24th  August, 2003  Volume 10, Issue 6

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Hidden hands behind mystery killings 

By Frederica Jansz

Sri Lankans are fast becoming immune to daring and spectacular killings carried out not only in broad daylight but in most cases in full view of policemen who have become mere clay figures in a country where law and order is a travesty.

Last week saw two more assassinations of two key suspects in two separate murder cases. One, Sugath Ranasinghe was the sole remaining suspect in the murder trial of Kumar Ponnambalam, while the other, Sunil Ratnaweera was the key suspect in the murder of the late provincial council minister, M. K. Ranjith alias 'Chandi Malli.'

Ranjith, incidentally was gunned down directly outside the headquarters of the Criminal Investigations Department in Fort early this year.

Sugath Ranasinghe was shot dead at Moratuwa in full view of at least four policemen while Ratnaweera was dragged out of a prison vehicle that had an armed police guard and shot dead.

The Criminal Investigations Department has now been asked to take over the investigation into the murder of Sugath Ranasinghe, who was a key suspect in the Kumar Ponnambalam assassination case.

"Underworld rivalry"

DIG Lionel Gunetilleke, heading the CID said that so far the investigation does not indicate that Ranasinghe's murder is politically motivated. He said that the CID is of the view the murders are due to "underworld rivalry."

In a strange twist of fate Moratu Saman too who was another key suspect in the Ponnambalam murder was also gunned down recently, weeks after he had contacted the Ponnambalam family and lawyers to discuss a confession with regard to the killing of Kumar Ponnambalam, the late leader of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress.

Sugath Ranasinghe's wife too had spoken to attorney-at-law Nalin Laduwahetty and stated that Sugath wished to see him and make a confession regarding the Ponnambalam assassination. The meeting however never took place and Laduwahetty did not hear any more from the Ranasinghe couple.

Sugath had been returning from the Moratuwa Magistrates's court in a three-wheeler last Wednesday, August 20, when he was gunned down. His killers allegedly were travelling in another three-wheeler.

DIG Gunetilleke said that both Moratu Saman and Sugath Ranasinghe had "many rivals" and he believes they were both killed by a rival gang.

While the sleuths continue their probe, the sequence of events surrounding the main suspects to the Ponnambalam murder appear to follow a bloody trail.

Telephone call

Weeks before Moratu Saman was gunned down on May 18,  Member of  Parliament and son of the slain Kumar Ponnam- balam, Gajan Ponnambalam received a telephone call from Moratu Saman. The underworld thug did not speak directly to Ponnam- balam but conveyed his wish to meet with Ponnambalam through a third party.

The go between, an individual for whom well known criminal lawyer Daya Perera had appeared, had telephoned Gajan Ponnambalam around 8.30 p.m. He had told Gajan that Moratu Saman was standing by his side and wanted to come out with the whole story regarding his father Kumar Ponnambalam's murder. The thug had however insisted he needed legal assistance before he could make his confession.

When Gajan had asked who ordered the contract killer to assassinate his father, Moratu Saman had replied that the orders came from "the very highest in the previous government."

Ponnambalam had then asked, "Why do you now want to come out with the story three years after my father was killed, what stopped you three years ago?"

Listening as the underworld killer spoke in the background, Gajan heard him respond saying he had strong assurances from those in the PA that he would be well looked after and guarded. He had said however that nothing had been done and he had information that those responsible for "hit jobs" in the previous government were planning to get rid of him and all others who had carried out various contract killings for fear of details being divulged. Moratu Saman had then told Gajan "my life is now in real danger..I am certain I will also be killed."

The third party who kept up the three way telephone conversation had then asked Gajan to speak directly with the killer. Ponnambalam however had refused saying, "I cannot. He killed my father. If he wants to come clean tell him to get in touch with Daya Perera who is looking after this case on behalf of the family."

Full story

Moratu Saman had thereafter telephoned President Counsel Daya Perera and spoken directly with the renowned criminal lawyer. Identifying himself, he told Perera that he wanted to come out with the whole story surrounding Kumar Ponnamba-  lam's brutal killing. He however asked Perera if the lawyer would represent him.

Perera refused saying, "I cannot appear for you - you killed my friend." He however told the killer, "If you tell me exactly who ordered the killing and how it was done I am prepared to represent you in your other cases."

Perera then asked him if Anuruddha Ratwatte or any member of the Ratwatte family had ordered the killing. The gangster had not replied the question but remained silent.

Moratu Saman had then told Perera, "I will come and meet with you and tell you the whole story.": Daya Perera agreed. The meeting however never took place and three weeks later, on Sunday May 18, Moratu Saman was shot dead at Panadura as he drove home.

DIG Lionel Gunetilleke revealed that all evidence points to Moratu Saman being victim of another contract killer. He knew too much and was too big a threat for various politicians who learned on the grapevine that Moratu Saman was beginning to talk about some of his exploits.

His killing has been relegated to just another murder. The Criminal Investigations Department has received no instructions to find Moratu Saman's killers: instead a routine police investigation into the murder is now underway.

Stunning details

Previously, The Sunday Leader exposed stunning details of a taped conversation between two policemen regarding the murder of Kumar Ponnambalam. Police officer, Sugath alias Shantha Ranasinghe, in this conversation spoke with former OIC, Criminal Detective Bureau,  and right hand-man to former director (CDB) Bandula Wickrem- asinghe, Nuwan Wedasinghe.

This tape implicates Mahen Ratwatte, son of Gen. Anuruddha Ratwatte, where Sugath Ranasinghe is speaking with OIC Wedasinghe who initiated the telephone conversation on behalf of his former boss SSP Bandula Wickremasinghe.

Wickremasinghe has in a sworn affidavit already stated that Mahen Ratwatte is involved in the murder of Kumar Ponnambalam. Mahen Ratw- atte's lawyer, Mahendra Dias, however on January 31, 2002 wrote to The Sunday Leader, after we published details of this affidavit denying his clients involvement in this case.

Two days before Mahen Ratwatte got his lawyer to write on his behalf to The Sunday Leader, Sugath Ranasinghe in a sworn affidavit attempted to remove all blame from Mahen Ratwatte, stating that SSP Bandula Wickremasinghe "is trying to sling mud on Mahen Ratwatte for political gain."

The fact that Mahen Ratwatte has got his lawyer to write to us professing his innocence in the murder of Kumar Ponnambalam with an attached copy of Sugath Ranasinghe's affidavit also proclaiming Mahen Ratwatte's non involvement in this crime only further implicated Mahen Ratwatte's connection to the key suspect in this murder.

Sugath had confided to associates that the two cops, Nuwan Wedasinghe and SSP Bandula Wickremasinghe had let him down badly, after promising to free him from the Ponnambalam case by making him a state witness.

Sugath Ranasinghe, a reserve police officer is speaking with OIC Wedasinghe who initiated the telephone conversation on behalf of SSP Bandula Wickremasinghe.

For the benefit of our readers we reproduce excerpts from that tape below:

Wedasinghe (W): Hello,

Sugath Ranasinghe (SR): Wedasinghe here.

Sugath Ranasinghe: Sir.

W: Ranasinghe, after your note (satahana), yesterday I spoke with master (mahath- thaya). Is it alright for you to talk now?

SR: Yes sir, go on.

W: I told Mr. Bandula Wickremasinghe that you are doing this because I'mknown to you personally, right.

SR: Sir, (in a low voice not very clear) I don't like them, Dhammika is here .... (inaudible)

W: Is he there now?

SR: Yes

W: No. Keep it a full secret.

SR: Sir (inaudible)

W: Right, right

W: So you have to say that you did only this. Sam and the others are already caught, so there is no problem about proof. Believe me Ranasinghe, you have only to tell the story how it happened. You can tell master everything clearly when he calls. What was the time then Ranasinghe? When master asked I could not remember.

SR: About eight thirty (not clear)

W: Did Kumar Ponnambalam call you? When was it?

SR: Sir, about five or six the previous day evening.

W: Did you tell him that you were coming?

SR: Yes, I told him that I'll be there the following day.

W: He doesn't know you as Ranasinghe, but only as Shantha?

SR: Yes sir.

W: Who else knows this name?

SR: Mr. Balapatabendi's son knows, and a few other gentlemen also know.

W: So only they know it and that's not a problem. It won't affect your job. I told master that you have told me the day before that you haven't earned any money and that your job is the only thing you have, with these happenings even that is at risk!

W: Yes, its true. By the way master is somewhat puzzled over how you went to Wellawatte.

SR: (inaudible)... honestly, sir,

W: Yes, the truth, when master asked I too was a bit confused. That old man, when you went there who opened the gate for you?

SR: I knocked saying I'm Shantha. The man went in and came back to let me in.

W: Then ..?

SR: Then he (Kumar Ponnambalam) said, "Good Morning" and asked me to sit saying that he'll be back in a minute. He did return in less than five minutes.

W: He came back dressed and the two of you went out by car?

SR: Yes.

W: When did you take the call?

SR: On my way sir (not clear) may be after nine or maybe at about 8.50 sir, I cannot remember the exact time we stopped at (place not clear) and I took the call.

W: Whose phone did you use?

SR: His phone sir.

W: Kumar Ponnambalam's, You do not remember the number, do you?

SR: No, sir, I can check my books.

W: I'll call you tomorrow too in the evening.

SR: Sir, please sir (not clear: pleading) I have two children.

W: No, no, you know me well, don't you Ranasinghe? You can trust me. I'm doing this because you have confided in me.

SR: (inaudible)..vehicle

W: What? A Dolphin! A Toyota Corolla! 301 ... what colour is it.?

SR: White (not clear)

W: 301-3104 - Do all of them travel in it?

SR: Only he (inaudible) men with weapons (not clear) altogether about six are there.

W: Who else is there with him?

SR: inaudible

W: OK, right, right.

W: By the way Ranasinghe, master wanted to know what happened after the car stopped there. Why did it stop at that particular place?

SR: Sir, (not clear)

W: Ramakrishna Mawatha, isn't it?

SR: Yes sir, He said, "lets wait here for the others to come" and I said, "Ok." Then seeing a woman he turned into the middle road.

W: Or else you were to drive straight?

SR: Yes sir, to that place sir. He had given an order, he phoned and said sir..

W: To whom?

SR: I don't know that sir, He spoke in Tamil.

W: He spoke in Tamil and said he is there at Ramakrishna Road?

SR: Yes, sir and then he turned into that road: .... He said that woman is beautiful.

W: You knew that they were following you?

SR: Yes sir, I saw that the men were there. Then I asked him to wait till I talk to them.

W: And he was watching the back?

SR: Yes, sir, he was watching ahead and they came from behind.

W: Then did you talk to them?

SR: No, sir I asked him to wait for a while at the turn and went away when I saw our men.

W: Who came? Saman and who else?

SR: (Silence)

W: Who was the other one .. Sujith?

SR: Yes, sir.

W: Who shot him?

SR: Both did sir.

W: How? Browning or (not clear)

SR: (inaudible)

W: I think it's a pistol.

SR: No, sir, both. A Browning and .38

W: Is it a Browning?

SR: (not clear) ....Mahath- aya's.

W: Right, right. So all of you just walked on or did you go the other way?

SR: No, they ran, they panicked and got frightened.

W: Fools. They were afraid to come.

SR: Yes sir, afraid. Then it was I who after halfway remembered the cell phone. They first went to meet Ratwatte Mahathaya.... They went and told him...only then I remembered the cell phone. Afterwards I came back alone: I said I will go and bring the cellphone.

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