By Rajan Hoole –
Political Murders, the Commissions and the Unfinished Task – 9
The witness Susantha Dias Dahanayake who was in CID custody about the end of the year 1990 and early ’91 told the Commission that Tarzan Weerasinghe (TW), the main accomplice to the murder, was also then in CID custody. This was denied by SSP Chandra Jayawardene. The Commission found Dahanayake a credible witness because his testimony about TW was supported by three other detainees. The Commission was on good grounds for disregarding the CID on this matter, because their story about the disappearance of the assassin Lionel Ranasinghe from CID custody in September 1989 was shown to lack any substance by police investigators for the Commission.
Apart from this Dahanayake testified to TW having told him that Deputy Minister Gamini Lokuge’s weapon – a T 56 used by his security detail – was the murder weapon. On hearing about this, Lokuge applied to appear before the Commission. On the appointed day, Dahanayake was present and so was Lokuge. But then, the lawyer for the latter told the Commission that his client neither wished to cross examine Dahanayake nor make a statement.
The Commission accepted that Lokuge’s weapon had been used in the assassination, but also that there was nothing to implicate Lokuge of complicity. Is the inference justified? Is it not something out-on-a-limb with no connecting links? It is after all hearsay evidence whose alleged source is not among the living. Moreover, it is possible that Lokuge did not want matters pertaining to his dealings, unconnected with the assassination, being given a public exposure as lawyers are bound to do, and he was within his rights in opting out.
We contend that one could draw such a conclusion about the use of Lokuge’s weapon, provided one is prepared to work harder and make political inferences that have no place in law. When the Commission strayed into this territory, its conclusions were found wanting.
There is a further matter where the Commission’s position is puzzling. The Additional Government Analyst, Mr. M.A.J. Mendis, told the Commission his findings upon the comparison of spent cartridges recovered. He formed the view that the weapon used in the assassination of VK was the same as that used in two others. These were of SSP Terrence Perera on 3.12.87 and UNP Secretary Harsha Abhayawardene on 23.12.87. The Commission rejected this testimony on the grounds that there was no evidence regarding the recovery and custody of the spent cartridges.
This rejection is tantamount to suspecting someone in the Police or in the Analyst’s Department of pulling an elaborate hoax. The Commission was after all prepared to make several indefensible inferences – such as the political arguments for disregarding Chandra Jayawardene. There is a difference between a policeman who performs certain actions under political pressure, and one whose interrogation records are faked through and through. In the opinion of several of his colleagues spoken to by us, Chandra Jayawardena is an honest officer. This was also the opinion of Lionel Bopage who was interrogated by Jayawardena in August 1983. He felt that Jayawardena was following orders, but was not a bad guy. According to Chandra Jayawardena’s record, Lionel and Tarzan received their instructions to kill VK at a meeting on the lawn of San Michelle Hotel, Piliyandala. This does not appear to be fiction.
Chandraprema tells us (p.190 of his book): “In the investigations which followed the killing of Daya Pathirana in 1986, it transpired that the JVP had close links with criminals in the Piliyandale area… [The Police suspected that the same crowd that killed Pathirana] was behind the killing of Terrence Perera and Harsha Abhayawardene”. Chadraprema identifies Addiris Costa as the chief man behind creating an operational base for the JVP within the Piliyandala underworld, two of whose hired killers were used to kill the ISU leader Pathirana. He also credits this group – ‘the Piliyandala Mafia’ – with the rescue in June 1987 of JVP operatives involved in crimes who were being transported from Panadura prison to the Horana Magistrate’s Court.
We learn from the Commission proceedings that one of those so rescued was none other than Lionel Ranasighe, VK’s assassin. Chadraprema also tells us that especially after July 1987, the Piliyandale underworld began to polarise along UNP – JVP lines. This is also of interest.
The Commission also disregarded the testimony of Premasiri Perera. The latter said that Wickrema, a deceased police (NIB) informant had told him that the decision to assassinate VK was taken at a JVP politburo meeting presided over by Wijeweera in Nuwara- Eliya. The order, according to the same source, was conveyed by the lawyer Wijedasa Liyannarachchi to operatives at Beliatta. This testimony does not stand in isolation.
Shortly after the death of Liyannarachchi in custody, Lalith Athulathmudali who was then National Security Minister, said several times (e.g. CDN 12.9.88) that Liyannarachchi had confessed to being on a committee of the JVP which decided on the killings of Harsha Abhayawardene, VK and Terrence Perera. One ought to be very cautious about these confessions, but that Liyannarachchi was an important person in the JVP was not in dispute. Even if Liyannarachchi’s role in political killings was Athulathmudali’s invention, there are further significant factors.
It was reported in early 1988 (e.g. Sunday Observer 3.1.88) that the same weapon was used by the same man in the slaying of Terrence Perera (TP), SSP, CSU, and Harsha Abhayawardene (HA). A further report in August 1988 (Sun 22.8.88) attributed to the CID, said that of the five suspects arrested over the HA killing, the fingerprints of two match those on the motor cycle used. It further said that the same T-56 gun was used in the killing of VK, HA and TP, but by three separate gangs. The reason for suspecting different gangs was that the arrest of 5 accomplices had already been made in the VK case, and again a different motor cycle was found with different fingerprints.
This was during the time of the Jayewardene presidency when the CID was under Frank de Silva (DIG) and Bennet Perera (SSP). The report also said that a person had been taken into custody regarding the supply of the weapon. But our inquiries on this claim drew a blank. We may also mention here that upon his being detained in March 1989, Lionel Ranasinghe admitted to having killed TP, VK, UNP Secretary Nandalal Fernando and Prof. Stanley Wijesundara, but not Harsha Abhayawardene.
If one takes the claims above wholly or in part, one gets the idea that Piliyandala was a major staging area for the JVP’s political assassinations, where the decisions of the JVP hierarchy were communicated to hit men by intermediaries who were probably not local to the area. This appears to have been the Police thinking.
The Commission has disregarded testimony pointing to such a scenario and has relied for its conclusions on looking for motives and interference with the investigation. As grave as the latter is, it has been pointed out that the President and others could have had motives for interfering other than to protect themselves from blame. Having accepted that Gamini Lokuge’s weapon was used – Lokuge being from Piliyandale – the Commission has by the testimony it chose to dismiss, rejected any way of making sense of it. It has left us looking for a direct, but unknown, line from Premadasa to the killers. The problem had been made more complicated and not easier.
A series of impressions have been piled up which tantalisingly point to something, but may well have a different explanation. The Commission appears to have been in too much of a hurry to reach a conclusion. Several areas would have merited further attention.
Links to the Daya Pathirana Murder
Towards the end of 1986 the running battle between the JVP controlled Inter-University Students Federation (IUSF) and the anti-JVP Independent Students Union (ISU) came to a climax. The ISU led by Daya Pathirana dominated the University of Colombo. It was radical Left and unlike the JVP’s quasi- chauvinism, took a strong position on supporting Tamil rights. They were also equal to the JVP’s strong-arm tactics. At this point, the JVP made a bid for total control of the student population, and this resulted in its first political murder (vide Chandraprema).
Two IUSF students from another university invited Pathirana for talks on the evening of 15th December 1986, and while they were on the road, he and his companion P.A. Somasiri were forced into a van. They were taken to the Kidelpitiya ferry point on Bolgoda Lake, close to Piliyandala and Pathirana was knocked unconscious and killed by cutting his neck. In the meantime, Somasiri had been stabbed in the back and an attempt was being made to cut his neck. The plan was to put them into sacks weighted with stones and dump them into the lake from the pier. The killers were interrupted by Gamini Perera, the ferryman, and they left Somasiri injured with a cut in his neck and fled in their vehicle.
The word quickly got around Piliyandale the next morning that Daya Pathirana was the victim whose body was found. A Left activist in that area immediately suspected the JVPer Addiris Costa whom he knew. Seeing Costa on the road, he asked him, “This murder is a great crime and a great shame, is it not?” Costa agreed and quickly went away. Somasiri survived and this gave the Police the lead to start an investigation. They quickly made up their mind that it was a JVP job using contract killers from the Piliyandala underworld. Within a week Rukman de Silva, SP, Kalutara, announced that the Hiace van used in the murder had been found.
The investigation was handed over by IGP Cyril Herath to the CSU under Leo Perera, whose director was Terrence Perera. Somasiri at a parade identified a student Ananda Dharmasiri from Sri Jayewardenepura University. The suspects not identified were allowed bail and among them was A. Susil alias Mavittara Sarath of Piliyandala, the owner of the van identified as having been used in the crime. He was a close associate of Gamini Lokuge, the UNP MP for the area.
One version of the incident that got around is that the JVP and underworld elements hired by them took the vehicle from Mavittara Sarath’s place without his knowledge and put it back after committing the crime, so as to blame the UNP. The more plausible explanation may be that in that kind of sub-culture, such facilities as vehicles are borrowed and returned without questions being asked. It would be too much to expect others to cheek a leading local tough by stealing and also returning his vehicle without some understanding.
We reported in Chapter 15 the testimony of a police officer who questioned the JVPer Jayatissa who confessed to having been involved in the Daya Pathirana killing. The others named by Jayatissa as parties to the killing were Addiris Costa, Mahipala and Sudumalli. A lawyer who was then a student close to the ISU said that Dharmasiri who succeeded Daya Pathirana as ISU leader had made several inquiries about the murder. He had told this law student whom he met at a funeral a short time before he was himself murdered by the JVP, that Mavittara Sarath (who was not named by Jayatissa) was party to the killing.
We also learnt from this source that one reason for the case being abandoned is that being unable to identify anyone, Somasiri, on Dharmasiri’s advice, had pointed out two JVP students from Sri Jayewardenepura University who were not involved in the murder.
Other political activists who were familiar with the Piliyandale scene very much doubted Mavittara Sarath’s involvement in the murder of the student leader. The reasons they gave are: 1.) Mavittara Sarath was an underworld man with a reputation for hold-ups, but was not known to be a contract killer, and 2.) Mavittara Sarath was pro-UNP and a strong supporter of the Kesbewa MP and it does not seem at all likely that the JVP would have approached him or that he would have accepted a contract to kill from the JVP.
These activists also gave us other relevant information. Mahipala, one of the killers of Daya Pathirana identified by the different sources, knew Mavittara Sarath well. The two are also said to have worked together on hold-up jobs. Mahipala had already been a member of the JVP in 1971, but became active much later. He also knew the set-up in Mavittara Sarath’s house and could have taken his van with or without his consent, and if the latter, these activists opine, it was possibly to put the blame on the UNP. The last does seem unlikely as the killers had hoped to finish the job without leaving behind any trace of evidence or witnesses and it was by mere chance that Somasiri survived.
To be continued..