He went to the Maldives to work as a security guard. Within hours, Lahiru Madushanka was arrested for plotting to assassinate Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen. The police accused him of being an ex-military sniper and locked him up. This week, the middleman who sent Lahiru to the Maldives spoke exclusively to the Sunday Times. He [...]


Trapped in murder plot: The untold story of Lahiru Madushanka

He is not a sniper; it was a made-up tale to get a job, says middleman who sent him to the Maldives

Happy family: Lahiru with his wife and child

He went to the Maldives to work as a security guard. Within hours, Lahiru Madushanka was arrested for plotting to assassinate Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen. The police accused him of being an ex-military sniper and locked him up.

This week, the middleman who sent Lahiru to the Maldives spoke exclusively to the Sunday Times. He insisted that Lahiru was not an ex-military sniper; and that the two of them had concocted a tale to get Lahiru the job. But nobody is listening.

The middleman wanted to be identified only as ‘Yasas’, which is one of his names. His testimony was at times questionable, its premises shaky. Sometimes, he withheld facts. But his core account of what happened to Lahiru seemed accurate. We crosschecked it to the extent possible.

We also interviewed Lahiru’s mother, father and wife. They told us he had studied up to his O/Levels at Ananda Sastralaya, Kotte. He followed a ticketing course in Bambalapitiya, learned English and went to Saudi Arabia with his girlfriend’s father. He was a labourer in the Saudi king’s palace for around 18 months, returned home and got married. Their son is now four-years-old.

Lahiru then worked as a driver for his Montessori teacher before shifting (after four years) to a taxi service. He was also employed briefly at a popular online shopping store, not long before he departed to the Maldives. Importantly, authoritative military sources confirmed that there is no record of Lahiru ever having been a member of Sri Lanka’s armed forces–not Army, Navy or Police. He is not ex-military.

Yasas, who is 28-years old, earned a living by renting out his car and also driving customers around. He said he met Lahiru through mutual friends. Later, Lahiru would also frequent the internet cafe that Yasas ran in Borella. It was Yasas that first encountered the Maldivians who would entice Lahiru to their country.

One of the last sms messages from Lahiru

“I had an airport hire to pick up some Maldivians,” he recounted. “Later, whenever these Maldivians came, or their friends came, they would contact me.” Yasas told us the name, along with alias, of one of the key persons in this group. But we chose to withhold it in view of allegations he made against him and others. He said this man had influential Government contacts in the Maldives and spoke broken English.

The Maldivians came frequently to Sri Lanka. They were like “rasthiyadu karayo, but with money”. They put up mostly at the Hotel Lazaani in Kollupitiya on Marine Drive. Some of them would stay till their visas to other countries were approved. Others had various other activities, including those that required night travel. Yasas says “packages” were sometimes delivered. “They told me it was money,” he recalled. “I don’t know.”

They did have plenty of money, he said: “I have personally seen them folding Rs. 5,000 notes and giving them to beggars. Looking back, I think they wanted to impress me because they started asking me whether I would like a job in the Maldives, and said they had the contacts to get me one.”

In October 2015, the key Maldivian asked Yasas for a man to fill an immediate vacancy in the Maldives. He said the salary would be around US$1000-2000 a month. “They wanted a good, hardworking person and said it was better if he had a military background,” Yasas said. “He said there might be a job as a VIP bodyguard and so on. I said I couldn’t come, but that I would find someone for them.”

Yasas says that the friend he contacted in the first instance didn’t turn up. Then he met Lahiru, who was eager to take the job. The pair agreed on a story and Yasas told the Maldivians about Lahiru. They wanted his photo. They did not meet him. He was to travel on October 22, 2015.

Meanwhile, Yasas claims that there was money outstanding for some of his hires. The Maldivians even tried to settle those dues in “other ways”. He related to us a particularly alarming criminal incident which cannot be reproduced here for want of independent verification. It became evident during the interview that certain groups of Maldivians were carrying out activities in Sri Lanka that were shockingly illegal. Yasas appears to have maintained contact with them for the money.

Lahiru flew out as scheduled. He was instructed to check into Marble Hotel but found that too expensive and went to another place. Yasas coordinated between him and the Maldivians. But nobody came to pick Lahiru up. “They told me to tell him to come to a resort,” Yasas said. “He went there but they did not come. They told him to go near the hospital. They didn’t come. They told him to return to his hotel and wait in the reception. They didn’t come.”

The key man suddenly telephoned Yasas and said the police were going to arrest Lahiru and that, if they co-operated, they would both be paid handsomely. Yasas said he refused outright, telephoned Lahiru and asked him to return to Sri Lanka immediately. But at the airport, he was arrested. They must have used the photo they had of him.

Lahiru's grieving mother

The date was October 24. On the same day, Maldivian Vice President Ahmed Adeeb was also arrested in connection with an alleged plot to assassinate the President. The claim is that Lahiru was part of this scheme. Less than five hours later, the main instigator arrived in Sri Lanka. He had a prepared statement on his laptop that he wanted Yasas to sign. It said that the Vice President had hired Lahiru to kill the Maldivian President and that he had been arrested in time. Yasas refused to endorse it.

The week after the arrest, three Maldivian policemen–including Deputy Head of the Economic Crime Department–arrived to record a statement from Yasas, one he did not give. He said attempts were made to implicate the Sri Lanka Government in what had happened to Lahiru. He claims the Interpol in Sri Lanka also questioned him.

The story Yasas told us raised more questions than it answered. It is impossible to gauge how far he was involved in the plan to trap Lahiru. It is not known how much he has earned from the Maldivians and for what. He claims he was threatened by the Maldivians not to go public. He said he no longer worked because he was fearful. Yet he had even recently met some of the Maldivians from the group and maintained contact with them.

“One thing I can tell you is that Lahiru is not a sniper,” he insisted. “And I did not get him caught. I would not do that to a friend.”

Meanwhile, Lahiru’s family has started a Facebook page to raise funds for his lawyer fees. He is currently being represented by an Opposition lawyer but has asked for a Sinhala language translator. Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry is standing back.

“We can’t interfere,” said a senior officer from the Foreign Ministry’s Legal Affairs Division. “This is a high profile case, an attempted murder of the President of a country. That’s the issue. A lawyer has been appointed for him. I spoke to the lawyer but only on a personal level.” He did not wish to consider that Lahiru might have been framed, saying it has yet to be proved.

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