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3rd July, 2005  Volume 11, Issue  51

First with the news and free with its views                                     First with the news and free with its views                             First with the news and free with its views                                    

Spotlight

The disappearing tsunami millions from the PM's fund

By Sonali Samarasinghe

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse and a handful of select officials have siphoned off a colossal Rs. 82 million of monies given.....

More....


 More Spotlight

> Nawala Nihal and the vicious political cycle


The disappearing tsunami millions from the PM's fund

The Presidential directive which was flouted and
Shiranthi Rajapakse's letter to Hatton National Bank

By Sonali Samarasinghe

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse and a handful of select officials have siphoned off a colossal Rs. 82 million of monies given to the Prime Minister's Fund as tsunami relief and reconstruction, into a private account called 'Helping Hambantota' maintained at the Standard Chartered Bank in direct violation of Presidential directives.

The actions of the Prime Ministerial team may also raise serious issues, which may border on offences under the Public Property Act, given that the four signatories to the account are private persons not connected to the Prime Minister's office.

Signatories to the account 

The signatories to this account are Prof. Epasinghe, a long time friend of the Prime Minister, who does not work in the PM's office but is paid a salary of Rs. 40,000 plus fuel expenses. Mahinda Gunawardena, another loyalist, Deputy Minister, Plantation Industries and brother of the Prime Minister, Chamal Rajapakse and Udaya Abeyratne of the Road Development Authority who is the chief accountant of the Prime Minister's 'Maga Neguma' Project.

Amounts claimed to have been received for 'Helping Hambantota'

The cheque for Rs. 82 million transferred from the PM's fund to the private 'Helping Hambantota'

The account named 'Helping Hambantota' maintained at the Rajagiriya branch of the Standard Chartered Bank bears A/C No. 01-1237322-01 and as at June 29, had an account balance of Rs. 103,094, 966 (over Rs. 103 million). The account is still receiving funds and recently a direct cash deposit of Rs. 54,200 was made.

If there was one time in the history of Sri Lanka that prompted worldwide sympathy and good will towards the nation it was the days after the tsunami. Apart from government to government pledges, private companies, the Sri Lankan diaspora, NGOs and foreign missions literally sent sacks of money to the country to meet the urgent needs of the tsunami affected.

Many of these donations made its way to Mahinda Rajapakse as prime minister of Sri Lanka. Certainly money was flowing in, and steadily. At the time no special accounts were in existence and the Prime Minister was in control in the absence of the President who was still in London. For a Prime Ministerial team to then arbitrarily decide with no official record of the fact except a verbal assurance by the PM's Secretary, Lalith Weeratunga that a large chunk of these moneys was given especially for the reconstruction of Hambantota raises serious issues of public accountability and transparency.

In any event all donations received by the Prime Minister or by the Prime Minister's office were donations given to the country as a whole and not to Mahinda Rajapakse to nurse his own constituency for personal political gain to give a generous interpretation to what has taken place. The fact that the monies have not yet been used but kept in an account for future use - and this is admitted to by PM's Secretary Weeratunga (see box) - makes the action even more heinous, considering the untold suffering that victims in temporary shelters are still going through.

Transactions

The Sunday Leader learns that since the commencement of the 'Helping Hambantota' account, 14 outgoing transactions, each of which was less than a million, have been made totaling a sum of Rs. 9 million. This means the account had over Rs. 112 million. That is Rs. 30 million more than what was initially deposited from the Prime Minister's 'Punarjeewana' fund. However Prime Minister's Secretary, Lalith Weeratunga says no money has been deposited to this account after the initial Rs. 82 million and no account movements have occurred.

Remember, President Kumaratunga was in England when the tsunami struck and it was the Prime Minister who took over disaster management efforts. Indeed, during those heady post-tsunami days and after her hasty return to the country, President Kumaratunga was to scoff at Rajapakse's inefficiency publicly and berate his one-man-show attempt privately.

Be that as it may, from December 26 onwards, monies received by the Prime Minister personally or by the Prime Minister's office were deposited in the government account called 'Secretary to the Prime Minister' as there was no other account available in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

It is pertinent to note however that following the calamity there was no record to show the amount of money donated and the amount deposited. Simply put, due to various reasons - most of which were logistical - there was zero accountability. Sources at the Prime Minister's office confirm that monies handed over in the presence of other officials at the office were however documented.

President's directive

On her return from London, President Kumaratunga was quick to notify all ministries concerned that monies received for tsunami relief should be deposited into one account. Therefore, on December 29, 2004 by Presidential Secretariat Circular No. PA/272, President's Secretary, W.J.S. Karunaratne sent out a directive to all secretaries of ministries and heads of institutions not scheduled under ministries.

It said inter alia: "On the direction of the President, a special bank account has been opened at the head quarters branch of People's Bank to accept cash donations for relief operations that are now in progress.

Name of Account: 'President's Fund for Disaster Relief'

Bank : People's Bank - Head quarter's branch

Account No. 204 100 190 136245

Type of account: Current account

Swift Code: PSBKLKLX

Sort cord: 204-7135

Online transfer: Facility not available

"You are kindly requested to bring this information to the notice of all your staff of your ministry / institution, and any other institutions coming under your ministry and the general public who wish to make donation in cash for this very worthy cause."

Note this: "In the circumstances, you are kindly advised not to open any separate individual bank accounts to collect funds for relief operations."

We do not doubt that the PM's Secretary, Weeratunga would have received this circular. Notwithstanding, on December 31, 2004, two days after President Kumaratunga's directive, Weeratunga opened an official account in the name of 'Prime Minister's Punarjeewana Fund' account No. 014100170136270 at the People's Bank. The signatories to this account were Weeratunga, Additional Secretary Gamini Senarath, Senior Assistant Secretary Sunil Hewapathirana and Accountant S. Subasinghe.

Thereafter, on the same day a sum of Rs. 73,926,516.74 of tsunami relief monies received into the 'Secretary to the Prime Minister' government account from December 27, 2004 to December 31, 2004 were deposited into the newly opened Prime Minister's Punarjeewana account. Other donations were also now being deposited to this account and as at June 09, its account balance was Rs. 2,628,821.90.

Violation

While strictly speaking the opening of this account was a violation of the President's specific advice "not to open any separate individual accounts," it is still an official government account with the signatories being officials of the Prime Minister's office.

However, the Prime Minister and a select few of his officials including Weeratunga lost no time in also opening a separate private account called 'Helping Hambantota' at the Standard Chartered Bank, Rajagiriya without even any proper documentation. A website was also launched calling the project the 'Hambantota Tsunami Relief and Disaster Programme.' (See box) 

The project partners named are the government of Sri Lanka,  the Prime Minister's office of Sri Lanka, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UN agencies, international and national NGOs, the corporate sector, professional bodies, religious institutions and communities of those effected. 

Whatever the site claims as the project's partners, the board of directors of the project are in fact PM's Secretary, Lalith Weeratunga , HNB Chairman, Rienzie Wijetilleke, Shasheendra Rajapakse (son of Chamal Rajapkse and nephew of the Prime Minister), Director, Road Development Authority (RDA), M. Mowjood and Accountant, RDA, Udaya Abeyratne. Its governing council consists of again Shasheendra Rajapakse, Lalith Weeratunga and Rienzie Wijetilleke.

The Prime Minister and Weeratunga also told the PM's office staff that of the donations received by the Prime Minister's Punarjeewana fund, a certain sum was received specially for the development of Hambantota only as requested by the donors. These particular donations had been marked in the funds register by Weeratunga.

On December 27, both Prime Minister Rajapakse and Weeratunga verbally directed that Rs. 106,983,247.70 (over Rs. 106 million) be transferred to this private account. Later the amount to be transferred was changed to Rs. 82,958,247.70 (over Rs. 82 million).

Accordingly on January 31, a People's Bank cheque No. 179127 in the name of 'The Manager, Standard Chartered Bank, Rajagiriya, A/C No.01-1237322-01, Hambantota Tsunami Disaster Relief and Development Programme' for the sum of Rs. 82,958,247.70 signed by Accountant S. Subasinghe and Weeratunga was issued to facilitate the transfer.

However, this cheque was returned as the payee's name was wrong and another People's Bank cheque No. 179128 dated February 3 was issued for the same amount to be paid to 'Helping Hambantota A/C No. 01-1237322-01.

On December 31, 2004, Prime Minister Rajapakse directed his office to send the remaining moneys in the Prime Minister's Punarjeewana fund to the National Fund for Disaster Relief, Central Bank A/C No. 4669. The relatively small sum of Rs. 28,363,135.04 donations received from December 27 2004 to January 5 was accordingly transferred by People's Bank cheque No. 179126. That was to indicate to the President her directive was being complied with as regards the monies received by the PM's fund.

Small driblets

Thereafter, as all good little boy scouts would do, the Prime Minister's office kept sending, in comparatively small driblets, a percentage of the funds received by the prime minister's office to the Central Bank National Relief Fund in keeping with the Presidential directive. For instance on February 8, a sum of Rs. 11,42,780 was sent by People's Bank cheque No. 179129 and again Rs. 441,618 by cheque No. 947362. On March 16, a sum of Rs. 15,124,891.13 was sent to the Central Bank by People's Bank cheque No. 179132. These monies were donations received between December 28, 2004 and February 15.

Meanwhile, for good measure, the Prime Minister's office ran a full page advertisement in the state media on February 2, publishing a list of 55 donors and randomly dividing them into two sections. Twenty-two donors for Hambantota and 33 for Sri Lanka as a whole.

By a happy coincidence for the Prime Minister and his select team, those 22 donations were hefty ones amounting to over Rs. 82 million. Donations received to the National Fund though larger in number amounted to only a little over Rs. 28 million. Neither did the advertisement mention the private account 'Helping Hambantota' maintained at the Standard Chartered Bank but merely mentioned instead a generalised Hambantota Tsunami Disaster Relief and Development Programme.

Consider the following:

The donations arbitrarily and personally selected by Weeratunga as 'Hambantota only' donations were in fact received by Mahinda Rajapakse as Prime Minister for Sri Lanka and not as MP for Hambantota. The tsunami was a national disaster not an isolated calamity in the south. In any event the 22 donations identified by Weeratunga as aforesaid were made from December 27, 2004 to January 11. On December 27, 2004, one day after the disaster, no government fund had yet been set up. Neither had this private account called 'Helping Hambantota.'

If the Prime Minister's office says that some monies were given to be used in Hambantota only then as a government body this must be properly documented. There should be written indication of this by the donor. A arbitrary pencil mark by the PM's Secretary is insufficient. These are monies belonging to the Sri Lankan public and not private funds.   

No proper documentation

When the monies were transferred to the account, 'Helping Hambantota' was not a properly registered and/or constituted trust, partnership, company or NGO (see box). When the private account was set up at the Standard Chartered Bank it was done so without proper documentation and only on the verbal assurances of the Prime Minister's office. The bank had not insisted on the proper documentation usually required to open a bank account of this nature. However, the identity cards of the aforesaid four signatories were perused and the account opened merely on the instructions of the PM's office.

This account, which contains public money, is now in the hands of private individuals and has been moved away from the control of public officials. It is not subject to financial regulations and other governmental directives and circulars that govern public money. Furthermore, if this money is to be used for reconstruction, then proper tender procedures must be followed. Is this not a misappropriation of public property and a criminal breach of trust? But happily for the Prime Minister's office, these government funds are now in a private account.

The very fact the Willie Gamage (see box) finds is necessary to hide the fact that Chamal Rajapakse is a signatory to the 'Helping Hambantota' account and insists there are only three signatories shows that a game may be afoot. Even though Gamage states there is only a balance of Rs. 67 million, The Sunday Leader reliably learns that as at June 28, the balance was over Rs. 103 million.

By giving this exercise a veneer of legitimacy with a large newspaper advertisement, select officials of the Prime Minister's office have opened this private account to direct transfers of moneys. Certainly the account has swelled considerably since February this year. As at June 28, its balance was already over Rs. 103 million.

The Rs. 82 million question

The Rs. 82 million question is also this - If the money was indeed for tsunami relief and reconstruction of Hambantota, why pray, is it, that six months after the tsunami, when victims are still languishing in tents and makeshift structures, has the money not been used? Is it being saved for some other purpose over which the government has no control since it is managed by private individuals?

It is reliably learnt that the money has now been deposited into a call deposit to generate interest. While this money purportedly to help tsunami victims is generating interest, thousands of victims are still living in harsh conditions.

Surely politicians who receive donations on behalf of the state as a whole after a national disaster cannot set up private accounts for various districts such as 'Helping Galle' or 'Helping Batticaloa' depending on their area of interest for personal or political gain? And who knows at the end of the day where this money will end up?

If, for example, Rajapakse is no longer Prime Minister tomorrow, the state will have no control over this money and the private individuals controlling it can for all intents and purposes use it to buy houses in the Bahamas.

Case of the missing money

That money was lying around the Rajapakse residence was evident. Come February this year the Rajapakse family was in a dither. Rs. 400,000 had gone missing from the premises and the alleged prime suspect was a Tamil servant woman called Chandra who had recently left the home not only in a huff due to a matter of the heart involving another Prime Ministerial minor employee but also with a pocket stuffed with Rs. 400,000 allegedly stolen from the Prime Ministerial residence.

Having found out about the alleged theft, Rajapakse's wife Shiranthi lost no time in writing a letter marked 'Urgent' dated February 3, to the manager, Hatton National Bank in Colombo 8, requesting him to freeze the account of the servant woman as a police investigation had already commenced. (See box)

On the strength of this letter when the servant woman went to the bank to withdraw a small amount, the bank informed the police and she was arrested. However, the Prime Minister intervened and she was released before the incident about the money could leak out to the press. The only salient question here in the public interest is this. Why would Rs. 400,000 be lying around in the Prime Minister's home in the first place? And why was the police investigation subsequently dropped?

*  *  *

PM's Secretary responds...

Secretary to the Prime Minister, Lalith Weeratunga admitted that no monies from the 'Helping Hambantota' fund had been used as yet. When asked why that was the case even six months after the tsunami, he said many donors had come to construct houses and give relief and thus it was not necessary. He also said this money may be used at a later date for community centres and infrastructure development.

He revealed the 'Helping Hambantota' account had approximately Rs. 80 million in it and also stated no more monies had been sent to it. Weeratunga also said in deference to donors wishes they had to separate the moneys as donors approached them wanting to help Hambantota specifically and / or to help Ampara or another area specifically. When asked whether separate accounts were also opened for Ampara and other areas he stated the PM's office did not receive such donations as donors were aware of the Prime Minister's connection to Hambantota.

*  *  *

Helping Hambantota, PM's office style

The Hambantota Tsunami Disaster Relief and Development Programme has launched an impressive website - www.helphambantota.org. The objective of the project is stated as follows: "To bring together and combine the strengths of the government, the corporate sector, religious institutions, the UN community, international and national NGOs, professional bodies and the communities of those affected in bringing relief to the people of the district and in bringing about sustained development in the area. To facilitate, support and synergise the rehabilitation plans for the district, and to coordinate with relevant state agencies in order to expedite relief and development work."

What may well distress bona fide donors is also this. The site names as its many grandiose rebuilding projects, the following: Andaragasyaya Housing Project, ASPIC Village Housing Project, Cine Oska Village Housing Project, Haritha Housing Project, Helping House Housing Project, Kelani Temple Houses Housing Project, Kirindagama Housing Project, Obesekaralabima Walloya Housing Project, Porondugama Red Cross Housing Project, Samadigama Housing Project, Siribopura Housing project, Temp. Houses Kirindagama Housing Project and Tissapura Housing Project. Each is accompanied by pictures of houses under construction.

However, Weeratunga told The Sunday Leader that none of the 'Helping Hambantota' funds had been used and that donors and aid agencies were building houses and therefore the 'Helping Hambantota' project was keeping the money for possible infrastructure development at a later date.

This brings the credibility of this website into serious doubt. If the website is already claiming to have completed so many projects and even shows pictures of these ongoing projects, the Prime Minister's office may be guilty of duping donors into sending money into an account that does not do anything. However, the website very passionately calls for donors to 'Help Hambantota NOW.'

The site invites donors to feel free to write immediately and gives the following details. Programme name: Hambantota Tsunami Disaster Relief and Development Programme; Address: Prime Minister's office, Temple Trees, Colombo 3,  Sri Lanka; Telephone:  +94 11 2 32 14 06; Fax:  +94 11 2 2 54 29 18; E-mail: info@helphambantota.org, and gives the account details for money transfer as 'Helping Hambantota' A/C No.01-1237322-01; Bank: Standard Charted Bank, Sri Lanka; Branch: Rajagiriya; Swift Code: SCBLLKLX. It also states that online donation facilities via Visa or Master would be available soon.

*  *  *

Gamage gives PM a helping hand

Senior Advisor to the Prime Minister and Desk Officer for 'Helping Hambantota.' Willie Gamage told The Sunday Leader that 'Helping Hambantota' was a temporary programme to handle tsunami relief and was a fund management programme. On asked whether it has been registered Gamage replied in the negative. Excerpts of the interview follow:

Q: Is it part of the PM's office?

A: Not really but it is supported by the PM's office. It is a temporary programme to manage funds earmarked for Hambantota.

(He also stated that except for Lalith Weeratunga and Shasheendra Rajapakse all other members of the governing council of this programme were private members.)

Q: Who are the signatories?

A: Udaya Abeyratne is an accountant, Prof. Epasinghe is from the academic field and M. Gunawardena is a private person.

Q: Only three signatories?

A: Yes. (Of the Rs. 82 million deposited in the account Gamage said that approximately Rs. 15 million has been spent on kitchen utensils, construction of 15 permanent houses and incidental expenses such as project surveys.)

Q: Has any more money been put to the account?

A: No. As at June 15, we have spent Rs. 15 million.

Q: What is the balance now?

A: The balance is Rs. 67 million.

Q: When was this account started?

A: Early January, I think.

Q: Were you not in violation of the Presidential directive not to maintain separate accounts issued on December 29, 2004?

A: We were not in violation. Anyway, direct those questions to the secretary.

Q: You say these were monies earmarked for Hambantota. Who earmarked them, was it the donors and was it in writing?

A: It was in writing. For instance, Plan International was one. I am not authorised to give you the other donors.

Q: But you took out a full page advertisement in the state media on February 2, where you listed 22 donors. The list names the Korean Ambassador. Did he give you a request in writing?

A: Yes

Q: Could you give me some letters of donors in the list who have requested that their monies go to Hambantota?

A: Those are with the secretary but even I may be able to find one or two letters. I'm out of office, I can give them to you on Monday.

*  *  *

Accountant refuses to comment

The Sunday Leader contacted Chief Accountant, Prime Minister's office, S.Subasinghe for his comments on the transfer of over Rs. 82 million from the Prime Minister's fund to a private account. Subasinghe declined to comment stating he was a public official and that all questions should be directed to Secretary to the Prime Minister, Lalith Weeratunga. 


Nawala Nihal and the vicious political cycle

Retired DIG, H.M.G.B. Kotakadeniya and Nawala Nihal

By Frederica Jansz

Sri Lanka must be one of the few countries in this world that continues to rate as a banana republic. For what country would repeatedly arrest, lock-up and then allow bail for notorious gangsters despite existing evidence against the suspect.

The need of the hour perhaps is not so much a debate on how to distribute tsunami aid - but why our law enforcement authorities and above all the judiciary appear to be in some convoluted mess - where dissecting right from wrong, protecting law abiding citizens and upholding the law has become a major hurdle.

The case involving the notorious underworld gang leader 'Nawala Nihal' is indeed a concrete example of how ineffective is our system of law enforcement and judiciary.

It is time this country puts on trial not the likes of Nawala Nihal - after all, his is a foregone conclusion - Sri Lanka's erstwhile police force and the system of justice. At least for those of us who still abide by the law. Nay, but last week, the Colombo Crimes Division (CCD) led by SSP Sarath Lugoda were patting themselves on the back for having arrested Nawala Nihal - caught red-handed in an extortion attempt.

Tip off

According to the police, the underworld thug walked into a trap - after police were tipped off by a leading Colombo press owner who complained that the gang leader was attempting to extort Rs. 15 million as well as 54 perches of land from him after he and a relative had put up 400 perches of land for sale.

The CCD set a trap and apprehended the thug and two of his henchmen when they were coming out after having completed the illegal transaction.

While the extortion attempt is indeed a serious crime, what emerges as puerile in this whole exercise is that this is certainly not the first or even the tenth attempt by Nawala Nihal to extort money and land. The gang leader has been well known to do this over the years and the police have been fully aware of such attempts while also holding evidence to support the allegations.

In fact Nawala Nihal at the time he was arrested last Saturday, June 25, had been released from Welikada prison just a month ago, after he had been placed there by the Colombo magistrate pending charges of extortion and assault. Yet, he walked free - set loose to threaten and intimidate more innocent citizens. No doubt he will walk free of this crime too in less then a month - on the prowl once more for more bait - while the police and Sri Lanka's judiciary literally turns a blind eye.

In order to jog the sluggish memory of the Police Department The Sunday Leader today will record instances where Nawala Nihal not only extorted money and land, but also used physical force to do so instigating, on more than one occasion, murder as well.

We also draw attention to the close relationship Nawala Nihal had with leading politicians of this government - Mervyn Silva being but one.

Several aliases

Nawala Nihal alias Nihal Wickremasinghe alias Koswattage Donald alias Koswattage Donald Nihal Wickremasinghe was born on August 1, 1953. He lived sometimes at 76/3 old Nawala Road, Rajagiriya, at other times at 78/8 Old Nawala Road, Rajagiriya, or at 5th Lane, Nawala, Rajagiriya, and sometimes at 78/6, Old Road, Nawala, Rajagiriya.

'Nawala Nihal' is feared not only by ordinary citizens but by the cops as well. Sri Lanka's politically gagged police force, has had to long puppeteer to the whims and fancies of politicians, literally looking the other way as criminals saunter under their very noses.

Consider this. In one instance when former Deputy Inspector General (Crime), H.M.G.B. Kotakadeniya issued a warrant for his arrest, Nawala Nihal surrendered to Police Headquarters. Kottakadeniya's victory was however short-lived. The incident, some years ago was riddled with political innuendo. No sooner had the gangster given himself up, the top cop publicly called for complaints from people who had been harassed, threatened, cheated, assaulted or had family members or friends murdered by the man to lodge formal statements with the police. Kotakadeniya promised that the victims and witnesses would be safeguarded and there would be no reprisals.

One brave man, a director of a private company came forward and complained that Nawala Nihal had demanded a ransom of Rs. 2.8 million from him. Until the money was paid, three vehicles belonging to this businessman including a Pajero were forcibly taken over by Nawala Nihal.

Handed over

The matter however ended there. Kotakadeniya received orders from his superior that he was to stop the investigation and that the gangster would be handed over to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID).

The CID soon released Nawala Nihal, after pretending to begin an investigation which in truth was nothing more than a cursory line-up of routine questions which apparently, or so we are told, found insufficient evidence to hold the wanted man.

Kotakadeniya was furious. Having trapped the shark, the top cop was demoralised thereafter. This is how the system works in Sri Lanka. At the time he told us, "instead of catching small fellows the police must get the big operators themselves - this is why I tried to get this man."

The top cop was convinced, even then, that as long as politics and politicians reign supreme within the police force there is hardly any point in making an effort to snare underworld kingpins.

The official complaints against 'Nawala Nihal' at Police Headquarters are not longer than one page. This is believed to be because people are too scared to buck the thug, and dare not make their grievances known to the cops.

Assault of officers

On another occasion when someone did complain, no less than a top cop himself, was brutally assaulted, so badly, that he lay unconscious in the intensive care unit of a private hospital until he recovered.

Former DIG and Head, CID, Tyrel Gunatilleke hardly requires any introduction. Well known for his sense of fair play and justice, Gunatilleke sported an admirable track record. Prior to Kotakadeniya's initiative, Gunatilleke, had objected to Nawala Nihal filling up land in the Nawala, Rajagiriya and Battaramulla areas, fabricating deeds and selling the blocks at exorbitant prices. This, in fact was one of Nawala Nihal's major sources of income.

The gangster had begun doing some work close to the retired cop's residence at Battaramulla, and Gunatilleke knowing the man was a fraud and a cheat, took photographs of the land sites and handed it over to the authorities for investigation.

Nawala Nihal was enraged. Gathering his goon squads he allegedly ordered that Gunatilleke be beaten, until he was black and blue. His thugs obeyed and Gunatilleke was assaulted so badly he remained unconscious for one month before slowly recovering.

A court case followed, but was later discharged when Gunatilleke was unable to identify his attackers.

Consider this information the police have long held. Yet, this man walks free time and again. Nawala Nihal was only 23 years old when he on September 6, 1976 stole Rs. 213, 000 and a pistol. The complaint was lodged at the Colpetty police station. Later, Nawala Nihal was jailed for a period of six years because of this incident.

Years later, an entry at the Criminal Investigation Department at the Mirigama police station stated that in 1995 a police constable named Nilantha Senaratne was kidnapped and killed, allegedly by 'Nawala Nihal.'

In 1997 the Welikada police recorded that at Swarna Place Nawala, Nawala Nihal assaulted a person and robbed a camera worth Rs 15,000. The cops claim that due to insufficient evidence he was released in 1999 after being jailed for two years.

At the Kohuwela police station a crime committed by 'Nawala Nihal' states that a person residing at 26A Malwatte Road Kohuwela, died after being fatally wounded by Nawala Nihal. The case was first heard at the Gangodawila Magistrate Court in 1998. At present the case is before the Colombo High Court.

Illegal weapons

In 1997 the Criminal Investigation Department recorded that Nawala Nihal was found to be in possession of illegal weapons at his residences at Nawala and Rajagiriya. There is no court number for this case.

What is utterly stupefying is that police records have listed only these few incidents of crime committed by Nawala Nihal. The mafia style operator has walked away from hundreds of cases of violence, brutality and even murder as his victims cower in fright, too afraid to lodge a complaint at a police station or are simply dead and can talk no more.

Given the sorry conduct of the police concerning Nawala Nihal and his diabolical acts of crime all these years, it is indeed no small wonder that witnesses and victims have no faith in lodging a complaint with the cops.

Needless to say, such complaints will certainly go unheeded, as aptly demonstrated when Kotakadeniya forced the man to surrender but was later ordered to let him walk free.

An uncle of Casino King, Nalin Fonseka, Nawala Nihal has always been closely guarded by politicians. Nawala Nihal has been an essential component for local politicos who depend on his brawn and brutality to secure points on a political see-saw.

Yet another record of his criminal activity, also with police, details how Nawala Nihal, determined to be the leader of the underworld became suspicious that another well-known gangster Kalu Ajit would reign supreme in the world of the underworld godfathers. He set in motion a plan that would end the reign of Kalu Ajit.

Summoning a well known contract killer known as 'Fiat' Nawala Nihal phoned Kalu Ajit and set up a meeting at one of the houses he owned at Kohuwela. Kalu Ajit arrived at around 9 p.m. in a Dolphin Hiace van in the company of two others. No sooner had they set foot in the house they were set upon by goons of Nawala Nihal, disarmed, dragged, gagged and tethered to three chairs.

They were thereafter taken in the Hiace van they had arrived in, to Badowita at Attidiya and shot dead. Thereafter, petrol was poured over the three bodies and the van and set on fire.

The case remained unsolved until police captured Fiat. Under intense interrogation, Fiat revealed the sordid facts that finally linked the murders of Kalu Ajit and two of his henchmen at Attidiya to Nawala Nihal.

The disgusting part of this entire saga is this. Nawala Nihal with at least 20 other underworld kingpins and some 1000 thugs will continue to rain terror on chosen victims and be used at the whim and fancy of corrupt politicians.

A senior police officer maintained the sleuths are at times helpless to control this menace, as the law allows the cops to hold underworld kingpins for a mere three months until investigations are conducted. After three months they are usually out on bail back on the prowl.

Political contracts

We recall how in 2003 for the first time, a cabinet minister actually named Nawala Nihal as having been approached by an opposition MP of the People's Alliance to have him killed.

Lands Minister Dr Rajitha Senaratne in an interview to a Sunday newspaper said that he had been cautioned by the Ministerial Security Division (MSD) about his movements and been provided additional security on the instructions of the inspector general of police.

He claimed that a former member of parliament of the main opposition People's Alliance (PA) was planning to assassinate him as he had turned to be one of the main critics of the opposition, led by President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

Dr Senaratne did not name the former MP in the interview, but indicated who the MP was and said that he was a close associate of the President. However, the minister named the underworld gang member who had taken the contract for the assassination.

He claimed that Nawala Nihal alias 'Godfather' had given orders to kill him and the plot had been disclosed by one of the suspects who was arrested while taking a sniper gun into a high security jail to be given to Nawala Nihal.

The suspect, according to police, disclosed details about a series of other killings as well.

Regarding the plot to assassinate the minister, the suspect had disclosed that they had first tried to get a person from the same district of Dr. Senaratne to approach the minister and find a job, but the person had refused saying that he was known to the minister.

VIP treatment

The plot had been delayed as they had to look for another person to carry out the assassination the minister said, quoting the CID officials who were investigating the case.

During his tenure as Social Services Deputy Minister, Mervyn Silva, personally welcomed Nawala Nihal at the Katunayake International Airport.

The Deputy Minister when asked at the time why he had personally arrived to escort the well-known gangster to Colombo replied in Sinhala, "Weda apita issaraha dan thiayanawa ne" (because there is work to be done soon). The next day he allegedly drove Nawala Nihal south to Matara where the duo met up with other compatriots who share the same taste for violence.

And so, we can be certain this will not be the last this country hears of Nawala Nihal. A man, who should, if justice stands tall, be locked up and the key thrown away. But that is not how the system works - at least not in Sri Lanka which continues to foster and breed characters of the likes of Nawala Nihal.



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