15th April 2001
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Customs officer's killing

Police probe begins on colleague's secret role

By Ruwan Weerakoon
The police probe into Customs officer Sujith Perera's killing took a new twist when the investigators got more details linking an Assistant Superintendent of Customs who is alleged to have maintained links with the underworld.

The special police team headed by SSP Prathapasinghe under the directions of DIG Daya Jayasundara after hours of surveillance and a close study of relevant files has taken into custody an underworld gang member who is alleged to have carried out 14 killings and maintained links with the Customs officer.

Although the suspect was not the gunman who carried out the assassination of Mr. Perera in March, he is closely linked with the killer, police said.

The suspect in his late twenties was picked up along with a woman from a house owned by the Customs officer at Ragama. They are being interrogated, police said. He is alleged to be linked with the notorious criminal known as "Pamankada Ashoka" who was killed about two years ago. 

Upto now police have perused 20 files handled by the slain Customs officer Sujith Perera. According to one of the files, a businessman had imported a container carrying contraband. The vehicle had been released after being checked by the slain Customs officer and Assistant Superintendent of Customs Anura Weerawansa, police said.

The container had been checked for contraband released by Mr. Perera. However, Mr. Weerawansa had detected contraband in it after checking it for the second time. Meantime, a businessman from Peliyagoda who was allegedly involved in the import of the contraband had claimed that he had paid Mr. Perera to get the goods released.

Subsequently, it was revealed that Mr. Weerawansa who had close links with the businessman had made a false allegation against Mr. Perera in a bid to tarnish his image. The incident had taken place in 1999, police said.

Police are now looking for the businessman who had imported contraband to a non-existent company.

Meanwhile, police said they had information about Mr. Weerawansa's alleged illegal dealings . He is alleged to have been involved in a number of cases where goods have been taken out of the Customs without proper declarations and assisting in the clearance of undervalued goods. 

Mr. Perera was due to give evidence in at least eight cases against Mr. Weerawansa. The other senior Customs officer who was involved in the investigations was Anura Gunatillake who had left for the United States of America.

Close associates had claimed Mr. Gunatillake had left the country owing to threats he had received, police said.

Mr. Perera was the only other officer who would have been able to give evidence against Mr. Weerawansa since he was closely involved in the investigations.

Among the cases are an instance where 44 containers of glass sheets had been cleared from the port without being declared.

Police are also looking into the alleged links between Mr. Weerawansa and a well-known drug trafficker identified as "Osmund" from Puttalam. 

Meanwhile, Mr. Weerawansa is supposed to have met his lawyer Bandula Wijesinghe at Hulftsdorp and was reported to be on his way to meet another senior lawyer Hemantha Warnakulasuriya at Norris Canal Road. However, when they were approaching the lawyer's house some persons had pushed him into a vehicle. Since then he is reported to be missing, police said.

There was speculation whether he had been taken into custody by the CID. However, the CID had denied the allegation.

Inspector Priyanka Wijenayake said police had questioned more than a dozen of security guards who were on duty close to the location where the alleged "abduction" took place. None of them had seen such incident, he said.

Police are also investigating whether Mr. Weerawansa and his family had fled the country through a sea-route.

Inspector Wijenayake said they would record a statement from Bandula Wijesinghe who told police that Mr. Weerawansa had gone missing.

Mr. Wijesinghe told "The Sunday Times" when he was proceeding towards Mr. Warnakulasuriya's residence with Mr. Weerawansa, a car blocked their way. One of the persons who came in the car forcefully whisked away Mr. Weerawansa. He claimed there were six persons in the vehicle.

However, Mr. Wijesinghe said he did not take down the telephone numbers of the persons in the van and claimed that it was up to police to do so. 

Mr. Wijesinghe claimed two policemen who were passing by also had come and made inquiries about the "abduction." 

The two police officers had inquired whether any car number had been taken down, but Mr. Wijesinghe had not noted down the number.

Meanwhile, police have placed Mr. Weerwansa's Ratmalana residence under surveillance since his name figured in the assassination case. However, the house remained closed and the family members were not traceable, police said.

In a related development Mr. Weerawansa's brother who was in charge of a large farm owned by the former in Matale also had gone missing, police said.

Mr. Weerawansa's brother had gone missing on the same day Mr. Weerawansa was allegedly abducted.

Meanwhile, more than 100 Customs officers met President Chandrika Kumaratunga on Tuesday and discussed the issue of security for Customs officers in length.

President Kumaratunga ordered that full protection be given to the Customs officers who were carrying out investigations.

However, with Customs officials now facing threats from within the organisation itself the question of maintaining secrecy during investigation would be one of the main problems they would be facing, sources said.

Pistols to protect customs officers

Custom officials will soon be issued with pistols, a Customs official said.

The government had agreed to obtain 30 pistols from the Navy to be issued for the Customs officers. 

Currently the Customs has only six revolvers that are used only during sensitive raids. 

President Kumaratunga during talks with the Customs officers had agreed to provide them with weapons. She had also said honest Customs officers would not be allowed to be taken captive by Mafia groups. 

If the Customs officials arrest corruption and malpractices including under invoicing and smuggling of uncleared goods coming into the country the annual revenue to the government could be increased by another Rs. 5000 millions, government sources said.

Back for avurudhu after six years in captivity

Six year old Chathura was only an infant when his father was taken captive by the LTTE while serving on the Irish Mona in 1995. But the years did not matter when he came home after six years last week in time to celebrate the new year.

Forty one year old Anthony Joseph who was working on the Irish Mona was released by the LTTE along with three civilians and an Army soldier after the Norwegian ambassador Jon Westborg'visited Wanni.

The captives who were released on Monday were handed over to the ICRC and brought to Vavuniya. Since most of them live in the out stations, they reached their homes only on Wednesday.

Mr. Joseph who related their long ordeal while in captivity said they had written more than 50 letters to LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran pleading for their release.

'The Norwegian Ambassador came to Wanni a few days back and four of us were taken by the political wing leader "Sudu Master'. 

The Ambassador asked him to take us in his vehicle and hand us over to the Malavi ICRC base. We were also told that our release was mainly due to the respect and regard they had for the ambassador," he said.

"We also spoke about peace talks and the LTTE members said they were willing to talk but the Government appeared to be showing little interest. "

Mr. Joseph who spoke about the living conditions said they were looked after well by the LTTE.

"We were shifted from camp to camp in the Wanni and Jaffna area. During "Rivirasa" and "Sath Jaya" operations, whenever LTTE bases were attacked we were also taken along with them. We did not get hurt," he said.

Mr. Joseph said that in 1996 when he was being kept at Chavakachcheri camp he had seen about 20 Sinhala youths, believed to be captives from the Pooneryn attack.

He also said that many of the items that had been banned by the Government were available but at a cost.

"A bag of Urea is about Rs. 3000 while two pen torch batteries are sold at 75 rupees and the big batteries about Rs.150."

The only consolation while being captive was the letters that they received from loved ones.

Mr. Joseph who said he was happy to be home, urged the Government to secure the release of other PoW's .

"Just like us they too have families and dream of coming home one day," he said.

Miscarriage in flight mishap

By Chris Kamalendran
A 23-year-old pregnant woman's hopes to re-unite with her husband in Germany and give birth to her child there were dashed on Wednesday when she suffered a miscarriage while making an emergency exit from a SriLankan Airline flight which developed a fire.

V. Nageshwari, 23, of Kattaikadu, Jaffna who spent the last three months in a lodge in Colombo making preparations for her visit to Germany was on board UL 557, an A330 air bus along with 144 other passengers on Wednesday morning.

The flight was due to take off as scheduled at 7.05 a.m. and was taxiing for take off when the captain detected a fire warning. He immediately decided to evacuate the aircraft as a precautionary measure.

"I was on the flight about to take off. I was seated in the adjoining seat of another woman from Jaffna. I met her at the airport and made friends. The flight started moving. It was a happy occasion in my life as I knew that in a few hours I would be joining my husband," Ms. Nageshwari said.

"But suddenly the whole aircraft started getting filled with black smoke and the fire alarms went off. There was pandemonium inside the aircraft. We could not see each other as the whole aircraft was filled up with smoke," she said.

"The next thing I observed was that people were rushing towards an exit point (escape chute). I was almost pushed towards the exit. I went down the exit (chute) sliding down. I hit my back on the tarmac," she said.

"I suffered a blackout and did not know what happened thereafter. When I woke up I found myself on a hospital bed at the Negombo hospital," she said.

A Negombo hospital doctor confirmed that she suffered a miscarriage.

Ms. Nageshwari got married three months back in India after her husband joined her from Germany. She was due to settle down in Germany.

"I was able to marry only after 10 years. I was living in Jaffna throughout this period," she claimed.

Apart from her bitter experience, several other Sri Lankans and foreigners too were inconvenienced by the aircraft mishap. 

A Dutch woman identified as Mandy fractured her leg in her attempt to escape from the aircraft. She was rushed to the Nawaloka hospital.

Meanwhile, the hospital authorities did not allow The Sunday Times to speak to her.

In a related incident, a seven-year-old child and an Indian national were also injured in the rush to escape from the aircraft. They were however rushed to the Colombo national hospital.

SriLankan Airlines in the recent months had been undergoing a series of problems forcing them to cancel flights or return after flying midway, sources said.


Avurudhu for PM in cooler climes

After a marathon 40 day Budget debate in Parliament, many parliamentarians heaved a sigh of relief when it ended on Wednesday. 

For many it was time for them to go back to their respective electorates to celebrate Avurudhu. However, there were the fortunate ones who opted to go overseas for a much-needed rest. 

Meanwhile, the premier picked Nuwara Eliya to spend his holidays. In previous years he went overseas to celebrate Avurudhu. 

On Thursday morning the premier took wing to the hills away from the hustle and bustle of the city for a four-day vacation. 

A quiet B'day for PM

It was a quiet 68th birthday for Premier Ratnasiri Wickramanayake on Wednesday. 

There were no flowers, chocolates or gala dinners for him. 

However, a birthday celebration is on the cards next month.

Locking horns in Parliament

The unruly behaviour of some of the parliamentarians during the Budget debate will go down in the annals of history. 

The language and the behaviour of some of the government and opposition parliamentarians frightened a group of innocent school kids who had come to watch their performance. 

It was interesting to note that when the TULF MP Ananda Sangaree and the EPDP MP Thavarasa locked horns dragging their extra marital affairs into the open, their family members were watching them from the gallery. The Speaker was quick to point out that personal matters should be left out from the debate.

Rumpus on invitations

An invitation for last week's government sponsored exhibition of the JVP terror period left on Wimal Weerawansa created an uproar in Parliament.

The infuriated JVP parliamentarian informed the Deputy Speaker to put a stop to such practices. 

Mr. Weerawansa said such action went beyond the standing orders. 

Taking a firm stand, the Deputy Speaker informed all parliamentarians that only official documents could be distributed within the Chambers.

University runs dry

More than 3,000 students from all the faculties in the Peradeniya University were seen carrying jugs and mugs in the middle of the night to collect water a few weeks back.

Many students were preparing for their examinations on the following day. The students were later provided with water from a bowser. 

Right of Reply

The Presidential Secretariat referring to The Sunday Times article headlined 'VIP names mentioned in Thilan's rights case says:

The attention of the Presidential Secretariat has been drawn to a news item published in The Island Sunday Edition of 1st April 2001 under the banner headline "VIP names figure in Thilan's Supreme Court Affidavit" and to a news item in the Sunday Times of the same date under the headline "VIP names mentioned in Thilan's right's case".

These news items refer to an affidavit filed by Mr. Thilan Wijesinghe, former Chairman of the Board of Investments in a Fundamental Rights case in respect of an investigation being conducted by the Commission to Investigate into the Allegations of Bribery and Corruption. It is to be noted that the said headlines, both in the Sunday Island and the Sunday Times, are completely misleading and are malicious attempts to tarnish the reputation of President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. These headlines refer to VVIP figuring in the affidavit giving the impression that those VVIP are implicated in the alleged transaction. Any person with the slightest bit of intelligence reading the affidavit would understand that it is only a statement supposed to have been made by the complainant Mr. Athukorale to a third party Mr. Moosajee.

Thilan Wijesinghe's affidavit states at para 70 that a certain Mr. Asker Moosajee had stated to Mr. Thilan Wijesinghe that Mr. Athukorale asked US$ 2.5 million as payment for his services to obtain necessary approvals from the BOI for a Flour Mill project and has also implicated the President, her Secretary Mr. Balapatabendi and Hon. Mangala Samaraweera together with Mr. Thilan Wijesinghe. The said affidavit then goes on to state that;

" Asker Moosajee had been startled when Mr. Athukorale, upon his return from London, has informed Mr. Moosajee that a total payment of US$ 2.5 million should be made to him in order to meet his obligations and furthermore, that a part of the said sum was required to pay Minister Mangala Samaraweera, the Secretary to the President, Mr. Balapatabendi and through him, to Her Excellency the President, as well as the Petitioner."

The affidavit goes on to state that, when Mr. Wijesinghe met Mr. Athukorale in his office on 23rd October 1999, Mr. Athukorale has denied having made such a statement to Mr. Asker Moosajee. This conversation between Mr. Wijesinghe and Mr. Athukorale had been tape-recorded and is in the custody of the CID.

The important portions of the affidavit, which refute completely the said allegations, have been conveniently left out in the news items giving totally misleading captions to the said news items, in a malicious attempt to bring the President and her government into disrepute in the eyes of the general public. 

The Presidential Secretariat wishes to inform the general public of the true facts and the demands that the two newspapers, The Island Sunday Edition and The Sunday Times, publish this statement giving it the same prominence as was given to the original news items, i.e. front page coverage, with an apology.

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