26th April 1998
Superworld and the underworld
Gang leader Raj reveals LTTE connections
JVP,DJVcexcesses and counter activities: "most certainly not"
A few weeks ago we published an account of the incident involving Mr. Titus Cooray, his sons and the Mirihana Police.
This publication created such a sensation that most people who wrote and spoke to the Editor of the newspaper were shocked beyond belief.
It was too shocking and beyond their imagination to accept that the Police, the guardian angels and protectors of law and order, could act in such a degrading manner even after they came to know that the suspect in their custody was the son of a High Court Judge.
After we published this article, the Colombo Law Society, the Lawyers of the Colombo Magistrates Court, and the Executive Committee of the Bar Association, passed resolutions condemning the incident unequivocally and requested the authorities to take necessary action.
Then we published exclusively the observations, the recommendations and the findings of the Batalanda Commission. Though we are unable to seriously criticise or agree with the findings, as the entire Report has not been published by the Government, we can draw some inspiration from the exhortations that had been explicitly spelt out about the criminalization of politics in Sri Lanka.
The Commissioners repeatedly stated, "but can we as Judges sitting in this Commission, condone the excesses committed under the guise of terminating the JVP and DJV terrorism?
And answered "most certainly not''. This goes to the root of the rule of law and public order of this country.
The Commissioners stated. "All the virtues of a true democracy will get into place only when Governments remain at all times accountable. When there is no accountability then the evils of governmental lawlessness will surface.
"Abuse and misuse of power with impunity, nepotism, corruption and the like will erode society. It is true that gun culture, torture and assassinations of their opponents have become an ordinary event in our so - called, Five Star Democratic society.
Preaching democracy from the highest pedestal and then using their power and authority to dispose of their opponents, has become an ordinary event in the so-called Five Star democracy, where the leaders are supposed to be adherents of very great and highly respected religions.
The quality of leadership has deteriorated to such an extent that force and not persuasion seems to have become the method of gaining and remaining in State power.
Democracy was pushed into the background and the gun and the bomb culture which prevailed during the relevant period was such, that we did not have even One Star Democracy.''
The Batalanda Commission was appointed on a warrant issued by the President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.
This Government came into power because of popular rage based on solemn promises given to the people plending that, once in power, the pledging new Government would de-criminalise the political structure of this country.
The voters believed in the need to move out from the mire the country had fallen into due to the JVP insurrection, which necessitated extraordinary methods to curb such anti-state activities. The masses felt the need to forget the unpleasant memories of that period and wished to return to normalcy.
The Commissioners in the Batalanda Commission unequivocally condemned the extra-legal methods adopted by Government to stay in power.
The report we published has references to the fact that politics in this country had become the preserve of the elite and the thug and not the concern of the common man.
It would appear that the elite and the common thug hand-in-glove manipulate society to gain and be in power. Thus it seems that State power is only for the super world and the under world.
With the overthrow of the previous regime it was assumed that the elite and the common thug were thrown out and the era of the common man who cherishes the fundamental freedoms and upholds the rule of law had dawned. But has this really happened?
It seems that even some families of the elitist class that ruled the country have been replaced by other families and the aristocracy that always believed that they had the right to rule.
The common thug who ruled the roost during the previous regime has given place to other thugs who have sprouted all over the country.
Even with the use of extra judicial methods the JVP terror has been subjugated and normalcy has returned, and the previous regime had by good or bad means rescued this country from anarchy and terrorism and the people could freely express their will and elect a Government by the ballot and not by the bullet.
The wide expectation of the voter was that normalcy would return and the underworld would be curbed and power would be shared democratically in keeping with whatever star class the Government proclaimed it to be.
But unfortunately this was not to be. The politicians whether they belong to the elitist class or to the aristocracy or to the common man or to the proletariat are Sri Lankans.
They had been nurtured in the use of tactics of terror in power. The underworld which the Government promised to curb, suppress and imprison is very much an active force hobnobbing with the VVIPs so much so that it had been revealed for the first time that some of the underworld elements have direct connections with the LTTE terrorists.
The underworld not only distributes the drugs smuggled into the country by the LTTE but also buys sophisticated arms which had not been imported into this country.
The situation is so bad that the President called an emergency meeting of all the top brass of the Police and had given them strict instructions to arrest the kingpins of the underworld and remand them under the present emergency regulations and under the PTA.
It was also reported that some of the Police Officers who are honourable and ready to serve the country had immediately taken action to arrest wanted gangsters connected to the underworld.
But the dream of arresting and remanding the underworld thugs would remain a dream as the Police were confronted with some leading politicians of the Government issuing instructions to the Police to release or not to apprehend these underworld elements.
On the 27th of March, 1998 Inspector J.M. Tilakeratne attached to the Giriulla Police Station was informed that one of his subordinates has arrested two suspects who had been involved in the heroin trade.
The Police found a 9 mm pistol and some cartridges and later when questioning the accused they found that one of the suspects whom we may call Raj was one of the big sharks of the underworld.
He was wanted in connection with more than twenty murders and a number of robberies in the island. His criminal record was so shocking that the Police were jubilant that with the help of this man Raj they would be in a position to solve some of the more mysterious crimes that had been committed, during the past two years and which remains unsolved as the Police did not have any clue.
Though the Police arrested this suspect at two o'clock in the morning with a pistol, live cartridges and a cell phone, the suspect was in no mood to surrender to the Police peacefully.
He immediately insisted that he be given permission to speak to a very powerful Deputy Minister in the area.
When the Police refused, stating that they should first record his statement at the Police Station, the suspect started dropping the names of very important members of the Government to the Police.
The pressure was mounting on the police and the Police received an important telephone call from a Deputy Minister of the area who insisted that this man, was innocent and was one of his strong supporters and should be released.
The telephone at the Police Station kept on ringing on behalf of the suspect. The calls came from not only important politicians of the area but also from VVIPs in Colombo.
The OIC was in a quandary. He was told by his SP that the intention of the President was to arrest detain and prosecute the kingpins of the underworld, and that he must do everything possible to achieve the objectives of the Government and the President.
Quite by accident on a routine patrol check his junior officers were able to apprehend a man who had virtually confessed to the murder of about twenty people and a number of other crimes directly connected to the underworld.
The OIC promptly reported the matter to the SP who was overjoyed by the arrest and the he was thinking of recommending a special promotion to the team of Police officers who had arrested this man.
Later the news spread and everyone at the Police were being pressurized by the politicians of the Government to release this man without charges.
Some of those politicians had shouted from political platforms that when they come they would crush the underworld and usher an era of the common man.
These politicians may not have had the good or bad fortune of going to leading schools in Colombo and may have not been in the elitist class. But nonetheless they were acting not very differently from the much maligned politicians of the previous Government.
The only tangible difference is that some of the politicians of the previous Government who had connections with the underworld did so as their lives were threatened by the JVP and DJV terrorists.
This was an era where their families were killed only because someone in the family had connection with the Government.
Some elements of the underworld were used to counter the elements of the JVP and DJV to paste posters and erect election platforms in the name of protecting democracy.
But today no such terror exists other than the terror unleashed by the underworld on their enemies and members of the opposition at the behest of the politicians in power.
When the heat became intensified and the pressure and the commands to release Raj from custody increased, the Police had no alternative but to inform the IG in Colombo and explain the most disturbing and dangerous situation that the police officers were placed in due to the actions of the politicians.
The IG immediately ordered the suspect to be transferred to the Colombo Detective Bureau, and detained him under the Emergency Regulations.
After intensive interrogation by a select band of officers in Colombo, Raj made some revealing statements about his involvement with the underworld. how he had become a very important member of the underworld gang; how he had met a top Cabinet Minister in the present Government and his close affiliation and connection with him; and how he had got an assignment from a Government politician to assassinate his opponent.
What was most shocking to the Police was that though Raj was one of the most wanted criminals in the country yet he had access to a Minister of the present Government and he could see him at will at his residence or in his office.
Similarly he had developed very close connections with a number of politicians of the Government and he could at any time see them at his own behest.
The doors of politicians which did not open to the voters and the common man were thrown ajar to one of the most wanted criminals of the underworld. The other shocking revelation was the connection he and his gang had with the LTTE.
Some of the weapons the gang used were handed over to them by the LTTE. The complete investigations of the crimes Raj had committed would take several months to complete.
There would be no respite to the Police conducting this investigation. But with so much pressure brought to bear on the Police to release Raj, can the Police quite independently carry out their investigations?.
The confessions made by Raj of the involvement of VVIPs with the underworld were so revealing that it would mean that the criminalising of politics in this country continues with the same intensity as observed by the Batalanda Commission.
After the statement was recorded by the CDB in Colombo the politicians got their act together, though they have not been able to get Raj released from custody, which they might do later. The Police Officer who was responsible for the arrest was transferred to Trincomalee on the 2nd of April, 1998 just five days after the arrest.
No one doubts the good intentions of the President when she gave instructions to the Police to inquire arrest and prosecute the underworld as it was known that the underworld had close connections with the LTTE.
Though these directives were given wide publicity the Police are finding it extremely difficult to act legally due to the interference of the politicians of the Government.
The Batalanda Commission Report exhorts the politicians to act within the Rule of Law and condemns any overt attempts to perpetuate the stigma that associates politicians and the Police who support the illegal activities of these elements. But some politicians are blinded to these observations which they feel applies only to the previous regime.
Therefore it may not be a bad idea to appoint a Permanent Commission to look into these incidents where criminalisation of politics has taken a firm foothold in the political ethos of this country. It will be futile for the Government to use the Batalanda Commission to only malign political opponents.
If the Government believes the findings of the Commission, then the true tribute to the Commissioners would be to implement the suggestions and enforce the spirit of the Report to the letter by taking every possible action to curb the underworld and the politicians of the Government accused of protecting them.
Otherwise as the Commissioners have observed the world would have to watch these goings on with dismay and with a lot of rhetoric but without political will to take timely action to intervene and minimize human suffering and damage.
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