“There is little one can do to prepare oneself adequately for the unknown, when there are forces out beyond one’s own circle of family and friends, which are ever threatening and which are stronger than any single individual.” – Patricia Hurst “If vicious people are united and form a power, honest men must do the [...]

Sunday Times 2

Throwing caution to the wind: Queries over claims by Anti-Narcotics chief


“There is little one can do to prepare oneself adequately for the unknown, when there are forces out beyond one’s own circle of family and friends, which are ever threatening and which are stronger than any single individual.” – Patricia Hurst

Dr. Nilanga Samarasinghe

“If vicious people are united and form a power, honest men must do the same.” – Leo Tolstoy. It is foolhardy on the part of any individual to project himself as a hero or the top detective, when it comes to combating organised socio-political movements or mafias, advocating violence to achieve their ends.

The quotes above and many more lessons have been passed down through the ages but there are people who do not learn. I am not for a moment suggesting that one should avoid confronting such movements or mafias for fear, but that one should act prudently enough to show that the state is a larger and stronger organisation than any vicious group, and that it is not individuals who hold the reins.

The country has lost many a dedicated and hardworking police officer who has been allowed to project himself as the key man to bust terrorist groups. Of the three case studies I cite here to make my point, let me take the case of Inspector Bastiampillai (Basti) first. Basti was one of the most honest and hardworking officers the Police Department ever had. Attached to the CID, he relentlessly pursued the suspects in the Alfred Thuraiappah assassination case. He was successful to the extent of arresting several suspects who turned informants and won Basti’s confidence.

The CID allowed Basti to do things his own way. For the LTTE, Basti became its main challenge. Basti did not realise that his informants were playing double agent till he was captured with his team at Madhu in March1978. He realised this too late and he along with his team were tortured, butchered and dumped in an abandoned well. Their bodies were found only weeks later in a highly decomposed state.

Next I will take the case of SSP Terrance Perera (TP). As Director Counter Subversive Division, TP had gathered information about the JVP planning another insurrection following the Indo-Lanka Peace accord in 1987. TP found his way to personally explain the information to President J.R. Jayewardene. The then President who was impressed by TP’s revelations, got him to share the information with members of his Cabinet also. TP was quite elated by the response he received. Thence started the arrests of JVP suspects and media publicity gave much credit to TP.

On December 2, 1987, TP was driving home wearing his side arm and with an automatic weapon by his side. Nearing home along a narrow road he was gunned down by a spray of machine gun fire at close range and was dead before he knew what was happening – his own weapons being of no avail.

If proper professional procedure was followed, the information should have been sent to the President under confidential cover through the IGP sans public drama.  The third illustration is that of SSP Richard Wijayasekera (RW). I first knew RW when he was OIC Habarana Police, and I was ASP Trinco. On promotion to rank of IP he came as OIC Muttur Police.

He was an enthusiastic and courageous officer. One thing I took pains to impress on the OICs was the need to avoid projecting oneself in counter-subversive work. Terrorists should not be able to trace back counter-subversive work to any individual for obvious reasons. I used the case of Basti to illustrate my point. The OICs took my advice seriously and acted with circumspection, but not RW. After I left Trinco on transfer I got to know that RW was on top of the LTTE hit list. Having obtained his consent I prevailed on the IGP to give him a transfer as ASP Thambuttegama so that his intelligence apparatus would continue to be available to Senior DIG Anuradhapura. But before long, Senior DIG Anuradhapura cajoled him to consent to a transfer back to Trincomalee and RW obliged. Unrestrained since then and believing himself to be invincible, as stated by him often, he started to compete with Brigadier Lucky Wijeratne of the army for kudos. In December 1991, RW was travelling in the same jeep with Brigadier Lucky Wijeratne when they were blown up by a land mine close to the Morawewa Army Camp.

Recent media publicity on the Chairman National Dangerous Drugs Control Board (NDDCB), Dr Nilanga Samarasinghe (Dr. NS) prompted me to recall what I have stated above. Dr. NS has appeared on TV and been reported extensively in the print media as well claiming to have a list of politicians involved in the narcotics trade, and that he could reveal the names to political parties, so that political parties can refuse nomination to them.

He has also gone on record admitting that it is suicidal to make such a public statement. This highly publicised show of puerile bravado raises many questions.

(1) Why is he projecting himself so much when a spokesperson can be appointed from the organisation that has the information, like the police spokesman? The spokesman will not be targeted as he is neither the source nor the author of the information, and another spokesman can always be appointed.

(2) If the information is irrefutable as claimed by Dr. NS, why have they not been arrested and prosecuted after due process? He has also gone on record lamenting that, “The Police file a case only if it can win the case; that they need hard evidence to prove the case. However, the public are aware of the people who engage in drug trafficking.” It is not the Police that lay down the standard of proof required in a court of law to convict a person.

(3) Does Dr. NS not know that filing charges without hope of conviction amounts to frivolous charges with a view to harass or to be used as adverse propaganda during elections ?

(4) If one were to act on public perception as propounded by Dr. NS, then by the same token, what would he have to say about the public perception that, Dr. NS is partisan and is planning to seek asylum in Sweden in case the UPFA comes back to power?

(5) The role of the NDDBC is to formulate and review policy relating to the prevention and control of dangerous drugs. Is Dr. NS not going beyond his purview?

(6) Having publicly invoked the wrath of the narcotics mafia, Dr. NS is now complaining of receiving death threats. What else did he expect from them?

“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Alexander Pope -1709

(The writer is a Retired Senior Superintendent of Police)

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