It is very evident that a group connected to the Sri Lanka Navy was behind the abduction. It has been revealed that former Lieutenant Commander Sampath Hettiarchchi, who was engaged in special activities related to Sri Lanka Naval ship Parakrama and former Navy Commander Wasantha Karannagoda’s personal guard Wasantha Munasighe, had used the officers under him to kidnap them. Around 11 individuals from Colombo, Wattala, Kotahena, Dehiwala and Katunayake areas, have been kidnapped.
by Chamara Lakshan Kumara Views expressed in this article are author’s own
( July 25, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) With the arrest of former Navy Media spokesperson Commodore D.K.P. Dassanayake, the usual media spectacle accompanied by the drumming up of rhetoric seems to have commenced. Many sing praises of the Commodore and relate tales of his bravery while in service and allege that the Government was and continues to be on the hunt for war heroes.
Uniforms don’t make heroes
How such connection is made is lost to both, the observant reader and the average citizen. Dassanayake was not arrested for his actions committed during the war against terrorism. He was arrested as a suspect for the kidnapping and disappearance of 11 individuals with the aim of collecting ransom through them. A person does not become a war hero just because he wears a uniform. On the other hand, he is not given the authority or licence to commit any lowly act just because he is a member of the defence establishment. The argument is a simple one; if a person acts in violation of the law, he should be punished. It is clear that those who want to sell the ‘war hero’ label in Dassanayaka’s case are only doing that to achieve their own petty political ends. In 2000, the army was losing all its major camps; camps such as Elephant Pass were falling like dominoes into the hands of the terrorists and as the Army lay under siege at Jaffna Fort, it was Major General Janaka Perera who gave the necessary leadership to rescue the soldiers trapped in Jaffna. But during the Rajapaksa regime, he was under severe mental and physical pressure and all those who speak on the rights of war heroes today, did not utter a word in support of Major General Perera then. A similar silence was adopted by these so-called patriots when former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka who led the final fight against the terrorists was continuously persecuted. Society was suppressed to that extent during the Rajapaksa regime.
This is not the first or second time that a member of the Police or Army has been arrested for murders or abductions. On August 6, 1996, Krishanti Kumaraswamy was found raped and murdered; her mother; Rasamma’s 16-year-old brother; Pranavan and a family friend, Kirubarakaran, were strangled and their bodies cut into pieces, were found buried in an army camp. Five suspects from the Army and Police were convicted for these acts. A senior official of the Army was convicted, along with a few other members, for the disappearances of 30 school students from August to November, 1989. In the incident of October, 2000, in Bindunuwewa and in the rape and murder of 16-year-old Premawathi Manamperi on April 16, 1971, the law was enforced on the members of the security forces who committed the crimes, with no special privileges awarded to any of them. Thus, when you compare this incident to our history, this is not an unusual occurrence.
The arrest of Commodore Dassanayake was set in motion when former Navy Commander Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda lodged a complaint with the CID in Colombo on May 28, 2009. His complaint was against his personal security officer, Lieutenant Commander Sampath Munasinghe, who had been tasked with investigating links directly or indirectly with the LTTE. The same complaint was investigated by the Navy Provost Marshal Captain Senaka Hanwella, who, when he conducted on-the-spot investigations at a house used by Sampath Munasinghe, found in room number 8 of that house; NICs, passports, credit cards, mobile phones and other personal items of people who had been kidnapped over a long period of time. Among them was a cheque for Rs. 760,000 from the Bank of Ceylon bank in Mt. Lavinia from the account number 049568, a green promissory note bearing no A 3323 for the sum of Rs. 500,000, a pink promissory note bearing number A 5656 for Rs. 400,000; a Commercial Bank pass book holding account number 8020019831, a Bank of Ceylon passbook holding the account number 7960595 and a HNB passbook holding the account number 002020330398, for a person under the name of Sampath; another HNB passbook for the account number 002093553, a passport bearing the number N1431844 under the name of Stanley Leon, a NIC with the number 601772809V under the name K.A. Anton, a NIC with the number 790683021V under the name of Thiyagaraja Jegan, a NIC with the number 584201179V under the name of N.S. Leon, the NICs of Amalan Leon and Roshan Leon; their passports and the mobile phone of a foreigner called Mike Ogan who was living at Ramanadan Flats, was found in the room. Captain Hanwella took all items found into his custody and handed them over to the CID on May 30 for further investigation. It is to be noted here that by this time, Sampath Munasinghe no longer engaged in official naval duties and had got accustomed to a life undercover.
Sampath Munasinghe had come to be known increasingly as ‘Navy Sampath’ and when Admiral Karannagoda was the Commander of the Eastern Naval Forces, he worked as an officer in the Trincomalee Naval Intelligence Unit. He came to be known as a talented officer who had uncovered many important information on the LTTE and its operations in the area. When Admiral Karannagoda took over as Navy Commander, he appointed Sampath as his personal security officer. The relationship between the two were close and Karannagoda often treated Sampath as he would his own child. Sampath’s influence in the Navy thus was quite significant and many officers came to him if they wanted their transfers adjusted. It is not clear as to what brought about the breakdown of trust between Karannagoda and Sampath but the rumours over the breakup are many.
In the meantime, Karannagoda came to know many suspicious activities surrounding Munasinghe. Among such complaints was the kidnapping of five students for ransom worth millions. As soon as information on the kidnapping came to light, the Navy Commander had ordered the Navy Intelligence Unit Investigator, Ananda Guruge to conduct an internal investigation into the incidents. The disappearances had been made known to the Commander by Captain Jagath Jayantha Ranasinghe. The youth who were kidnapped were Pradeep Vishwanathan, Thilakeshwaran Ramalingam, Rajiv Naganathan, Mohamed Jilal Jamaldeen and Mohamed Saajith. Ranasinghe had revealed all details through a text message to Commodore Udayakeerthi Vijaya Bandara.
Abductions in play
Having kidnapped the youth, they had called Rajiv Naganathan’s parents and asked that they pay a sum of Rs. 10 million to release their child, but had later reduced the sum to Rs. 1 million and had informed the parents that the money be paid to Sampath, an officer close to the Navy Commander.
The CID, in their investigations, were also able to uncover that out of the NICs and passports handed over to the Department, four of the individuals were reported to be missing since 2008.
Of those missing since 2008, was Stanley Leon, a resident of No. 47/1 Aarippuwala East, Aarippuwala. He had come to Colombo with his son Amalan Leon and the foreigner Mike Ogan to apply for a visa to the United Kingdom. They were staying at the Ramanadan Flats in Kotahena. On August 25, 2008, Amalan and Stanley were kidnapped by an unidentified armed group. The NICs found at Sampath’s official residence was that of Thiyagaraja Jegan from Trincomalee. Jegan, who was working at a jewellery shop in Colombo 13, went missing in 2008.The CID was able to get many useful information regarding the abduction when communicators attached to the Sri Lankan Navy Signal Corps; Aluthgedara Upul Bandara and Lakshman Udaya Kumara, who were working under Sampath Munasinghe, were questioned. Upul Bandara, a resident of Raththota, Matale, had mentioned that in 2008, they were informed by Munasinghe that five suspicious individuals would pass Badowita Road, Dehiwala, around 10 pm and that they needed to be arrested. Lieutenant Commander Hettiarachchi and a group had gone in a van at the time to arrest them. They also brought their 5559 black motor car along with them. The tip-off on the economic situation of Naganathan’s family was given to Munasinghe by Anwer Ali, alias ‘Haajiyar,’ who was in the intelligence service at the time. Anwar Ali is a resident of Dehiwala.
Rajiv Naganathan was a student from a Colombo International School and he was abducted a day before he was to leave to the UK for his higher studies. He had shown great interest in cricket as well and his Advance Level report card states that he had received 2A’s and one B. He was to be a doctor. His parents had also decided to gift him a BMW vehicle for having passed his tests. His birthday parties were held in famous hotels and all these factors came into consideration when he was chosen as a likely candidate to be held for ransom.
On the day before he left, Naganathan had gone out for dinner with his friends to Mount Lavinia near St. Thomas’ College and his plan was to get a haircut in a famous salon and then meet Anwar Ali afterwards.
Based on the information that has been uncovered thus far, Rajiv was kidnapped and brought to the Colombo Navy Camp in Chaithiya Road. He was next sent to the Navy Camp situated near the Navy Jetty in Trincomalee; this is considered to be one of the biggest naval camps in the country.
Call for ransoms
The camp was initially under the British and it was officially taken over by the Sri Lankan Navy in 1957. Several artilleries used during World War II can still be seen here. There are tunnels and warehouses in the camp which they used to store bullets and gun powder. Rajiv and the group were taken to the camp were kept inside one of the underground prisons called the “Gun Side.” They later kidnapped Anwer Ali as well over issues related to ransom.
He was kidnapped when he was returning from Katunayake to Colombo. The CID has found enough evidence to prove that all who were kidnapped were kept in the Trincomalee Navy Camp. Rajiv had also phoned his house from the Navy Camp.A person called Annachchi had called Rajiv’s father Govindar Swamy, demanding Rs. 10 Million as ransom to release his son. After negotiations, the ransom was reduced to Rs. 5 million. The ransom taker had asked him to come to Naarammala and when Swamy asked whether he could come to Welisara, the ransom taker had said he would let him know after talking to ‘big annachchi.’ Meanwhile, on January 15, Rajiv had phoned his father. Govinda Swamy wanted to know whether it was truly his son who was talking to him on the phone; therefore, he had asked a few personal questions also from Rajiv and after that, he had confirmed that it was his son. Rajiv had told everything that had been going on. In April, 2009, Swamy had got another call from a person called Heshan and he had said that his son would be released if he pays the ransom. Heshan, meanwhile, had let Rajiv talk to his parents over the phone several times.
Rajiv had informed his father that he had been brought to Trincomalee from Colombo. Having confirmed his suspicions that his son along with others had been kidnapped by the Navy and were in their custody, Govinda Swamy had approached his friend, Minister Felix Perera for his assistance in their release. Minister Perera had verbally as well as through written request contacted the Navy Commander about it but no action was taken. Further evidence of the fact that the kidnapped were in Trincomalee was found in Anwer Ali’s cousin, Siraj’s phone on 23 March 2009.
“Sampath has caught me. Please inform DIG Kamaldeen and save me,” was the message sent by Ali to his cousin’s phone. On 26 July 2009, Siraj received a phone call from Ali.
“This is the last day they are going to keep me here. Please save me”, said Ali to Siraj at the time. That was the last time he contacted him.
It has now become very clear that all of them were kidnapped for ransom and the person named Annachchi had also contacted Thiyagaraja Jegan’s mother and asked a ransom of Rs. 1 million from her too. In negotiations, thereafter, the amount had been reduced to Rs. 500,000 and she was asked to bring the money to an area in Thambalagamuwa. When she had done so, the person who showed up had tried to run away with the money.
It is very evident that a group connected to the Sri Lanka Navy was behind the abduction. It has been revealed that former Lieutenant Commander Sampath Hettiarchchi, who was engaged in special activities related to Sri Lanka Naval ship Parakrama and former Navy Commander Wasantha Karannagoda’s personal guard Wasantha Munasighe, had used the officers under him to kidnap them. Around 11 individuals from Colombo, Wattala, Kotahena, Dehiwala and Katunayake areas, have been kidnapped. Having made to held in captivity in secret in Tricomalee Navy Camp, they were made to disappear. The present Commodore Sumith Ranasinghe was the then officer in charge of Sri Lanka Navy Jetty when they were held in captivity.
The writer works for the Daily News, Colombo, where this piece first appeared)