What Lies Beneath
- Move Along, Nothing To See Here
By Raisa Wickrematunge
The underworld does not exist-at least, not in Sri Lanka. Police spokesman Ajith Rohana made this statement, following up on a story that was misreported last week. The story claimed that 63 underworld figures fled the country last year alone, aided by politicians in many cases. In reality, Rohana says, this is the number of Interpol ‘red notices’ issued on people wanted for various crimes- from theft to forgery and fraud. ‘There is no such thing as an underworld culture in Sri Lanka,’ Rohana said, before going on to note that the Oxford English Dictionary definition of the term implied a constant exposure to drugs and crime.
While crime existed in Sri Lanka, he continued, it was restricted to a few unscrupulous individuals in places like Maligawatte or Wanathamulla.
The idea of a gang underworld existed in places like Thailand, but not here, Rohana said.
It is true, there is no evidence of a Godfather-style crime ‘syndicate’ with gangsters from each area coming together to mark out turf and conduct business. There is no Mafia, but there is organised crime.
For evidence of this, look back to 2003 in this newspaper’s archives. Mahinda Godage, (better known as ‘Bada’ Mahinda) was arrested in Kotte, where he was found with a pistol which was later connected to the murder of another mobster, Kandana Pradeep. Godage admitted his part in several killings, often working together with notorious gangster Dhammika Perera and other underworld figures. Dhammika Perera was killed in a courtroom by an army deserter, Chaminda Udaya Kumara.
Then there is Potta Naufer, who assassinated High Court Judge Sarath Ambepitiya in 2004, and is currently serving time in Bogambara prison.
More recently, there was Neluwa Priyantha, who killed at least 25 people, grew marijuana and robbed cattle. His gang is suspected of carrying out at least 84 murders. Priyantha was shot dead by Special Task Force (STF) personnel last July.
Or how about M. K Imtiaz (alias Anamalu Imtiaz) who made his money by contract killings, extortion and drug deals before being killed by a rival gang in 2009.
Or Dematagoda Kamal, who murdered at least 15 people, including Dushyantha Seneviratne, the Opposition Leader at the Galle Municipal Council. He was killed in 2010 trying to throw a bomb at the police. Not to mention Olcott (real name Jayakody Perera) and Kimbula-Ela Guna (Sinniah Gunasekaran) who were reportedly involved in the assassination attempt on former President, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. Kimbula-Ela Guna was arrested in 2008, while Olcott was killed by STF soldiers who stormed his mansion in 2010.
If there is one common thread that ties all this together, it is the steady litany of arrests. Gang members only appear to surface once they are caught or killed. As early as 2009, the police have been talking of crackdowns, particularly in the Maligawatte area.
However, once one member is lost, another will step up to take his place. The Nawala Nihals’ and the Soththi Upalis’ might be dead, but their acolytes remain, and so the gangs themselves will continue to operate. To say there is no underworld activity whatsoever in Sri Lanka is unrealistic, not least because there have been so many gang leaders who have confessed to murder, extortion and drug dealing. On some occasions, they have even worked together towards their nefarious goals, as Olcott and Kimbula- Ela Guna did. And while the street clean up is more than welcome it seems unlikely that the gangs have been completely wiped out.
As such, Rohana’s statement is akin to celebrating a victory before it is truly achieved.