“Army and police collaboration” in assassination of top Sri Lanka journalist

Sri Lanka police Criminal Investigation Department (CID) probing the assassination of a senior journalist nine years ago, has unearthed details implicating military spies and police top brass.

A special military intelligence unit planned and carried out the assassination of Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge in 2009 while senior police officers in the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) and Colombo Crimes Division (CCD) destroyed evidence and misled initial investigations, court heard.

In a report to the Mount Lavinia magistrate on Friday (2) CID informed that the police chief, senior deputy inspector generals as well as several senior officers of the TID at the time were involved in actively undermining the investigation.

A senior CID officer who spoke to JDS on condition of anonymity, said that the Inspector General of Police (IGP) at the time Jayantha Wickremeratne handed over the investigation to TID chief Chandra Vakishta, who allegedly distorted the evidence. 

According to the CID officer, investigations so far have revealed that the attack on Lasantha Wickrematunge on 8 January 2009 was carried out by a special team under the 2nd Military  Intelligence Unit, which operated from Camp Tripoli in Colombo.  The commanding officer, Major Prabhath Seevali Bandaranaike Bulathwatte had direct access to former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa through state intelligence chief Major General Kapila Hendavitharana.

“It is not rocket science to assume who gave the order to kill Lasantha,” said the CID officer.

Major Bulathwatte who was arrested as a suspect for assaults on journalists Keith Noyahr and Upali Tennakoon during the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, was later released on bail.

The CID officer says that credible evidence has now emerged to show that a military team under Major Bulathwatte carried out the Lasantha Wickrematunge assassination.

Man killed to suppress evidence

He believes Pitchai Jesudasan, a Tamil man arrested for the assassination was killed in TID custody in 2011 October to supress evidence. Suspected killers had used mobile phones with Five SIM cards registered to Jesudasan.

CID later found out that the SIM cards were bought by Kandegedara Piyawansa, a soldier of the military intelligence unit under Major Bulathwatte.

“Kandegedara Piyawansa had bought five SIM cards using Jesudasan’s national identity card,” the CID officer told JDS.

“These SIM cards had been used to plan the abductions of Keith Noyahr and Upali Tennakoon. We also found out that the same SIM cards were used in mobile phones in the pursuit to kill Lasantha. This makes it clear that this killing and the other attacks were carried out by the same team.”

The CID officer added that the military had continued with paying the wages of Soldier Piyawansa while he was in remand custody following his arrest in 26 February 2010.

“It raises serious concerns when the government pays the salaries of a man who has been remanded for a grave crime.”

Kandegedara Piyawansa who was released on bail on 6 September 2013 due to ‘lack of evidence’ went on to file a petition alleging that the detention violated his fundamental rights.

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, TID Director Chandra Vakishta and four others were named as respondents.

Upholding that the arrest of the petitioner was illegal, the supreme court ordered fifth suspect Police Inspector Senarath Bogamuwa of the TID to pay a sum of Rs 100,000 to Kandegedara Piyawansa.

Presidents Counsel J Chrishantha Weliamuna, Pasindu Silva and Sulakshana Senanayake appeared on behalf of the petitioner.

Role of the military

Meanwhile the supreme court on 28 February 2018 issued an Interim Order staying the arrest of former IGP Jayantha Wickramaratne who was earlier questioned by the CID on covering up evidence in the Lasantha Wickrematunge murder probe.

Athula S Ranagala, counsel representing Lasantha’s family interests confirmed that the CID informed court of the police and military operating together in the assassination.

“Although it is a suspicion, we can’t ignore the fact that police too helped in this.”

However, expressing concern of “groups abroad who provide anti-Sri Lanka international forces with subject matter by publishing certain things,” the lawyer wanted to view the military in a positive light.

  “The military was stuck in a massive war. Special intelligence units had to do many things to win the war. Although Lasantha’s murder was a crime, we can’t disregard the role of the military,” said Athula Ranagala.

(Lead-photo courtesy Kalpa Rajapaksha)



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.