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                                    


October 28, 2007  Volume 14, Issue 19










The Ordeal Of Arthur Wamanan

Meet Arthur Wamanan Sornalingam, 22, a former student of S. Thomas' College, Mt. Lavinia and for the past two years a reporter at The Sunday Leader. Last week, Arthur found himself hauled unceremoniously to the CID's notorious Fourth Floor, accused of seeking to blackmail one Mano Wijeratne, a defector from the UNP who serves the Rajapakse Brothers as Minister of Investment Promotion.

According to the CID, Wijeratne has claimed that Arthur telephoned him on Friday, October 19 with regard to the story in our issue of last Sunday detailing a massive misappropriation of government funds by the Minister. The article described how Wijeratne had prevailed on the chairman of the Gem and Jewellery Authority to pay his wife's mobile roaming bill. It seems that Bharati, Wijeratne's third wife, like the buffaloes of Brewster Higley's Home On The Range, roams an awful lot.

Then, according to Wijeratne, Arthur asked him for a sum of Rs. 5 million to suppress the story. The Minister claims he demurred, and on Sunday, October 21, The Sunday Leader carried the embarrassing revelations. Soon after the issue hit the streets, Wijeratne was pawing on the police door, complaining bitterly that Arthur sought to blackmail him.

For his part, Arthur admits that he did call Wijeratne on the preceding Friday on the principle of audi alteram partem: to hear the other side. He did so, to boot, in the presence of Dilrukshi Handunnetti, a senior and award winning journalist on our staff who is also the editor of the Investigations Desk. Arthur not only obtained Wijeratne's explanation, but published it along with his story.

Of one fact there is no doubt: that the Minister purloined government and Gem and Jewellery Authority funds. There is a word in popular parlance for people who do this: thief. Third wife Bharati doubles as his private secretary (she also doubles as much else, including as Consul for Turkey: no chicken she), for which reason Wijeratne may feel she is entitled to roam at the expense of the Authority. But he is sadly mistaken: the expenses of private secretaries need to be charged to the Consolidated Fund according to the allowances prescribed by parliament: they cannot be met by regulatory agencies such as the Gem and Jewellery Authority. That is nothing short of misappropriation of government funds (a non-bailable offence). On the evidence available to it, The Sunday Leader will be drawing the attention of the Auditor General to this incident and calling for a full inquiry.

What is dumbfounding about Wijeratne's version of events is this: he alleges that Arthur threatened blackmail on Friday. However, Wijeratne did not complain to the CID on Friday. He did not even do so on Saturday. He did so only after our paper was published on Sunday and he saw the damning revelations in print. In his complaint to the CID, the Minister claimed that Arthur gave him time to pay up until the article was due to go to press on Saturday afternoon. Why would Arthur do so, given that he knew full well that the article would go to press Friday night, as indeed it did? Wijeratne's account of events is nothing but an amateurish concoction: he is not only a liar but a pathetically bad liar.

What is incredible about this story, however, is not that Wijeratne invented these allegations to get even with a journalist who had exposed him of misappropriating public funds, but that simply on his word, the CID took Arthur into custody. They then produced him before an acting magistrate and sought to have him remanded for two weeks. Thankfully for Arthur, both Acting Magistrate and District Judge Lahir Thasim and Chief Magistrate Ayeshani Jayasena saw through the CID's subterfuge. That once-august and unimpeachable branch of the police has now been reduced to a mere plaything of the Rajapakse Brothers and hangers-on such as Wijeratne, poodles to do their beck and call. To summon them, Wijeratne need not have telephoned: he could simply have whistled.

The CID's subservience to its political masters is seen not only from the fact that they sought to incarcerate Arthur for two weeks. From the outset, he was treated as a terrorist suspect. Indeed, in their submissions to the magistrate last Friday, the CID was careful to point not only to the fact that Arthur's parents were "from the north," but that he resided in Wellawatte, immediately identifiable as Colombo's Tamil enclave. To the CID that was sufficient reason to further remand Arthur. So shocking was that submission made on behalf of the State that Senior Counsel for Arthur, Attorney Nalin Ladduwahetty immediately responded stating he was ashamed as a Sinhalese to hear such a statement being made by the CID representing the Republic. He asked the Court whether Arthur was to be further remanded as demanded by the State because he was a Tamil. The look of disgust on the Magistrate's face was ample testimony to what she thought of that submission by the CID.

Their patent racism is also clear from the fact that having identified Arthur as a Tamil, they wrote down his statement in Sinhala despite him asking that it should be written down in Tamil or English. They then forced him to sign it. What is more, he was not permitted to have a lawyer present. In their treatment of Arthur, the CID emulated Hitler's Gestapo in almost every detail, down to the last closely-trimmed moustache. The police showed absolute contempt for Article 22 (2) (a) of the Constitution, which entitles every citizen the right to "communicate and transact business with an official... in either of the National Languages" (our emphasis).

The vendetta did not stop with Arthur: his mother too, was taken to the CID together with Arthur in a police jeep. Her crime? Arthur's mobile phone was registered in her name. Think about the logic of this: what would the situation have been if Arthur had called Wijeratne from a public phone booth? Would the CID have arrested the Chairman of SLT?

It is sad to think that Wijeratne is the culmination of a long and distinguished lineage: the contrast between him and his forebears could not be more trenchant. His grandfather, E.A.P. (later Sir Edwin) Wijeratne, was an illustrious advocate and played an eminent role in the struggle for Independence, serving also as Ceylon's second high commissioner (after Oliver Gunatilleke) to the Court of St. James. His father, Nissanka, was no less august: a distinguished Civil Servant who served for many years as Diyawadana Nilame and later both as Minister of Justice and Minister of Culture. And now, Mano... Oh, dearie, what an anticlimax. And as if to maintain the trend, Wijeratne's step son, Rehan is often seen frequenting nightclubs and trouble-spots at the side of his buddy and idol, Malaka Silva. Need we say more?

Unlike Nissanka, Mano is a man of trivial attainment. He was educated (after a fashion) at Royal College, Colombo, after which, according to a biography published by Lake House, he attended South Thames College, London. What he did there is anyone's guess, but a quick glance at the college website identifies it as a centre for adult education. Students can opt for courses in 'Cake Decorating and Sugar Craft' or, for the more aesthetically inclined, 'Hair, Beauty and Complementary Therapies' (no kidding). Then, for the more intellectually gifted, there are courses in Bridge (no, not building 'em: this is the card game) or 'Wine Appreciation.' Given his laughable allegations against Arthur Wamanan, one can't help but wonder if what Wijeratne actually studied to become at South Thames College was a 'Make Up Artist' (yes, they do offer such a course), or then again, perhaps a 'Nail Technician.' Luckily for Arthur, Wijeratne's alma mater offers no degrees in crucifixion.

That, then, is the background of the man who pointed an accusing finger at Arthur Wamanan. No doubt the coming weeks will show him up even more for what he is: a fraud, a purloiner of the public purse and a perjurer.

The one bit of silver lining in this whole shoddy episode is the conduct of the judiciary. Last Friday the CID officers who produced Arthur in court were at the receiving end of some very sharp remarks from the bench. Not mincing her words, Magistrate Jayasena pointedly told the CID's officers Abeysinghe, Ranjith Munasinghe and Chandana De Silva not to mislead court by making foolish allegations. Clearly, the magistrate understood the wider implications of the case also from the standpoints of human rights and media freedom. For that we doff our hat to her ever so humbly.

Arthur Wamanan was imprisoned for doing his job. Had he not consulted Mano Wijeratne before publishing his story, he would have been accused of not having given the Minister an opportunity to present his side of the story. Having called him, he paved the way for Wijeratne to accuse him of blackmail. What is amazing is that Wijeratne, if he tells the truth, not to have called Arthur back and recorded the conversation. After all, it is only reasonable that a man whose third wife runs up a roaming bill of Rs 80,000 should be able to afford a phone with a 'record' button?

What is more, the CID's knee-jerk reaction sends a message to journalists throughout Sri Lanka to publish without verification, or to verify at their peril. If that is what the government wants, so be it.

The ordeal of Arthur Wamanan has served yet again to underline the dreadful plight of Sri Lanka under the Rajapakse Brothers: a country in which the media are gravely threatened by governmental harassment and violence, and one in which citizens of minority communities are treated like vermin by the police who, after all, are a mere proxy for the government. We at The Sunday Leader are in no doubt that the harassment of Arthur Wamanan was aimed purely to intimidate the media. Well, Mister Minister, lay it on. We shall watch your future progress with considerable interest.. 



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