‘Give your gold or face detention’

Jewellery shop owners allege some police officers threaten them with arrest if they don’t give them gold
By Chris Kamalendran

Police have launched a top level investigation into allegations that its officers on the pretext of looking for stolen gold and gold jewellery were raiding and removing items from jewellery shops unlawfully.
Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police, K.P.P. Pathirana told the Sunday Times that he had instructed DIG Daya Samaraweera to carry out the investigation following a complaint lodged by the Sri Lanka Jewellers’ Association.

“I have called for a report on the matter from the DIG as soon as possible”. The association lodged the complaint after policemen in civvies had allegedly called over at jewellery shops on Sea Street and obtained gold from at least six shops. They are estimated to have collected more than 100 sovereigns of gold valued at more than Rs. four million.

The association charged that the Police had failed to follow guidelines agreed upon by the Police and the association in 2007 follwoing a Supreme Court ruling. The Police are required by the Supreme Court ruling to adhere to these guidelines whenever they carry out a search in respect of stolen jewellery.

In one of the cases, according to a complaint lodged at Police Headquarters, five people claiming to be police officers had called over at Sumangali jewellers on Sea Street on September 29 and asked for a person named Shankar. The police had also brought along with them a person who claimed he had sold 10 gold sovereigns to the shop.

They had claimed they were from the Bambalapitiya Police and taken away the identity card of the owner’s brother telling him to call over at the police station. When the brother called over to collect his ID card he was reportedly taken into custody. On the same day, Bambalapitiya Crimes OIC had allegedly demanded that they should hand over 60 sovereigns of gold.

The following day police had brought the owner’s brother to the shop and the owner too was told to get into the vehicle. They were taken to the Colombo Crimes Division. They had been allegedly threatened that they would be placed under detention orders, if they failed to provide the 60 sovereigns.

Later the owner had handed over 57 sovereigns to the Bambalapitiya Crimes OIC, for which no receipt was issued. However, the owner’s brother was released from custody.

In three other cases, men claiming to be officers from Mt. Lavinia police had called over at three different shops on Sea Street and collected 53 sovereigns. They had demanded the gold saying the shops had bought jewellery robbed from houses in Mt. Lavinia. The complainants charged they were not issued with any receipt.

In another case, a jewellery shop owner was arrested by police on charges that he had in his possession stolen items which included 19 gold sovereigns. To secure his release, he borrowed 19 sovereigns from a friend and gave it to the men who had claimed they were policemen.

Another shop owner had handed over 20 gold sovereigns after the police allegedly held him in custody for the possession of stolen gold. In the guidelines adopted in 2007 following a Supreme Court ruling and on the advise of the Attorney General, it is clearly mentioned how the Police should conduct themselves when searching jewellery shops for stolen gold jewellery. The guidelines were adopted after a leading pawn broker filed action in the Supreme Court. He petitioned the Court claiming the police had removed nearly Rs. one million worth of gold jewellery from 11 pawning centres belonging to him.

According to the guidelines, the police are supposed to inform the area police station before a search, at least one officer should be in uniform during the search and any item lawfully taken into custody should be removed only after the issuance of a receipt.

The Jewellers’ Association representatives met DIG Pathirana on Friday and sought an assurance that proper guidelines will be followed in the future.

A page from a booklet containing guidelines the police are expected to follow when raiding a jewellery shop or pawn centre
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