Drug Barons Have A Field Day

By Camelia Nathaniel

While the government has come in for severe criticism lately for their alleged involvement with several drug dealers and operators, many high ranking politicians too had been implicated in some of the huge drug rackets that had been brought to light in the recent past. Formerly, drugs were smuggled into the country in small quantities where the carriers would either swallow the contraband wrapped in foil, or conceal them on their person.

However, since of late, the drug lords appear to have had a boost of confidence, where now the drugs are brought into the country in huge quantities. This has raised concerns on whether the drug dealers are receiving protection by certain powerful politicians. In fact, there were several instances where politicians holding very high positions had been accused of safeguarding drug dealers and providing them protection. There have also been allegations levelled at the police that they have an arrangement with the drug dealers, when drugs are confiscated and much hype is created just to show the general public, but once the initial hype abates, the drugs are once again handed back to the drug importers.

The opposition too has been criticizing the government for their lack of transparency in the process of destroying the large hauls of drugs, and their alleged involvement with the drug dealers. Furthermore, while several powerful politicians too had been accused of being involved in the drug racket, the opposition had on several instances accused the government of turning a blind eye to the issue, and safeguarding these politicians.

In fact, it is no secret that the drug dealers cannot operate and survive if not for the assistance they receive from law enforcement and other institutions. Several developed countries have taken many measures to implement methods of detecting drugs that are smuggled into their countries. However, in Sri Lanka, one of the main complaints made by customs officials as well is that not even sniffer dogs are used to conduct detections.    Instead, the detections are made solely on the experience and effective surveillance of the customs officials.

A classic example of the level of involvement of the government officials engaged in drug smuggling activities, is the recent arrest of the notorious drug dealer, Dewage Thusitha Chamara alias Thilan, also known as Kudu Chamara, who had escaped from the custody of prison officers while receiving treatment at the Ragama Hospital.

If not for the vigilant eye of the officials of the Department of Customs, and Terrorism Investigation Department (TID), he would have got out of the country and would have evaded arrest. However, he was arrested by the officers from the TID at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) while attempting to leave the country under a false name.


How did he escape?

But how did Chamara, who was arrested on 20 June for the possession of 500 grams of heroin in the Thalangama area and remanded after being produced at the Kaduwela Magistrate’s Court, escape on 29 June while receiving treatment at the Ragama Hospital, while being under the custody of prison officers?

According to the Police Spokesman, SSP Ajith Rohana, Kudu Chamara who was arrested on 20 June was held for questioning for six days and then produced at the Magistrate’s Court, Kaduwela on the 26th. He was remanded by the court and was identified as a third level drug agent in the country. Investigations also revealed that he had engaged in the racket of smuggling drugs, but according to the police he was not directly involved in the distribution of the drugs, which aspect of the operation was carried out by other parties.

After being remanded at the Mahara prison on 29 June, he had complained of feeling ill, and was therefore taken to hospital under prison guard. Subsequent to being warded at the Ragama hospital, the suspect had on the same day, managed to escape in the evening. “This incident took place on the 29th and since then the suspect was not apprehended for almost two months until he was detected trying to leave the country under a false name, Dissanayake Danapala Arachchige Sagara Tharindu, which is his brother’s name,” SSP Rohana added.

It was also revealed that while Kudu Chamara had been admitted to the Ragama hospital at around 6 am, by noon he had been given a mobile phone and he had made several calls. The question therefore arose, that while a suspect was in custody under prison guard, how did he manage to obtain a cellular phone, and who had given him the same? According to SSP Rohana, the mobile phone may have been given to the suspect by the prison official, and the modus operandi to escape had also been well planned. Even the fact that he had requested to be hospitalized perhaps was part of the whole escape plan.

The police who were investigating the case had turned their attention thereafter to other possible parties who may have assisted the suspect escape from prison, and also had provided with a safe haven, as well as assist him obtain a false passport. “Our investigations reveal that while there were two prison guards deployed to guard this suspect while he was in hospital, one of the prison guards had assisted him to escape, having been bribed to do so. Upon investigations, the prison guard had confessed that he was paid Rs 4500 by the suspect initially, and he had promised to pay the guard a further Rs 20,000 once he escapes. The prison official, identified as Wanniarachchi Kankanamge Rasika Deshapriya, was arrested last week. We are now in the process of interrogating him, consequent to his arrest on charges of aiding an abetting a suspect under custody to escape,” the police spokesman said.

The police were also focusing their investigation on those who would have assisted the suspect to escape arrest by leaving the country under a false passport. Their investigations had further revealed that a woman by the name of Amali who is said to be Kudu Chamara’s paramour, was the person who had coordinated the whole operation from Dubai. “She had sent certain the documentation required for the preparation of a forged passport for the suspect through another person. While Kudu Chamara required a passport to get out of the country, he was unable to use his real name to do so as we had alerted the BIA authorities of the possibility of him trying to escape. According to our investigations, the suspect had therefore used the name of a relative, Dissanayake Danapala Arachchige Sagara Tharindu, to obtain a new passport. He had provided a photocopy of the identity card of Sagara Tharindu to the Department of Registration of Persons, having doctored the document by pasting his photograph onto the ID of his relative. The rest of the ID was that of Sagara Tharindu,” SSP Rohana revealed.

However the police also entertained suspicions on the manner in which Kudu Chamara had obtained a false passport with only the photocopy of the ID, sans other documents required by the department for the issuance of a passport. Investigations have also revealed that a sum of Rs. 100,000 had been deposited into a bank account held by an official of the Department of Registration of Persons by the suspect, allegedly for services rendered.

Police investigations had further uncovered that the suspect who had obtained the services of a reputed salon on Jawatte Road, Colombo 5, had changed his appearance by donning a new hairstyle. The suspect had spent Rs. 30,000 at the salon to obtain a  complete change in appearance so that he will not be identified by customs officials.

“He was also dressed in full suit and had attempted to pose off as a wealthy businessman. But the officers monitoring surveillance at the BIA had been suspicious of this passenger who seemed to have been hovering around the entrance to the departure lounge. “They had been suspicious of this passenger as an official of the Immigration Department had arrived to meet this suspect at the departure lounge of the airport, and had escorted him through all the check points as well as the security areas. This official, identified as assistant controller, Padmalal Madawa Jinadasa, had been on duty at counter 15 of the Department of Immigration and Emigration at the BIA,” the SSP said. The official is said to have been paid a sum of Rs. 100,000 on the same day by Kudu Chamara for his services. The police are now in the process of recovering the money given to the official by the suspect. The assistant controller too has now been arrested by the police and is being interrogated.

SSP Rohana further revealed that while the suspect had arrived at the BIA, believed to be in a rented vehicle, the officials of the TID were suspicious as their surveillance cameras had shown the immigration official walking towards the entrance of the departure lounge to meet the suspect, which was highly irregular. Surveillance cameras had also revealed the suspect behaving in a rather suspicious manner while it also showed that he had received several phone calls. Upon investigating the telephone records, it was revealed that the suspect had received calls from Amali in Dubai. Apparently it was she who had been instructing the suspect throughout on the plan of escape. It was also revealed through the surveillance footage that the said immigration official had been in the vicinity of all the check points, assisting the suspect.

However, the TID officials at the BIA were not aware at the time that this person was in fact Kudu Chamara, but they had suspected him to be engaged in some unscrupulous activity based on his highly suspicious behaviour.

Hence, the suspect had been taken in for questioning by the TID officials at the airport, after he had completed all the security checks at the BIA. It was while being questioned that the TID officials had discovered that the person in their custody was in fact Kudu Chamara who was wanted by the police over the drug bust, and had escaped from police custody while being in hospital.

It was therefore evident that the whole escape plan had been coordinated by the suspect’s mistress, Amali, from Dubai, in connivance with another person.

While the police had so far arrested the prison official who had assisted the suspect escape from custody, as well as the official from the Department of Registration of Persons and the official of the Immigration and Emigration Department, the police are also conducting investigations regarding those who would have sheltered Kudu Chamara during his period in hiding. Investigations have so far revealed that he had spent some time with a relative in the Angoda area. Thereafter, he had rented out an apartment in Wellawatte for a sum of Rs. 75,000, and had been living there while all preparations for his escape from the country were being arranged.

The police spokesman assured the public that all measures are being taken for the eradication of drug operations, and arrest all those involved. The police are also checking out the persons who had brought the suspect to the BIA.

Investigations had revealed that the suspect had been issued a visitor’s visa to enter Dubai. Police are also investigating the possible loopholes in the system that had enabled the suspect to obtain a passport without all the relevant documents.

Police have also identified the other person who had assisted Amali in Dubai facilitate Kudu Chamara’s attempt to escape, as someone named Sampath. Further investigations are being carried out to apprehend the accomplices.

According to the police spokesman, the countries in the region had agreed during a recent conference, to share intelligence investigations in addition to the assistance Sri Lanka receives from Interpol.


Indo-Lanka cooperation

Meanwhile, with attempts being made to curb the drug menace that has plagued the whole Asian region in recent times, the first talks at the level of Director Generals between the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), India, and Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB), Sri Lanka, was held in New Delhi on 21 August.

Both sides shared concerns over the growing menace of drugs and the latest trends in narcotics smuggling in the Indo-Sri Lankan region.

The Indian delegation was led by the Deputy Director General, Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), Shri Vijay Kumar, while the Sri Lankan delegation was headed by Senior DIG/Northern Province, Pujitha Jayasundara.

Both sides also agreed to continue the sharing of intelligence and adopt a coordinated strategy to prevent drug trafficking between the two countries.

In other recent arrests, the Narcotic Bureau (PNB) had arrested a Pakistani national at the BIA on suspicion that he is the main trafficker behind the large hauls of heroin detected in the island.

The Pakistani national is believed to be the main suspect connected with the recent detection of 59 kg of heroin recovered from Katugastota, Kandy on 14 August, and 93 kg of heroin, which haul was found at the Orugodawatta container yard on 21 July.

The suspect, Shakeel Ahmad, was arrested at the airport when he was returning from Karachi. SSP Ajith Rohana said the arrested Pakistani is involved in both cases.

However, according to the general secretary of the JVP, Tilvin Silva, the drug menace cannot be eradicated until the politicians involved in assisting those suspected of trafficking, come clean. He told The Sunday Leader that while the ‘gram’ drug offenders are being arrested and punished, the ‘kilogramme’ offenders are getting away scot free due to the protection they receive from those in power. He also said that, the police, while trying their level best to take action regarding the apprehension of these drug dealers, are helpless in the face of powerful political interference.

Further addressing an election rally recently, JVP leader, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, also stated that the reason the police are unable to take action to arrest drug lords is view of the fact that there is direct interference by powerful politicians who blatantly obstruct justice due to their involvement with these parties.

It was also rather disturbing to see reports being published quoting a certain female government politician claiming at a media briefing held in Moneragala that, the reason for the rise in poverty in the Uva Province was because raids on ganja (cannabis) fields had been stepped up.

In addition to the large hauls of heroin being brought into the country, Sri Lanka has also become a vital destination for the Kerala ganja trade. According to Naval intelligence sources, Kerala ganja is being smuggled into the country by using fishing boats.

According to the Navy Spokesman, Commander Kosala Warnakulasooriya, with so many fishing vessels out there, it is not an easy task to conduct checks and detect smugglers. “We depend mainly on intelligence information in order to nab the smugglers. It takes over an hour to check each fishing vessel for drugs, as in most instances, these drugs are very intricately concealed inside the vessels to avoid detection. The drug smugglers constantly devise numerous, crafty methods to avoid detection, but despite this, we have been very successful in detecting and apprehending smugglers. Due to other implications, we cannot check each and every boat that leaves and enters our shores,” he said.

However, he said that it is a delicate issue where if the navy begins checking all fishing vessels in order to nab those involved in transporting drugs, the fishermen will create an  uproar, as every minute would be a lost opportunity for them to gather their catch. Navy intelligence sources had received information that larger trawlers bring in large stocks of drugs from India up to our maritime boundary line, and these drugs are then smuggled into the country using smaller fishing boats. “Our intelligence mechanism is always on alert along our coastal belt as well as out in the sea, constantly monitoring and conducting surveillance in order to nab the smugglers and curtail the inflow of illegal drugs into the country. Our surveillance is also done through radar in order to keep track of the movements at sea,” Commander Warnakulasooriya added.


Politicians should be dealt with first

The danger remains where the target of most of these drug operations is the youth of this country. In addition, it has also been revealed that those addicted to drugs are more vulnerable in being exploited by unscrupulous elements and even engage in underworld activities as well as prostitution. But in order to eradicate such a menace from the country, it is a widespread notion that the politicians engaged in these operations and those assisting the unscrupulous elements should be dealt with, first. Recently, it was revealed that a lucrative prostitution business was being conducted in an official bungalow of a Member of Parliament. The premises in Madiwela were apparently leased out and the prostitution operation was being run by a daughter of the lady Minister’s sister, with branches of the nefarious activities being set up in Kegalle, Alawwa and Negombo.

Opposition Leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has on many occasions said that, he suspected that arrested drugs were coming back to the market. He accused the political leadership of having eradicated terrorism but accused the leadership of having established a separate state – that of a drug kingdom in the island.

He pointed out a recent incident where a large haul of drugs was detected where a coordinating secretary of a powerful politician had been involved. Yet, he accused the government of not taking any action to apprehend the culprits, and instead providing them protection.

The UNP leader questioned why the police do not destroy the arrested drugs in public as done by many other countries. He said he suspects that the drugs are distributed in the market.

However, when The Sunday Leader questioned the police spokesman on these allegations, he said that it is not up to the police to destroy the drugs that are confiscated but once the case is handed over to the court, it is the duty of the court to destroy the drugs.

But the country has not witnessed any public destruction of these drugs so far. As long as the authorities are prevented from taking action against those who are engaged in the drug trade due to political backing, all the arrests and detections will simply be an exercise in futility. Hence, the authorities and those in power need to make a concerted and genuine effort to eradicate the drug menace, and grant the necessary powers to the law enforcement authorities to arrest anyone engaging in this illegal practice, irrespective of their political stand.

5 Comments for “Drug Barons Have A Field Day”

  1. sahan

    some information of the article is one sided and not correct. Here , TID officials have suspected that passenger because of immigration official went to entrance to meet him. But this is a very normal thing since all the officials in airport ranging from immigration, customs, TID, CID, NIB to other private sector people one or other time go to entrance when their relatives, friends, and sometimes friends of friends request to support them for fast clearance. So it is not a very abnormal thing that an immigration official going to outside to support a passenger if he or somebody else on behalf of him requested so…So it seems in this incident the said immigration official has fallen into a trap which he never expected. If he knew his client is a drug dealer,i think he would have thought twice before helping him considering high security measures at an airport….

  2. Srilankan Jobseeker

    nikan kale kana eka witharayi wenne moru nidahase halmasso ahuwenne

  3. gamarala

    Politicians – those in power – cannot be ‘dealt with’ as they are under protection of the executive presidency.
    The entire corrupt law enforcement too,is same.
    Recently hundreds of army troopers in civvies displaced all tamil hindu devotees from Nallur Temple.

  4. Malin

    Most important person in detection of incoming drugs thro airport, Customs & Post is a sniffer dog. If any one watches documents on Border Security of Australia, Canada etc would see how efficiently they use sniffer dogs to detect incoming drugs. It will be a worthwhile investment on breeding Sniffer Dogs or even import them in the long run for the Government.(etc).
    However, when you read these stories, even with limited resources, Customs, Narcotic bureau etc is doing an excellent job.

  5. Sangaralingham

    Drugs and society. It is up to individuals but dealers profiteers and their supporters need to be identified exposed educated advices wealth confiscated and punished not in prisons but creating public service in appropriate locations

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