for Udugampola objected that it was wrong to issue a notice on his client and to impound his passport as he had not been charged with any offence. Udugampola went underground and issued the statement referred to. Responding in his statement to the charge that he must have operated the Black Cat killers during the JVP era because killing intensified wherever he was sent, he said that the real Black Cats found his presence a convenient cover for
their activities. He said that it was UNP politicians who ran the Black Cats, and found the level of violence a convenient cover for election irregularities. “Even opposition politicians”, he said, “found it convenient to hang everything on me”. Here was the UNP in its unprincipled style trying to address two crises, one involving the BSO and the other its own human rights record, by creating another.
In a statement released on 7th April 1992, Prime Minister D.B. Wijetunge accused Udugampola of “harbouring a malicious vengeance against the Government”, and of “being prepared to resort to any falsehood to malign the Government”. The statement prepared by officials added with patent disingenuity, “Mr. Udugampola claims that he was not responsible for the creation of killer squads known as ‘Black Cats’. It is a significant co-incidence that these ‘Black Cats’ had surfaced wherever Mr. Udugampola was stationed – first in the South, thereafter in the North Central Province and then [from July 1989] in the Central Province.”
Apparently sensitive to talk about Black Cats, Minister for Industries, Science and Technology, Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe stated (CDN 15.4.92),
“Some newspapers carried statements attributed to Mr. Udugampola, DIG, regarding the operation of the ‘Black Cats’ in the Southern, North-Central and Central Provinces. At the relevant times, Mr. Udugampola was the Provincial DIG in charge of those areas… [A court] is the most transparent method of testing the truth. Therefore Mr. Udugampola has an opportunity of proving his allegations if they are true.”
The Batalanda Commission, which began sittings in January 1996, gave us a fair idea of Mr. Wickremasinghe’s transparency on the question of ‘Black Cats’. However, Mr. Wickremasinghe’s statement was very clear about who are in reality is protected by the courts. When it came to serious questions about accountability and protection afforded by the Law to the ordinary citizen, Mr. Wickremasinghe’s attitudes had been curious. Such questions were raised with the approach of the first anniversary of Richard de Zoysa’s murder. Mr. Wickremasinghe then referred in Parliament to the alleged private behaviour of the dead man that was totally irrelevant (Sunday Times 10 Feb. 91). In orchestrating Jayewardene’s ‘Naxalite Plot’ in 1982, he made gossipy allegations in Parliament with an arrogant reference to the ‘Hector-Actor’ group, leading to the arbitrary detention of Vijaya Kumaratunge and several leading members of the SLFP. In all these, the courts were of little avail.
To be continued..