13th October, Volume 9, Issue13

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SPOTLIGHT

Wild west show in Colombo

By Frederica Jansz

A crackdown on firearms owned by private individuals has resulted in the police admitting that a large number of weapons, mostly .9mm pistols have been issued by the Interior Ministry to various wealthy business magnates for reasons of personal safety.

"People have been issued with so many weapons of this nature we do not even have a clue how many such guns are in the possession of private individuals," SSP D. P. L. Dissanayake in charge of Colombo Central said.

Having secured a licence for the firearms citing threats to their life, these businessmen in most instances do not carry the weapons themselves but have assigned the guns to henchmen and private goon squads.

Managing Director, Greenlanka Shipping Ltd., Prashan Nanayakkara is one such individual. Having secured a licence for two .9mm pistols from the Interior Ministry on September 25, this year, Nanayakkara was caught out by police at Lotus Road, Colombo 1 on October 5, with one of the guns in the possession of his personal bodyguards.

Needless to say, these are not the only two guns in Prashan Nanayakkara's possession. An incident at the Blue Elephant night club on September 7 this year, proves his personal bodyguards were already armed at the time the Interior Ministry granted him an additional two .9mm pistols two weeks later, on September 25. This is ironically just days after the prime minister called for the disarming of "rich brats" and their bodyguards.

In his statement to police Prashan Nanayakkara has claimed he bought the two guns from the Welisara navy camp where the guns are stored for safe keeping once imported. The matter came to a head after an incident at the Blue Elephant night club on September 7. On this day, around 4 a.m. there had been a crowd of around 150 to 200 guests at the club when an argument had broken out between the guests of Nalin Fonseka and bodyguards of Prashan Nanayakkara. Fonseka has told police that when he saw the argument break out he had warned Nanayakkara to stop his bodyguards from meddling with his (Fonseka's) guests. While a heated argument ensued, Fonseka says he saw someone whom he has now identified to police as being a personal bodyguard to Prashan Nanayakkara, drop a revolver onto the floor. As the argument continued and voices rose higher, the management of the night club had switched on all the lights and the crowd began to hastily disperse. The West Indian cricket team had also been present at the time.

Following this incident being highlighted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who was at the time on an official visit to America sent an urgent missive to IGP T. E. Anandarajah to conduct an immediate investigation into the incident and bring the culprits to book.

Police investigation

A subsequent police investigation however did not produce any results and all those who had been present that night at the Blue Elephant night club and whom the police had an opportunity to question, denied having in their possession any revolvers.

SSP D. P. L. Dissanayake was called in to head the investigation. Mounting special police patrols and enlisting the cooperation of the STF as well, the cops monitored the movements of individuals or 'regulars'  known to frequent the Blue Elephant night club.

Their efforts were not in vain. On October 5, the cops arrested two retired army personnel and a driver who had in their possession a .9mm pistol, which did not belong to any of them. Rtd. Army Corporal Ranaweera Arachchilage Somapala of Weeraketiya together with Harshana Chandana Gemunu Kuruppu of Maharagama, also retired from the army and Karawita Badalage Upul Niranjan of Kalutara were arrested by the police for being in possession of a gun that did not belong to any of them, a walkie talkie and three cellular phones issued by Greenlanka Shipping Ltd. 

The suspects were produced in the Fort Magistrate's Court and remanded until October 18. A permit for the pistol, the sleuths found had been issued by the Interior Ministry to Prashan Nanayakkara on September 25, this year. The government in fact has issued two Czechoslovakian made .9mm pistols to Nanayakkara in September this year. One is  .9mm CZ 75B AP 371 and the other  .9mm CZ 75B AP 024.

At the time of arrest, Prashan Nanayakkara was not present in the Land Cruiser vehicle driven by Upul Niranjan. According to a statement recorded from Prashan Nanayakkara, he claims that on October 5, he had travelled in his Land Cruiser to the Continental Hotel in Fort with these two bodyguards and driver.

After consuming some cocktails and liquor at the Continental, the group had decided thereafter to go to the Blue Elephant night club at Colombo Hilton. Nanayakkara however did not get back into the Land Cruiser but had called for his Mercedes Benz car and getting into the Merc he left the hotel leaving his weapon inside the Land Cruiser with two of his bodyguards.

His bodyguards followed in the Land Cruiser. The police meantime were on the lookout and the vehicles were checked at Lotus Road by members of the Fort police as well as the STF.

Non-bailable offence

The gun was thus detected and all three persons arrested and charged under the Amended Firearms Act for being in unlawful possession of a gun. The charge is a non-bailable offence. The Land Cruiser is registered in the name of The Riverdale Hotel, Kandy. Imported on a BOI permit, this vehicle was purchased by Greenlanka Shipping two years ago for a sum of Rs. 5,500,000.

Nanayakkara meanwhile has denied that any of his bodyguards were involved in the September 7 incident at the Blue Elephant. His claim however is contradicted by Nalin Fonseka who insists the man who dropped a revolver to the floor and picked it up again on that day during the course of an argument is a personal bodyguard of Prashan Nanayakkara.

Why Prashan Nanayakkara would need so many bodyguards and guns to accompany him on his night entertainment is not clear. He refused to comment when The Sunday Leader tried to contact him. Nanayakkara is also an executive member of the Chamber of Young Lankan Entrepreneurs (COYLE). SPP Dissanayake is amused. He said, "when people are too rich, I guess they have to spend their money in some way."

Interior Minister John Amaratunga insists that such weapons are issued only when the government is sure that such an individual's life could be at stake for monetary reasons. The fact of the matter however is that these weapons are not issued to personal bodyguards but to the individual only. A letter to Prashan Nanayakkara, dated September 25, 2002 and signed by Additional Secretary, (Civil Security) Malini Peiris in fact states very clearly that the two .9mm pistols are being issued specifically to him only and not to any bodyguards.

When asked how he intends to combat this menace, Inspector General of Police, T. E. Anandarajah said, "from the first incident on September 7, we have now mounted police surveys in Colombo and near night clubs. Police parties including the STF have been assigned to check vehicles for firearms. If anyone carrying firearms is detected they will be arrested and remanded." Anandarajah pointed out that despite these firearms being licenced "the person holding the license in most instances does not carry the gun - which is an offence."

 Amaratunga meanwhile claimed that he had stopped the issuing of personal firearms five months ago. The minister's claim does not hold water given that in this instance the two guns in question were issued by the Interior Ministry less than a month back. When informed of this fact Amaratunga was surprised and claimed he did not know the two pistols in question had been issued to Prashan Nanayakkara as recently as September 25, this year.

Secretary, Interior Ministry, M. N. Junaid says there are absolutely no statistical records of how many such guns have been issued to private individuals. "The government nor the police have any idea how many such weapons have been issued and can only make such an assertion after studying individual files," he said. 

Bodyguards on the rampage 

The Sunday Leader learns that on a separate occasion personal bodyguards of Prashan Nanayakkara beat up at the Blue Elephant night club Andre Fernando, managing director of an American freight forwarding company called Expeditors Lanka (Pvt) Ltd.

Andre Fernando said the incident took place two years ago and Prashan Nanayakkara "punched me in the face."

Fernando said later four of Nanayakkara's bodyguards had also beaten him up and another Canadian citizen who had been with him at the time.

 

 

 

 

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