Secret Navy Team Behind White Van Ransom Abductions
by Nirmala Kannangara
- Complaint initially received from former Navy Commander
- Gota and Hendawitharana ordered full investigations
- Navy still shielding suspects from CID
- Victims’ NICs, passports and wallets were in Navy custody
The Criminal Investigation Department in an astonishing revelation informed the Fort Magistrate last week that the investigation into the abduction of 11 youths in 2008 allegedly by the Sri Lanka Navy were initiated on the directives of the then Defence Secretary and the Chief of National Intelligence, dashing the credibility of the allegations levelled against them by certain opposition members.
Despite of the criticism levelled by the Joint Opposition against the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for arresting Navy officers who are said to have contributed immensely during the war, on the alleged abduction of 11 youth including five students, the investigators submitted to courts, a letter sent by the then Director CID in 2010 instructing them to start a full probe against the incident as per the directives of the then Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and the then Chief of National Intelligence Maj. Gen. Kapila Hendawitharana.
The letter dated June 15, 2010 by Director CID, SSP, M.K.D.W. Amarasinghe further stated as thus, ‘In regard to investigation file no: C 267/ 09/ CM, after the discussion with Defence Secretary, National Intelligence Chief Kapila Hendawitharana and Senior DIG Keerthi Gajanayake on the abductions, the Defence Secretary instructed us to carry out a full probe into these abductions and to report him its developments. Hence initiate an investigation and report its progress by July 15, 2010’.
Former Chief of National Intelligence Maj. Gen. Kapila Hendawitharana when contacted to find out whether it was true that former Defence Secretary and he himself gave instructions to the CID to initiate an investigation as these abductions had been carried out not based on the country’s national security but on a personal agenda, Maj. Gen. Hendawitharana confirmed this newspaper that the Defence Secretary gave instructions to start the investigation. “I cannot remember when we gave this instruction to the CID but we wanted them to carry out a full probe into this as we came to know it was done on a personal agenda,” Maj. Gen. Hendawitharana revealed.
The CID further informed the Court that it was from a written complaint by the then Navy Commander Admiral Vasantha Karannagoda to the DIG CID on May 28, 2009 against his personal security officer, then Lt. Commander Nilantha Sampath Munasinghe that the CID was able to uncover the Navy’s involvement with the abductions.
A retired high ranking defence source, who wished to remain anonymous, hailed the former Defence Secretary and the then Chief of National Intelligence for their unwavering support to find out who the abductors were, said that if not for Karannagoda’s complaint against Sampath Munasinghe, the gruesome abduction of these 11 youth including five students from Kotahena who were between seventeen and eighteen years would have never been investigated.
Now the Investigators have unearthed with credible evidence how the Navy detained these youth at a place called ‘pittu bambuwa’ in the Navy mess in Colombo 1 and later held in an underground prison called ‘gunside’ in the Trincomalee Navy base.
On the instructions of the Navy Commander, on May 26, 2009, Director Navy Cap. Senara Hanwella, Lt. K. A. M. Pushpa Kumara and K. P. A. C. Kumara inspected Sampath Munasinghe’s officers quarters at the Navy Headquarters Colombo, and found a valid passport bearing number N 1431844 of Stanly Lyon, and four national identity cards (NIC) belonged to K. A. Anton (601772809 V), Thygarajah Jegan (790683021 V), Stanley Lyon (584201179 V) and S. A. Roshan (870232713 V) together with many other items including live cartridges, mobile phones, a credit card and SIM cards had been found. These items had been handed over to the CID by the Navy officers for further investigation on May 30, 2009 subsequent to the complaint.
“When the CID was conducting the inquiry with the produced items, they found out that the four owners of the NICs and the passport had gone on missing from 2008. Further investigation revealed that the passport bearing no: N 1431844 and the NIC 582401179 V was of Stanley Lyon of 47/1, Arippu East, Arippu.
He had come to Colombo with his son Amalan Lyon (NIC 870232713 V) and a foreigner Mike Bhogan to obtain a visa to the United Kingdom and had stayed at 82/73C, Ramanathan Flats, Kotahena, Colombo 13. Both father and son had been abducted on August 25, 2008 by an unidentified armed gang. NIC 601772809 V was owned by Thyagarajah Jegan of No: 42, Linger Nagar, Trincomalee. He had been abducted whilst working at a Jewellery Shop at Jinthupitiya, Colombo 13 in 2008,” according to a person briefed on the investigation.
The confidential source further said that the tireless efforts of SSP CID, Shani Abeysekera, OIC (Gang Robbery Bureau) CID, IP Nishantha Silva and the team to uncover the truth should be hailed.
“This team is taking an immense risk by exposing and arresting the naval officers who were behind this cruel abduction and killing. If not for their genuine effort to bring justice to the family members who have lost their children and husbands nine years ago, the investigation would have not gone up to this point,” they stated. According to the further ‘B’ report submitted to the Fort Magistrate on Tuesday March 14, 2017, a statement had been recorded from Commodore (NRE 0226) Udaya Keerthi Wijaya Bandara who was Consultant on Naval Affairs to the then Navy Commander. In his statement, Bandara had stated that he had come to know through Captain (NX 0233) Jagath Jayantha Ranasinghe that Sampath Munasinghe had abducted five students in Dehiwela and had asked a ransom of one million rupees from the families to release these students.
This information had then been conveyed to the then Commander on May 10, 2009 and since Karannagoda had suspected Munasinghe, he had instructed Director Intelligence Sri Lanka Navy Mr. Guruge to start an internal inquiry against Munasinghe.
Captain Jagath Ranasinghe had forwarded the names of the five abducted students- Pradeep Vishvanathan, Thilakeshwaran Ramalingam, Rajiv Naganathan, Mohommed Jilan Jamaldeen and Mohommed Saajith to Commodor Udaya Keerthi Wijaya Bandara through an SMS. Captain Ranasinghe meanwhile, had inquired from one of his friends Raman Prabhakaran alias Prabha in Kotahena about the abduction. It was Prabha who had shed the lights on how the abductors had wanted one of the students- Rajiv Naganathan’s parents to cough up a Rs. 10 million ransom which had been negotiated down to one million rupees. The abductors had told the Naganathan family that the money is required to one Sampath, a person working closely with the Navy Commander.
On these revelations, the CID had questioned two navy soldiers Aluth Gedara Upul Bandara and Lakshman Udaya Kumara who had worked for Munsinghe and in their statement they have confirmed that they worked under Sampath Munasinghe. According to their statement, it was Munasinghe in 2008 that had called them and had wanted to abduct a group of five suspects that were coming to Badowita in Dehiwela in a black car at 10pm on that particular day. As directed by Munasinghe, Upul Bandara and Lakshman Udaya Kumara had abducted the five ‘suspects’ together with the black colour car and had handed them over to Munasinghe who took them in a white van.
However in a twist of event, on a later date, Upul Bandara and Lakshman Udaya Kumara had once again given another statement contradicting their first statement. In the second statement the two had stated that it was the then Director Intelligence Navy Ananda Guruge that had wanted them to give a statement that it was Sampath Munasinghe that wanted to them to abduct the five students. They then alleged that it was Lt. Commander Hettiarachchi that had abducted these students with the help of Upul Bandara and Lakshman Udaya Kumara. It was Sampath Munasinghe that had allegedly instructed Hettiarachchi to carry out the abduction. According to their statement, all the belongings of these five students had been taken over by Lt. Com. Hettiarachchi while the car in which they were travelling had been taken over by Lt. Commander Ranasinghe.
It was revealed that a Navy informant Anver Ali was the person who had given a tip off to Sampath Munasinghe about the Naganathan family who were well off and that was why their son was abducted for ransom.
“Rajiv Naganathan studied at Colombo International School and was to leave the country the following day to study medicine from a University in London. Anver Ali had got friendly with Rajiv through Saajith two days before he was abducted. Anver Ali had inquired about Rajiv’s father’s businesses and it was on their way to meet Ali, Rajiv and his friends had been kidnapped by Hettiarachchi on the instructions of Sampath Munasinghe,” sources elaborated.
Meanwhile, Samsudin Nihara in a statement given to the CID according to the ‘B’ report, had said that one of the NICs 601772809 V and the Bank of Ceylon Visa Credit Card bearing number 105176612000005586 that was taken into custody from Sampath Munasinghe’s room belonged to his husband Kasthuri Arachchige Anton who was kidnapped on October 10, 2008 and had stated that her son Kasthuri Arachchige John Reed too had been abducted together with the van he was travelling bearing registration number 56-5539 in Wattala on August 9, 2008.
The ‘B’ report further stated how Nihara had received calls from an unidentified person speaking Tamil who had demanded a ransom of Rs. 1.5 million to release both husband and son to which she had promised to pay only five hundred thousand rupees. Although the abductors had taken money from Nihara on November 4, 2008 at a place in Narammala in Kurunegala, they have not released her husband and son to date.
It was the same fate that had befallen on Thyagarajah Parameshwari as well. The NIC 790683021 V that was found at Sampath Munasinghe’s room was belonged to Thyagarajah Jegan. Two months after his abduction, his mother Thyagarajah Parameshwari had received a call from one Annachchi, who had demanded Rs. 1 million within ten days. On request the caller had allowed Jegan to talk to his mother and had told her that he was detained at a Navy Camp. Later she had got the ransom money further reduced to eight hundred thousand rupees but was able to collect only five hundred thousand rupees by selling their relatives’ jewellery. They too had been asked to come to a place closer to Kurunegala and their money was taken at gun point. Her son has not been released to date.
Meanwhile Francis Lyon in his statement had stated that he came to know that Stanley Lyon and Amalon Lyon had been detained in a Navy camp and he was asked to give nine hundred thousand rupees to be given to Navy Officer Dassanayake if wants to get the father and son released. Although the family had agreed to pay the ransom, they could not give the money as Dassanayake had left the country on a training programme. These two NICs and the passport too had been found in Sampath Munasinghe’s room.
Meanwhile Lt. Commander Sumith Ranasinghe of Sri Lanka Navy Welisara in his evidence to the CID had stated that he was informed by navy soldier Bandara that the five that had been abducted by Sampath Munasinghe had been killed and thrown to the Kelani River.
Meanwhile, in his statement, Sampath Munasinghe had said that he did not have any hand to these abductions but had come to know that it was carried out by Lt. Com. Hettiarachchi and Lt. Com. Ranasinghe and the then Navy Commander was well aware of it.
Lt. Com. Hettiarachchi in his statement to the CID had said that he and Munasinghe occupied the same quarters- Room No: 8 at the Navy Headquarters and that a Muslim informant frequently visited Munasinghe. He has further stated that he had never associated any Muslim person nor had he detained people for any questioning and that the Navy has no authority to arrest people and had refused allegations levelled against the Navy for abducting people.
Meanwhile B. M. Wijayakantha alias Podi Malli (able seaman VAS 68653)in his statement had said that he knew how Ranasinghe shot at the detainees, tied their lifeless bodies in concrete poles and threw them to the mid sea.
Ranhavadi Durayalage Priyankara (Navy Seaman VA 59652) in his statement had stated that he worked under Lt. Com. Ranasinghe and that in the Naval base there were underground prisons where LTTE suspects were detained. He said it was Ranasinghe who headed the Navy Special Intelligence Unit and that Rajiv Naganathan, Pradeep Vishwanathan, Dilan, Sajith, Ramalingam, Jegan, Amalin Lyon, Stanley Lyon, John Reet, Antony and even Ali Anvar who gave the tip off to abduct the five students were all detained in the underground ‘gunside’ prison. He has also stated that he can identify those detainees if seen again and when the CID showed the photographs had identified all of them and had confirmed that all of them were under Lt. Com. Ranasinghe’s custody.
Meanwhile Wimalaweera Wickremasuriya (Navy Seaman XP 20844), Attanayake Mudiyanselage Ashoka Mahesh Kumara (Master Chief Petty Officer ED 26213), Jenul Abdeen Sherifdeen (Petty Officer VA 2552), Nalinda Niroshan Marasinghe (SC 44126) and Saman Kumara Abhayakoon (XS 45655) too in their statements have stated that they knew how people were abducted and kept in detention and how they were killed later on by these Navy officers. The former Navy Commander Vasantha Karannagoda in his statement had stated that although he was informed about the abductions and the detention in Trincomalee, he had instructed Real Admiral Weerasekera to give him the details but he was told that the detainees were not in the Navy camp, and he had lodged a complaint against Sampath Munasinghe after he fled from the Navy.
From the evidence given, it had revealed the underground ‘gunside’ prison was under Lt. Com.
Ranasinghe but neither Lt. Com. Hettiarachchi nor Sampath Munasinghe had carried out any duties at this underground prison. According to Lt. Com. Welagedara’s statement, he had seen a few navy sailors loading dead bodies wrapped with polythene to the back of a double cab. All this evidences indicates that people had been killed at this underground ‘gunside’ prison.
Although the CID had wanted Hettiarachchi to come to the CID on February 20, 2017 to obtain a statement, to date he had not reported to the CID. It is learnt that he is within a Navy Camp and is being well protected by his superiors without cooperating with the investigators.
Although on June 10, 2009 Maj. Attanayake Mudiyanselage Nevil Priyantha Attanayake of the army intelligence unit produced Sampath Munasinghe to the CID, where the latter was arrested, he was later given bail.
It is learnt, that although Munasinghe is on bail, the CID is to make a request to the Magistrate to put him behind bars once again as there is now credible evidence as to how he too was involved in the abduction and later keeping them under detention before their mysterious disappearance.
Meanwhile, speaking to The Sunday Leader parents of Rajiv Naganathan- Govindasamy Naganathan and Sarojini Naganathan said that Rajiv was to leave to the United Kingdom on September 18, 2008 to enter a University in London to follow a medical degree to become a doctor. The day before he was to leave the country he had told the parents that he wants to meet some of his friends and had left home in the evening with four of his friends in his Tata Indigo black colour car bearing registration number KC 5559.
“We did not want him to leave home on that fateful day but when our son pleaded with us to let him go to see some of his friends and to take them out for dinner and wanted some money, we gave him Rs. 15,000. When it was very late, we tried to contact our son but failed. We went to Bambalapitiya and Dehiwela in search of him failing we lodged a complaint at the Kotahena police on September 18, 2008” the parents said.
Although the mother was battling hard to control her emotions in order to comfort her husband, the father was eternally shedding tears when he was narrating the incident.
“This is how we spend our days in this lonely house. We still believe that our children will come back to us. If they give back our children, I am willing to give up anything at all including my wealth. There is no future for us without our son. Only a person who does not know what the parents love towards their children could do such inhumane work but not those who have children. When our son got through his A/Ls, we bought him a BMW car. His birthday parties were always taken at Hilton Hotel and people knew that we had money and that was why the apple of our eye was taken away from us,” the grieving parents said. Rajiv Naganathan had studied at Colombo International School from grade one and had been a bright student who had also excelled in school cricket. He had captained the Yellow House cricket team and had obtained 2As and a B grading in his A/Ls and had wanted to become a doctor and serve his motherland.
“We have another house in Colombo and our son wanted to open a dispensary there once he returned to the country after obtaining his medical degree from the University of London,” the weeping mother said.
According to the Govindasamy, Rajiv had left home with Pradeep, Thilakeshwaran, Saajith and Dilan and had gone to meet Ali Anver where they were abducted.
“In December 2008, I received a called on my mobile from one Annachchi. He spoke in perfect Tamil and we believed that he was a Tamil. Later we came to know that he was one Chaminda a Naval guard. He told me that our children are with him in Mannar and he will be bringing the children to Narammala in Kurunegala and demanded a ransom of Rs.10 million. I told him that I can give Rs.2.5 million but later agreed for Rs.5 million. When I told him that I cannot come to Narammala and wanted him to come to Welisara he said that he has to speak to Loku Annachchi (Lt. Col. Hettiarachchi). Then I wanted him to allow my son to talk to me,” Govindasamy said. On January 15, 2009, Rajiv had spoken to his father where the father had asked him several questions to ensure that it was his son who was speaking from the other end. “Then I knew that it was my son who was talking and Rajiv said that it was Sampath Munasinghe that got them kidnapped on a tip off from Ali Anver- who had been an informant to the Navy over the years and was taken to Welisara navy camp. He further said that he was later kept under Lt. Col. Hettiarachchi and it is one Senanayake a seaman that is guarding them and that they were being kept at the Chaithya Road Navy mess in Colombo 1. Although my son wanted us to pay the ransom and get him and his friends released, he still wanted us not to fall into the hands of the abductors. When the abductors said that the children were at Mannar, Rajiv said that he was in Colombo. When I wanted the abductors to bring the children to wherever they say so then they can exchange the children and the ransom at the same time, they did not agree to that request,” Govindasamy said.
Once again in April 2009, the parents had received yet another call from one Heshan who was later identified as Bandu Kumara claiming that he is calling from Batticaloa and wanted us to pay a ransom if wants to get the children freed. “He allowed my son to take calls from his mobile several times. Our son told us that they were taken to Trincomalee by Hettiarachchi in his vehicle and that the latter was consuming liquor all the way from Colombo to Trincomalee. There the students had been handed over to Lt. Commander Ranasinghe. After this call, I went to meet the then Fisheries Minister Felix Perera who is a close associate of mine and told him my plight. He immediately got down Commodore Shemal Perera and wanted him to get the children released immediately. When Commodore Perera was told how the children were abducted and under whom they were, Commodore Perera was taken aback. From his expressions we knew that he too was well aware about our children. Despite Minister Felix Perera’s several requests, Commodore Perera never took any step to get the children released although he confirmed that our children are in the Navy custody,” Govindasamy alleged.
Although Minister Felix Perera had informed Karannagoda over the phone about this and later in writing, the Navy Commander too had not taken any step to get the students released.
“This shows that from Karannagoda to the lower ranker, all knew about these abductions. If they were abducted claiming that they were involved with terrorist activities, the Navy has no right to detain them for months but should have handed over them to the police and produced them in court and remanded them. This was done purely for ransom. Although Karannagoda later in 2010 lodged a complaint against Sampath Munasinghe on a personal matter, when Minister Felix Perera wrote to him in April or May 2009, giving all the names – Sampath Munasinghe, Hettiarachchi and Ranasinghe who were behind the abduction and the detention, Karannagoda was never bothered to get the children released. It is up to the CID to question Karannagoda as well to find out why he failed to take action against the complaint made by the then Fisheries Minister,” Govindasamy added.
After Commodore Shermal Perera was told that it was Rajiv that named all these officers involved over the phone, Heshan alias Bandu Kumar had called Govindasamay and had accused them of telling Navy higher officials that Rajiv had spoken to them. “Heshan said that they have been threatened by the higher officials and that they will not give their phones for Rajiv to talk to us in future. From then to date we didn’t hear from our son,” Govindasamy said.
All attempts to get a comment from investigators including SSP CID, Shani Abesekera and IP Nishantha Silva failed. Abeysekara could not be contacted, and when Silva was approached in court, he responded, “The matter is in court and we have submitted the ‘B’ reports to the Fort Magistrate. Beyond that we cannot make any comment to the media.”