A senior Minister blamed the media for botching the extradition of a Sri Lankan drug king-pin from the Emirate of Dubai after his recent arrest. He said the publicity the arrest generated spoilt the chances of the Sri Lankan Government getting him to stand trial here. The Minister then went on to compare and contrast [...]


The tale of two wanted men


 A senior Minister blamed the media for botching the extradition of a Sri Lankan drug king-pin from the Emirate of Dubai after his recent arrest. He said the publicity the arrest generated spoilt the chances of the Sri Lankan Government getting him to stand trial here.

The Minister then went on to compare and contrast the incident with the manner in which ‘KP’, the head of the LTTE’s Weapons Procurement Division, was stealthily arrested in Malaysia and brought to Sri Lanka in total secrecy.

The remarks make for an interesting conversation. For one, the Minister was not clear how the media reports prevented the drug-lord from being brought to Sri Lanka. And by comparing the success story of the ‘KP’ incident, he may have inadvertently given kudos to the former Mahinda Rajapaksa Government’s Defence Secretary (who might well be a Presidential candidate contesting the Minister’s party candidate at a not-too-distant date). In the process, he implies that the Sri Lanka Government agencies not only had intelligence on the drug-lord’s whereabouts and movements in Dubai, but were also contemplating an ‘Operation KP’.

The arrest of Kumaran Pathmanathan alias “KP” as everyone now knows, was an operation conducted by the Sri Lanka Defence Establishment at the time in collaboration with a cooperative Malaysian Government and its security agencies. A SriLankan Airlines aircraft was specially arranged and allowed into the country to ferry the captured ‘KP’ back to Sri Lanka. The exercise emulated the way Israel’s Mossad grabbed Nazi Germany’s WWII leader Adolph Eichmann from Argentina and brought him to Israel to stand trial, except that in that instance Argentina was not a party to the operation — and except that “KP” never stood trial in Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan drug-lord was arrested in Dubai entirely on a tip-off from one of his business rivals and photographs of the raid were sent to Sri Lanka and then made available to the media. The media are not expected to hide the event from the people.

Many years ago, the Cultural Affairs Ministry of President J.R. Jayewardene’s Government sent out a request to the British Government listing dozens of artefacts that were taken away from colonised Sri Lanka and exhibited in British museums. The Government wanted them returned. Privately, however, President Jayewardene had remarked, “Those artefacts are probably safer in British museums”. It was a terrible self-criticism with an element of truth in it. Not long ago (2012), an ancient sword and some personal belongings of Nugawela Adikaram of the Kandyan kingdom period went missing after an exhibition held at the Colombo museum. The case is pending in court and the suspects are out on bail.

Similarly, it would be better for the Dubai authorities to keep the drug lord and try him in the Emirate. The Sri Lanka Police have so far not preferred a single charge against who they say is a top class drug lord and contract killer. The indictment is on the Police. Whether the ends of justice would be met even if they charge the man is questionable. The wheels of justice move very slow and even if the accused is sent to jail, Sri Lanka’s prisons are notorious as places from which narcotics masterminds operate their businesses from their comfortable cells.

The initial excitement over the arrests has fizzled out and the Dubai Police maintain a cloak of secrecy, seemingly treating the episode as a commonplace crime, not the high-profile case it is being made out to be. How much the long arm of the law from Colombo can reach out to Dubai remains to be seen. The autonomous state of the U.A.E. has little oil and its main business is trading. It is also a hub for attracting foreign capital and, therefore, a haven for those, especially from this part of the world wanting to ‘park’ their monies in their banks.

The Sri Lankan authorities recently made a hash of it all when they went with blinkers to probe the alleged bank accounts of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Dubai banks. They were right royally snubbed at the highest levels of the Emirate even when armed with a request from the highest levels of the Sri Lankan Government seeking support. Here, too, when the Sri Lankan legal team returned empty-handed, they blamed the local media saying their efforts were stymied and eventually scuttled by the undue publicity.

Today, the main Sri Lankan national wanted in the MiG aircraft purchase investigation is under some kind of detention order in Dubai, but chances of him being extradited to Sri Lanka are slim, given the additional fact that even those investigations by the Sri Lanka Police are half-baked. And so, without making the media the whipping boy for its own failure, the Government must get its act together in investigating and prosecuting those whom it claims are criminals, crooks and bounders who have creamed the fat off this land and stacked their monies in numbered accounts overseas. Which brings one back to the ‘KP’ issue. It is now an almost forgotten episode despite the high drama that was created with his capture by a Sri Lankan snatch squad in 2009 and brought to Sri Lanka supposedly to face justice. It turned out that no such thing took place.

There was no trial and the high profile fugitive of yesteryear is currently running three orphanages for girls in Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi. He is under Army ‘surveillance’ and should he want to leave the area, he must get the Army to escort him (in civvies). Donors are allowed to visit him. He is reported to have undergone “three years of rehabilitation” when he was in Colombo after his arrest, but no charges were preferred against someone who ought to be otherwise considered a ‘war criminal’.

For the remaining rump of the LTTE now demanding through governments in the West (Canada, Germany, France and the UK) for “transitional justice” in Sri Lanka, here is an example of transitional justice. The man known as the LTTE’s Banker and weapons purchaser is allowed to lead the life of a free man.

Last week, a report by an independent committee stated that ten years after the ‘war’ ended in Sri Lanka, the Diaspora (demanding transitional justice) has funded only one solitary foreign investment project in the entire North and East through the Board of Investment. That’s a terrible indictment on them, often described as the “talking Diaspora” rather than the “doing Diaspora”.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has spent some days in the North this week trying to build bridges with the South. He has said that the Government must take a fresh look at the overlapping of work between the Central Government, the Provincial Councils and the Divisional Secretariats. And then there are the Local Government councils.

One might dismiss this as an attempt to put off Provincial Council (PC) elections. But this country is missing the wood for the trees by this demand for an election to these ‘White Elephant’ Councils. PCs were introduced at a particular cross-road in this country’s contemporary history. It was not elections for political one-upmanship that was needed, but time to move on towards a truly efficient administrative structure for the country that provided for genuine devolution with economic and administrative sense.


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