Thrilling trail leads to killing over gold

Medawachchiya police make breakthrough in probe on body found near tank on July 1
By Damith Wickremasekara

Police have resolved a two-month- old mystery death of a youth from Medawachchiya with revelations that his death was caused by a dispute over sharing gold looted from residents in the north, during the height of the war.

The breakthrough was made by the Medawachchiya police with the help of a mobile phone number which they traced, taking them nearly eight weeks to complete the painstaking investigation. The probe was launched by the police on July 1 after a body of a youth was found close to a tank in Rambekulama, Medawachchiya.

Police constable of the same station V. Indika had first reported the death after claiming that he had seen the body. “I rushed a team to the scene immediately and found the body of a youth dressed in a striped T-shirt and slacks. We looked for any identification papers but all documents had been removed (from him). He had cut injuries on his neck," a sub inspector who headed the investigation under the direction of the station OIC, Inspector Gihan Amarasuriya told the Sunday Times last week.

"Our next step was to try and identify the body while the judicial process continued. We released pictures to the media, including TV stations. For more than one month we did not have any information," he added. “More than a month later the mother and brother of the victim came forward to identify the body. Somebody who had seen the pictures on TV had informed them," sub inspector R. M. P. Seneviratne, said.

The 22-year-old victim's brother told Police that the victim’s name was Palitha Dimuthu Priyadharshana and that he had been on leave from work when he had visited Medawachchiya town end of June. The family was unaware of his movements thereafter. “We inquired whether the victim was using a mobile phone and the mother confirmed that he was using one. They were able to give us the phone number. But we found that the phone number was not working,” SI Senerviratne said.

“However using technology we were able to track down and find that the phone was still in use with a different SIM card. We called the new SIM number and a woman answered. We inquired how she got possession of this phone. A police team was sent to the house in Kanagaradivulwewa, a village in Medawachchiya,” he added.

When Police questioned the woman, she said that it was her sister's phone. Upon visiting the sister's house at Mahaulugolla -Yaya 5, Medawachchiya, Police were told that the sister's soldier husband Dayawansa Hettiarachchi attached to the Thaladi camp had given her the phone. The Police then approached the Army to interrogate Hettiarachchi who said that he had purchased the phone for Rs. 1,000 from a person in the Yakawewa area. He did not know his name but knew he was an Army deserter and that he could identify him if he saw him again.

The Police then identified a person by the name of Saman Kumara Dharmasiri who they thought sold the phone to Hettiarachchi. Dharmasiri is said to have told the Police that the phone was sold to him by a soldier attached to the Videthalthivu camp. He was identified as Nalinda Seneviratne. With the assistance of the Military Police, the Medawachchiya Police were able to arrest that man who the Police claimed was the main suspect in the murder case. The Police are however yet to identify the motive behind the murder.

According to the Police, the victim and the main suspect appeared to have been friends as they were attached to the same camp. Palitha (the victim) had told Nalinda (the main suspect) that he had a stock of about a kilogram of gold jewellery which he had removed from the houses the residents had fled, while serving in the north and wanted to find a way to dispose off the gold. Nalinda had promised to help him. That was the reason behind their meeting in Medawachchiya town.

“They had invited another ex-soldier identified as Gamini Dissanayaka who claimed to have contacts with Jewellery shop owners," the SI said adding that even police constable V Indika who had first reported the death of Palitha might probably have been among those who were supposed to meet the victim.

“Palitha and Nalinda had brought a bottle of arrack and proceeded to the Rambekulama tank in a three-wheeler hired from the town and driven by one Mohammed Riyaz while Indika and Gamini had dispersed," SI Senerviratne said. “As they were proceeding to the tank area they had seen Gamini and told him to get into the three-wheeler. The three wheeler driver was told that he could return when they informed him," he added.

“As they continued to drink, Saman Kumara who had purchased the phone joined them but a while later he was sent him off to fetch a box of matchs," the SI said. According to him, the subject of disposing the gold then came up. There was a dispute over how the gold loot would be shared. Nalinda accused Palitha for hiding part of the gold which had been brought from the north. Palitha was unhappy about the outcome of their meeting and decided to walk away with all the gold he had brought there. He had walked about 15 metres when Nalinda broke a bottle and ran behind him, stabbing him on his neck. Palitha got up and ran but fell when Nalinda stabbed him again.

Meanwhile, Saman Kumara who went looking for a box of matches returned to the scene when the main suspect is said to have offered him a gold bangle to keep quiet. A few minutes later policeman Indika arrived and wanted part of the loot and so was given two gold bangles and two gold chains and asked to keep quiet. The other person present at the scene of the alleged crime, Gamini, was also given two gold chains by Nalinda who however kept most of the gold for himself. All this while, the victim, the police said, was alive.

Nalinda then called the three-wheeler driver and with Gamini's help tried to put the victim onto the rear seat. But the driver refused saying he felt uncomfortable to drive around with a blood-stained person in his vehicle. So, they left the victim in the tank area, removing his shoes, jacket, phone and other personal papers on him and left. Nalinda then went to the Medawachchiya town to sell the jewellery that he had. The three wheel driver was paid Rs 5,000 to buy his silence.

The following morning, police constable Indika - a suspected accomplice in the alleged crime - reported to his own police station that a body had been sighted by people in the tank area. All six suspects were produced before the Medawachchiya Magistrate Chandima Edirimanna and have been remanded until October 5.

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