With the arrest of more key suspects this week, further details are emerging on the extent of the drug racket conducted by a team of policemen attached to the Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB). By Friday night, 21 suspects have been under arrest as the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) continues investigations. Of these suspects, 18 are [...]


Dragnet widens after PNB drug ring leader surrenders

More arrests likely, as CID expects suspects will cough up more details of the scandal that has tarnished police image

With the arrest of more key suspects this week, further details are emerging on the extent of the drug racket conducted by a team of policemen attached to the Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB).

On Friday, officials from the Government Analyst’s Department moved hundreds of kilograms of heroin from the sealed PNB production room and transported them under STF guard to their department. Pic by Sameera Weerasekera

By Friday night, 21 suspects have been under arrest as the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) continues investigations. Of these suspects, 18 are PNB officers — two inspectors, three sub-inspectors, five sergeants and eight constables. Police say more arrests are likely based on what the suspects in custody reveal to investigators.

Police made a major breakthrough this week with the arrest of PNB Inspector Saman Wasantha Kumara (49). A resident of Weliveriya, he was alleged to have led the PNB drug ring but had been evading arrest. Last Monday, Police Headquarters released his identity and photograph to the media, seeking public assistance to arrest him. Within hours, Inspector Wasantha Kumara surrendered to the Kadawatha Police. He is being questioned under detention orders.

The following day, Tuesday, another PNB constable was arrested from Ragama.

Six PNB officers are now being held under detention orders obtained from court. The other 12 PNB officers are in remand custody.

On Thursday, the Gampaha Division Crime Investigation Unit also took into custody several more vehicles that allegedly belonged to some of the corrupt PNB officers who are under arrest. Four lorries, two vans and a car were seized by the unit headed by the Gamapaha Range Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP). The raid was conducted following a tipoff received by the Western Province Senior Deputy Inspector General (DIG).

Three of the lorries, the two vans and the car belonged to one of the PNB sub inspectors (SI) in custody while the other lorry belonged to one of the sergeants, police stated.

All vehicles had been leased out to a factory at Banduragoda, Pallewela and it was from this location that they were seized. It has further been revealed that the two vans were registered under the name of a close relative of the SI. The vehicles have now been handed over to the CID for further investigations. Altogether, 11 vehicles used by the PNB suspects are now in CID custody.

There were allegations that the suspects had also stolen stocks of drugs from the PNB’s production room and sold them to drug traffickers. Armed with a court order issued by the Colombo Magistrate’s Court on Friday, the same day the Government Analyst’s Department removed an estimated 600 kilograms of heroin from the production room under Police Special Task Force (STF) escort.

Most of these stocks were reportedly stored in the room during the lockdown period. The PNB’s production room has been sealed since last week with the arrest of the first group of PNB officers. Among them was the officer in charge of the production room.

The Government Analyst’s Department will examine whether any of the seals of the products in the room have been broken, whether external substances have been introduced to any of the products inside, if so what such substances are and whether packages containing narcotics have been opened and resealed. The department has been asked to submit a report on its findings to the court.

On Wednesday, when 12 PNB officers in custody were produced before Colombo’s Chief Magistrate Lanka Jayaratne, Deputy Solicitor General Dileepa Peiris told court that CID investigations had revealed that the group of PNB officers had worked with international drug traffickers to smuggle drugs into the country, transport them to safe houses, package them and distribute them to local contacts.

The investigations have revealed that some of the PNB officers had even rendezvoused with smugglers in boats on the high seas, helped bring the stocks ashore and transport them to safe houses in different parts of the country, using their status as PNB officers as cover.

In some cases, the same officers even raided the safe houses they themselves transported the drugs to, seizing these stocks and thus ensuring that they received hundreds of thousands of rupees in cash rewards given to those making successful drug busts, the court was told.

Thus, the PNB officers obtained money by smuggling drugs for traffickers while also obtaining cash rewards and even Presidential Awards from the State for seizing the same drugs they helped smuggle into the country.

The Attorney General’s Department also informed the Colombo Chief Magistrate that the suspect PNB officers were being investigated under Prevention of Money Laundering Act and that 43 bank accounts belonging to five of them had already been frozen by court order. The frozen accounts contained more than Rs 4.6 million, the AG’s Department told the court. Investigators have also detected cash buried at various locations.

Among the various threads of the CID’s wide ranging probe is the seizure of 243 kilograms of heroin from a safe house in Balapitiya. It has now come to light that 43 kilograms of this particular stock had allegedly been smuggled out by the PNB drug ring and sold to drug traffickers.

The vehicles seized by police are just one way that the corrupt officers allegedly spent their ill-gotten gains. The CID has also located more than Rs 100 million worth of property purchased by the suspect officers. One constable had allegedly purchased for Rs 10 million a plot of prime land near the Southern Expressway’s Kottawa Interchange, while another had purchased a land adjoining it for Rs 7 million. Another Constable had purchased 12 plots of land, it has been found.

Aside from smuggling drugs, the PNB suspects have also helped transport weapons for drug traffickers. The weapons have been smuggled in via boats along with the stocks of drugs and the PNB officers have allegedly transported them along with the drugs to designated locations and handed them over. At least four pistols known to have been handed over to drug traffickers in this manner are yet to be traced.

Meanwhile, the CID is also probing if the officers were involved in a counterfeit currency racket after the discovery of thousands of rupees in counterfeit notes in the possession of several of the arrested officers. About 31 forged Rs 5000 notes have been recovered from one of the PNB officers while another such forged Rs 5000 note has been found from another arrested officer.

A senior PNB source told the Sunday Times they believed the drug ring within their agency had been operating for a long time, pointing out that several of the key PNB suspects had been with the Bureau for more than a decade. “We feel thoroughly demoralised over what’s happened. We have risked our lives in the fight against drugs and all our hard work over many years has been ruined due to the work of a few,” the source added.

Police, meanwhile, are taking a hardline stance over the scandal. Addressing the media on Friday, DIG Ajith Rohana stated that they highly condemned the actions of these 18 officers, who have tarnished the PNB’s image. “We will not go easy on them because they are police officers. Our primary focus will be on wrapping up the investigation even quicker than other probes. Secondly, when we hand the case over to the AG’s Department, we will request that they ask for the appointment of a three-judge Trial-at-Bar to hear the case and serve indictments against the officers,” he added.

DIG Rohana also stated that if the suspects were found guilty and sentenced to death and if the convictions were upheld on appeal, then police would request that the death sentence be carried out at least on these officers to ensure that such elements were removed from society.

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