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Investigation  

And who will speak up for me?


The vehicle Lasantha Wickrematunge was driving at the time of the attack and Wickrematunge being attended to by doctors at the Kalubowila Teaching Hospital

Even as the government rejected calls for an international team of investigators and 10 days pass in a cloud of confusion, there are perhaps reasons to suspect that in a manner somehow bizarrely reminiscent of the cover up that followed the murder of New Guinean Rugby Player Joel Pera, the investigation into Lasantha Wickrematunge's murder will also end up as a cover up and a campaign to confuse the evidence so as to secure an acquittal even if the murderers are eventually apprehended.

Ironically it was Lasantha Wickrematunge himself who some 12 years ago was to investigate and expose the Joel Pera cover up in one of the most brilliant expose's of the murder that was to ever hit the news stands.      

Ironic it also is that it is now this very murder that comes to mind as authorities seem set to embark on a mission of confusion that could eventually lead to the collapse of the investigation.

Military style operation

Wickrematunge was killed on January 8 in Attidiya, on his way to office. What is also noteworthy is that Wickrematunge was killed in a military style operation by assassins allegedly riding black Bajaj Pulsar motorbikes, in broad day light in the most brutal and brazen manner -  and in close proximity to a high security zone.

It is significant to note that the government has already refused an international investigation into the murder and resolutely stuck to its decision - that is to confine the probe to the Sri Lanka Police Department.

Is the writing on the wall? Will this murder too go the way of other such assassinations?

The type of motorbikes used in this murder may be described as Bajaj Pulsar (see photographs) or Hero Honda Karizma which are identical. According to the majority of the witnesses the bikes were Bajaj Pulsars, but there is little evidence to come to any definitive conclusion.

Disappearing evidence

While so far no arrests have been made, many key items in the possession of Lasantha Wickrematunge seem to have gone missing. The mobile phone he was clutching in his hand and which could prove a wealth of information to the perpetrators of the crime has disappeared.

A yellow notebook and a file with a sheaf of papers that lay on the front passenger seat of Wickrematunge's car have also disappeared. While the police talk of recovering more evidence from the scene of the crime, already three vital items crucial to the investigation have gone missing.

There was very little chance that Wickrematunge's Nokia mobile telephone with all his stored contact information and important recorded interviews and conversations would be recovered. While the hands free set is now in police custody, the telephone instrument is missing.

That is no surprise either. Let us also record here that whenever a journalist was attacked or murdered, among the first things that went missing and remained unrecovered was the mobile telephone.

Discharge from a firearm

The draft JMO's report, signed by Dr. Sunil Kumara of the Kalubowila Hospital The Sunday Leader Investigations Desk understands, is inconclusive as to the cause of death.

Police sources say that according to already recorded evidence there were no spent cartridges recovered from the scene. Medical sources suggest that no bullet track was found during the post mortem while many in the team of doctors held divergent and mismatching views with regard to the murder weapon.

Neither was there an exit wound first giving rise to the theory that the bullet  if any could have been embedded in the brain stem. Medical sources explained however that there was no tearing of skin on the surface.

Eyewitnesses speak 

In support of this, three eyewitnesses from the scene who spoke to us on the basis of anonymity said that two assailants held identical murder weapons, but they failed to identify exactly what it was as they were covered with newspaper sheets.

Some sources speculate that there is sufficient reason to believe that a sharp iron instrument at the lethal base of which were two sharp points may have been slammed into Lasantha Wickrematunge's head, leaving two tiny identical scars on the exterior while his skull was crushed from within.

The murder weapon could be according to experts, a sharp instrument with two iron spikes at one end. Such a weapon may perhaps have been used on Lasantha Wickrematunge causing only two tiny scars to appear on the surface but causing enough impact to crush the skull from within. This is also how, some medical sources say that brain matter flowed out of the left ear due to the extent of internal damage caused.

Used to kill livestock

A scientist who wished to remain anonymous said that such weapons are often used to kill livestock such as sheep as it causes instantaneous death. It is an instrument often seen in English country houses.

With many weapons that could have been used in the attack including eye witness accounts of swords, gunshots or iron rods it is the very reason that a proper investigation must now be done with international expertise to ascertain the cause of death.

It is also important to record that Lasantha Wickrematunge's widow, was not allowed to be present at the post mortem, despite her insistence that she be allowed to be at his side. The post mortem was carried out at the Colombo South Hospital in Kalubowila.

Allowed to be present

However, former President Chandrika Kumaratunga told The Sunday Leader that when her husband Vijaya Kumaratunga was assassinated during the height of the 1988-1989 insurgency, she was allowed to be present while the post mortem was being carried out.

Meanwhile President Mahinda Rajapakse who went to great lengths to call the murdered journalist a longstanding friend, sent a wreath to the Robert Gunawardena residence, but did not show up himself. There were his cabinet ministers such as Media Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa having his own media circus trying to convince the country that the President and the slain journalist were indeed close friends.

For all that overt interest to demonstrate the so called bonds and closeness between the chief executive and Wickrematunge, only a handful of government ministers actually visited his home to pay their last respects. The majority of them were the UNP defectors. Representing the JVP, Sunil Handunnetti attended the church service held at the People's Church in Colombo 5.

However, despite claims that President Rajapakse invited the newly weds to Temple Trees, Wickrematunge's widow  insists that such an invitation was not accepted by either of them to her knowledge.

Deafening silence

Many would find it very strange that a political party that made every use of the murder of journalist Richard de Zoysa to overhaul an unpopular UNP administration, maintaining a deafening silence on the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge. A pointer no doubt to the political opportunism of the governing party, though not surprising as such behaviour is characteristic of a government that had been at the receiving end of Wickrematunge's acid pen for corruption and abuse of power in government and the military.

Interestingly, German Ambassador, Juergen Weerth was also hauled over the coals by Sri Lanka's Foreign Ministry for a proper and appropriate funeral oration he made in which he noted that it was a day in which 'one remained speechless.' Weerth was summoned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to explain his remarks with the possibility of studying whether Weerth violated the Vienna Convention governing diplomatic relations.

Given how the system operates here, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out why  such confusion over the evidence is allowed to fester and multiply as Lasantha  Wickrematunge's pen is silenced and why a flurry of contradictions have now been allowed to surface.  

Mystery over cause of death

Top hospital sources told The Sunday Leader that there were no signs of bullet entry wounds on the scalp of the late Lasantha Wickrematunge.

The sources said that there were two punch marks, about two inches apart. The skull in the specific area was shattered and pieces had gone into the brain as well.

The skull also did not have any signs of a bullet going through, as a bullet mark would leave a small circular hole.

The sources added that the JMO's report also did not indicate a bullet track.

The other fact mentioned was that the heart was not functioning on its own and had to be artificially pumped until a pace maker was fixed. Even then, the heart could not be revived, that could possibly mean that he was dead at the point of admission and long before he was pronounced clinically dead.


Doctors confused over murder weapon

Top hospital sources told The Sunday Leader that there were no signs of bullet entry wounds on the scalp of the late Lasantha Wickrematunge.

The sources said that there were two punch marks, about two inches apart. The skull in the specific area was shattered and pieces had gone into the brain as well.

The skull also did not have any signs of a bullet going through, as a bullet mark would leave a small circular hole.

The sources added that the JMO's report also did not indicate a bullet track.

The other fact mentioned was that the heart was not functioning on its own and had to be artificially pumped until a pace maker was fixed. Even then, the heart could not be revived, that could possibly mean that he was dead at the point of admission and long before he was pronounced clinically dead.  


Not a gun, but modified iron rod

Eyewitness reports and medical reports have allowed The Sunday Leader to approximately reconstruct the murder weapon used to kill Lasantha Wickrematunge. At least two assassins wielded almost identical objects, which were short rods wrapped in newspaper, which were used to attack the glass on the front and sides of the vehicle, and ultimately the right side of Lasantha's skull and neck. Medical accounts indicate that the rod had two nails on the end used for the attack, and that these nails were separated by approximately two inches. The device may have been constructed from either wrought iron or wood, with nails or similar sharp points attached to one end. Members of the public who have ever seen such a device, witnessed similar injuries caused by such device on any person or know of an iron monger who has constructed such a device, please call on 115515937.


Identical motor bikes

Eyewitnesses have described seeing several identical black motor bicycles used in the attack. The bikes used in the attack have been identified by witnesses as being either Bajaj Pulsars or Hero Honda Karizmas. These bicycles followed Lasantha from his house on Kandewatte Terrace, Nugegoda, to Robert Gunawardena Mawatha in Battaramulla, and along his path to Bakery Junction on Attidiya Road, where he was killed. Any person who recalls seeing such bikes in these areas on the morning of Thursday, January 8, or knows of a person owning such a bike, which was being ridden between the hours of 7 a.m. and 12  noon on January 8 morning could convey such information on 115515937.


Notepad and file missing

While police teams have been assigned to investigate the brutal murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge, the yellow colour notepad and the file containing documents that lay on the passenger seat of Wickrematunge's car that came under attack are currently missing.

These belongings of their late editor were seen by several Sunday Leader staff members when they arrived at the scene of the crime, minutes after Wickrematunge was rushed to the Colombo South Hospital in Kalubowila.

However, the headset that was lying on the front passenger seat with the note pad and file is now in police custody. But the four police teams conducting various parts of the investigation are unable to establish what happened to the notepad and the file containing documents.

"The Mt. Lavinia Police have the hands free set found inside Wickrematunge's car. But other articles were not recovered," DIG Mirihana, Prasanna Nanayakkara told The Sunday Leader.

The police strangely enough cannot clearly recall whether the said items were indeed there by the time the car was taken into police custody or not, giving rise to the query as to why the notepad and documents of the journalist have mysteriously disappeared without a trace.

However, there are enough Leader staff members who can vouch for the fact that the said items were there inside the car when they rushed to the scene upon hearing that their editor had been attacked.

When The Sunday Leader Investigations team visited DIG Prasanna Nanayakkara to raise the matter, he promptly contacted SSP Mt. Lavinia Hemantha Adikari and inquired what articles have been recovered from the car of the late Wickrematunge.

"Only the headset was there, nothing else," was the answer from SSP Adikari.

Subsequently when The Sunday Leader  spoke to SSP Adikari, (who was unaware that Leader journalists were privy to his conversation with DIG Nanayakkara) altered the facts to suit the occasion.

He said only the headset was recovered, but futuristically claimed: "Police could recover some articles from the scene," but did not say exactly what.

"Since the murder is under thorough investigation, we can't exactly say what were recovered from the scene but we could always recover some more articles," SSP Adikari told The Sunday Leader.

When particularly questioned about the late Editor's notepad and file, he vacillated but said that several items were recovered, thus contradicting what he told DIG Nanayakkara a few minutes earlier.

However, a top police source on the basis of anonymity told The Sunday Leader  that he hoped to make a breakthrough in the assassination shortly.

"Since this is under investigation we are not allowed to reveal any details to the media for security reasons. We will give all the details once the 'wanted' group is apprehended," the source said.

Meanwhile OIC Crimes Mt. Lavinia, Tissa Sugathapala too refused to divulge details of the investigations but said that he has so far recorded the statements of seven persons.

 Although 10 days have lapsed since the brutal assassination of The Sunday Leader Editor-in-Chief Lasantha Wickrematunge, the police are yet to make a breakthrough.


Cannot give details - DIG Mirihana

DIG Mirihana Prasanna Nanayakkara when asked for an update on the current status of the Wickrematunge murder investigation,  refused to provide information stating that such could jeopardise the investigation process.

"We have assigned two teams for the investigation and till we make a breakthrough we cannot give details. We are trying our utmost. On the day of the murder itself, I summoned the two teams and directed as to how they could carry out the investigation process," DIG Nanayakkara said.

When asked as to whether the police have received any leads, DIG Nanayakkara said that they have not received any information.

"I am happy the way the inquiries are being conducted. The public should now respond positively," he said.

When asked what type of weapons the assailants may have used to attack Wickrematunge, DIG Nanayakkara said that the police are yet to ascertain it and said it may take time.


Public must assist - OIC Special Crime Operation Unit, Mt. Lavinia

OIC Colombo South Range Special Crime Operation Unit, Tissa Sugathapala told The Sunday Leader that he called upon the general public to assist investigations by sharing any information with regard to the murder.

He said that the police have been notified about the mobile telephone not being recovered and said, that formed part of the investigation at present.

He said to directly call on 2809243 and promised secrecy of the information as well as the identities of the callers.

"We know there were lots of three wheelers, buses and other vehicles when the attack was carried out. Some of them can come forward and help us," the OIC said.


Police recovered articles from the car - SSP Hemantha Adikari

While SSP Mt. Lavinia Division Hemantha Adikari refused to disclose the articles recovered from the scene of the crime, he said 'everything is in the safe custody' of the Mt. Lavinia Police.

When inquired whether 'everything in police custody' included the notepad and the file, he refused to give any specifics, but tried to convince the newspaper that all articles that were there at the time have been recovered and were in safe police custody. This despite Adikari informing DIG Nanayakkara just minutes before that only the headset was recovered.


Witnesses speak

One of the witnesses to the attack on The Sunday Leader Editor, Lasantha Wickrematunge and volunteered to take him to the Kalubowila Hospital, said that he was checking a stock of printing goods prepared for delivery when the incident happened.

He had come rushing out when horns began to blare when what he thought was an 'artificially created' traffic jam was there.

"I saw some motorbikes speeding off, and they were dark in colour. People were rushing towards a car that was parked across the road, closer to the Attidiya Adarsha Maha Vidyalaya wall. I then saw the window on one side was smashed and damage to the main windscreen as well," he said.

He peered into the vehicle through the smashed window and saw a person fallen across the two front seats. He recalls seeing a file, a notepad and a hands free instrument on the front passenger seat.

"Clearly, he was finding it difficult to breathe. Then I called on some of the people standing around to carry him to a van that was there. He was profusely bleeding from the head," he said.

The eyewitness said that while Wickrematunge was being taken to hospital, his mobile phone, which he held on to firmly, despite serious injuries, began to ring.

 "The phone rang. I was holding the injured person with another. The person on the front passenger seat answered the phone and told the caller that if he knew the owner of the phone, to come to the Kalubowila Hospital immediately as there had been an accident," he said.

He said he did not know who the fatally injured person was, but wanted to help him, seeing the state in which he lay. " He was breathing and uttered a few incoherent words. I was hoping he would survive. He had an innocent air about him that touched me," he said.

 Another witness Nathan said that he was shocked to realise that it was the fearless editor Lasantha Wickrematunge who was brought to hospital in a fatal state.

 Nathan was the driver of the van that took Wickrematunge to the hospital. The van was on its way to Avissawella for a delivery when it got stuck in a traffic jam in Attidiya.

"We saw many people surrounding a car. But they were afraid to go near. They may have been afraid to get close as it was an obvious attack on a person," he said.

Nathan said that while most people looked on, vehicles passed by without even stopping to have a second look.

Lakmal Nanayakkara, a computer assistant attached to Irudina, The Sunday Leader's sister paper was among the eyewitnesses. He was in the bus, about to get off when the bus all of a sudden got stuckin the traffic. He thought it was an accident and then realised something awful had happened.

"I clearly saw a man dressed in a dark trouser was taken into a van, injured. I saw his head move inside the car when the people opened the door. I saw the vehicle and called office and asked Irudina Editor Mohan Lal Piyadasa whether Mr. Lasantha was in office and where his car was.

"I was petrified and was fearing the worst. Mr. Piyadasa said no to both. Then I told him that Mr. Lasantha had been attacked and was being rushed to hospital. I got off the bus and tried to get in the van taking him to hospital but could not." 


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