The Sunday Leader

Government Slams CID

  • Lasantha murder investigation

By Nirmala Kannangara

Investigations into the brutally assassination of  founding Editor of The Sunday Leader Newspaper Lasantha Manilal Wickrematunge has been re-opened under a new team of Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officers,  Public Order, Disaster Management and Christian Affairs Minister John Amaratunge said.

Minister Amaratunge said that he was unhappy the way the investigation into Wickrematunge’s suspicious murder was handled by the CID during the previous regime and added that under the new CID team that was appointed recently, he expect a quick breakthrough to the murder.

“We know that higher officials in the previous regime were involved in this killing and that was why the police did not take proper action to apprehend the murders. The way the CID handled the investigation was appalling. There was an undue delay and the new CID team is looking for fresh evidence,” Minister Amaratunge said.

When asked whether the CID would consider the complaint lodged by former Minister Mervyn Silva on Wickrematunge’s killing, Minister Amaratunge said that he cannot make any comment on that but added that he would welcome any details into the murder from the slain Editor’s wife Sonali Samarasinghe Wickrematunge.

“It is Sonali that would know about the assailants who followed them on that fateful day and we would like to entertain her account on this incident as well. Since she is not in the country we would like to invite her to furnish details into this incident over the phone and help the CID to arrest the murders at the earliest,” Amaratunge added.

When asked as to why the CID cannot question the then Defence Spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella as he (Rambukwella) addressing a press briefing on January 28, 2009 stated that he and President Rajapakse ‘were aware of the identity of the murderers and that the President would make the facts known on February 15, 2009, Minister Amaratunge said that he was not aware of such a statement made by Rambukwella but ascertained that he would inform the CID to take the necessary action.

“If Rambukwella has made such a statement he has to be questioned. We will be going into the bottom to unearth all evidence as we know there are big wigs that are said to have involved in this murder,” Minister Amaratunga claimed.

Although six years have lapsed since Wickrematunge murder, the police failed to make a breakthrough.

Wickrematunge was stabbed on his neck and head in broad daylight on January 8, 2009 while on his way to office at Attidiya, which is a high security zone in close proximity to the Air Force Base, Ratmalana.

He later succumbed to the brain injuries he sustained at the Colombo South Teaching Hospital Kalubowila the same afternoon creating an irreparable loss to press freedom in general and to investigative journalism in particular.

Wickrematunge, was a vocal critic of abuse of power and corruption of the then government, was subjected to intimidation on several occasions. The newspaper was once sealed followed by continuous bomb attacks on the press to stop him from carrying out investigative reporting on nepotism, corruption and abuse of power in the country.

Subsequent to the assassination, four police teams were appointed to conduct the investigations and two suspects believed to have had a link to the assassination were taken into custody together with Wickrematunge’s mobile phone that went missing after the attack.

Out of the two suspects taken into custody,  Pitchai Jesudasan died while in custody, and the second suspect Kandegedara Piyawansa was released by the police due to insufficient evidence.

Piyawansa, a former military intelligence officer, was released on bail in 2010 after he claimed in open court the need for him to make a statement on Wickrematunge assassination. He was then taken to the Magistrate’s chamber where he had made a statement. He was released on bail afterwards.

Although lawyers appearing for Wickrematunge interests made several attempts to get a copy of Piyawansa’s statement it was denied. The CID had said the statement had to be sent to the IGP to conduct further investigations.

The case was then handed over to the Terrorism Investigations Department (TID). Repeated requests by the lawyers for a copy of Piyawansa’s statement were denied by the TID claiming it would hamper the progress of the investigation.

Since then, the police have been unable to make any arrests in relation to the suspects involved in the assassination.

Following the incident, the police later said that the public assistance is sought for a breakthrough into the killing. According to the then Police Spokesman SSP Ranjith Gunasekera since the general public was not co-operating with the police for a breakthrough the police have had to depend on the circumstantial and scientific evidence.

Following Minister Keheliya Rambukwella statement that he and President Mahinda Rajapaksa were aware of the identity of Wickrematunge murderers and that the President would make the facts known on February 15, wife of the slain Editor-in-Chief  Sonali Samarasinghe Wickrematunge  in a letter dated March 15, 2009 addressed to the IGP requested  to get a statement recorded from Minister Rambukwella to ascertain the identity of her late husband’s assassins which request was not met.

The letter further states, ‘However, despite over six weeks having passed since Mr. Rambukwella’s statement, no announcement has been made neither have any suspects been named or apprehended.’

She has further stated that although it has been over two months since her husband was killed there has been no credible breakthrough up to date no announcement has been made no murder weapon, neither have suspects been named or apprehended and no post mortem report has still been made public. (See the box for the letter)

When contacted the police to find out whether they questioned Rambukwella over a statement made by him in connection with the assassination of Wickrematunge, the then Police Spokesman SSP Ranjith Gunasekera said that the police do not have a right to question a minister over a public statement made by him.

“This is just a statement made by a minister at a press briefing. Although Wickrematunge wife has made a request to the IGP to record a statement from Minister Rambukwella there is no necessity to do so as it was a simple statement made by him. It was the responsibility of the journalists to question the Minister over that issue but not the duty of the police to do so,” SSP Gunasekera said

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