Irked by ‘Political Deal’ Govt. MPs Demand Re-arrest of Bathiudeen
|By Gagani Weerakoon|
Two controversial transfers that took place last week at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the Medical Research Institute (MRI) raised many eyebrows, mainly due to the context under which those were carried out.
Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, stirred the hornets’ nest by stating on 3 October that he has a doubt whether there is a political deal behind releasing Riyaj Bathiudeen, brother of former Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, after he was arrested by the CID in connection with the Easter Sunday Attacks.
He expressed his disproval regarding the releasing of Riyaj Bathiurdeen and said that he was surprised.
“A person, who was arrested five months ago for being in contact with a terrorist group, was released suddenly as an innocent person,” the Cardinal said.
“We were told by the CID that the released person had been in contact with a terrorist group and that there were records of telephone conversations in that regard. But, now we are being told that he is innocent,” he said, stressing that this situation has left him confused.
He added: “We were promised that an independent investigation would be conducted in connection with the Easter Sunday Attacks and those behind the attacks would be prosecuted; we are puzzled as to whether that promise is being fulfilled.”
He added that there is a tendency to release those who were arrested as suspects over serious charges without going for Court proceedings.
With this, many factions started questioning the motive behind the Government in doing so. Concerns were raised within Government ranks as it was speculated that the move was carried out as an indirect bribe to garner MP Bathiurdeen’s support to the 20th Amendment.
“We will remain in the Government formed by us, and if Rishad Bathiudeen attempts to join it he will be chased away,” Minister of Industries, Wimal Weerawansa said.
Minister Weerawansa said so when a journalist asked for his feedback about rumours that former Minister Bathiudeen was ready to join the Government.
“I do not believe that there is a fool in our Government who wants to take MP Bathiudeen. Opposition MPs attend Government functions, and this is not a rehearsal for joining the Government,” Weerawansa added.
Commenting on the reports, Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said Bathiudeen must not be taken into the Government, because there are issues related to him.
“We have no relationship with any politician who does not love the country. Piyal Nishantha is not a member of a party or a group that maintains such relationships,” said State Minister Piyal Nishantha.
Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna MP, Attorney-at-Law Premnath Dolawatte said the people had given a two-thirds majority to the Government not to appease the racist elements.
Amidst mounting criticism, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Sunday (4), issued a statement on his official Facebook account stating that ensuring national security is the first and foremost responsibility of his Government.
He emphasised the allegation that the present Government has entered into a political deal with MP Bathiudeen is false.
“I am not prepared to hand over the power of arresting or arbitrarily releasing people to politicians, as happened in the past. I will also take action to rectify any omissions or mistakes made by the relevant authorities or officials. I emphasise that our Government has not entered into any political deal with Member of Parliament Rishad Bathiudeen,” President Rajapaksa further said in the post.
He assured the citizens of the country that he will not betray the trust they placed in him and will most definitely continue to work towards strengthening that trust.
The confusion did not end there as former Police Media Spokesman SSP Jaliya Senaratne told Media Riyaj Bathiudeen, was released due to insufficient evidence against him over the Easter Sunday Bombings.
Riyaj Bathiudeen was detained for nearly five months in connection with the Easter Sunday Attacks. SSP Senaratne said even though an investigation was conducted by the CID for about five months, there wasn’t enough evidence against him to file any cases.
Fielding a question posed by the Media, SSP Senaratne said even though investigations were started based on evidence, to show the connection between the two groups, the conclusion was there wasn’t sufficient proof to file a case.
“A person is arrested only after a reasonable suspicion has arisen regarding an investigation. As soon as the suspicion was nullified, the suspect was released. That is what happened to Riyaj Bathiudeen,” he said.
He said so at a Media briefing held recently.
When asked whether there was any political pressure to release him, SSP Senaratne said investigation officials are conducting investigations according to provisions of the law and are free of any pressure. “We have not received information of any such pressure,” he said.
However, after arresting Riyaj Bathiudeen on 14 April, SSP Senaratne, speaking to the Media, said investigations revealed that the suspects had maintained connections with the suicide bombers, participated in many events organised by the bombers, and helped financially.
As this contradictory statements was made on the release of Riyaj, Police Spokesman Jaliya Senaratne was replaced by DIG Ajith Rohana. Moreover, DIG S.P. Ranasinghe, was appointed as the new Acting Director of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) replacing DIG Nuwan Wedasinghe, Director of the CID. Wedasinghe has been appointed to the post of Acting DIG in charge of the Western Province (North), which was held by Ranasinghe.
Controversy over transfer
The attention on Riyaj being released was suddenly focused on DIG Wedasinghe, with the Opposition claiming Wedasinghe’s transfer was to hoodwink people about Government’s deal with Bathiudeens’. Responding to these allegations at weekly Cabinet Media briefing, Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said former DIG of the CID, Nuwan Wedasinghe was removed from his post due to the irregularities related to releasing of MP Rishad Bathiudeen’s brother.
He emphasised, Wedasinghe’s transfer is a result of his activities and misconduct practised while releasing Riyaj Bathiudeen.
When asked whether the Government had any interference in this regard, he stated, Police and CID are working independently with the jurisdiction of disregarding political interference. He said the release of Riyaj Bathiudeen from CID raised many concerns and we will definitely look into that.
While confirming that the Government accepts that releasing Riyaj Bathiudeen is an inappropriate move done by the CID, Rambukwella said the CID had taken arbitrary decisions regarding the release where they should have sought a Court Order.
Rambukwella also said, the Government’s stance on the release of Riyaj Bathiudeen is that, it is questionable and there was no Government interference.
The matter was also taken up in Parliament, and Minister Chamal Rajapaksa told Parliament that Riyaj Bathiudeen was released from CID custody, as there was no evidence to prove he aided and abetted to carry out the Easter Sunday terror attacks in 2019. However, if new evidence emerges linking him to the terror attacks, he would be arrested again, the Minister added.
Rajapaksa was responding to a question raised by Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP Chaminda Wijesiri.
“Riyaj Bathiudeen was arrested on 14 April 2020 on suspicion of his connections with Insaf Ahmed, the terrorist who blew himself up at the Cinnamon Grand in Colombo. According to the call records, there were 17 calls made by the suspect to the terrorist. The suspect had been detained under the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act for three days for questioning and thereafter obtained the permission of Courts twice for three months each. The investigators had found that the suspect and the terrorist had had no terror links and that the calls had been made for business purposes. The last call they had made was three months prior to the attacks. However, if there is new evidence, he would be arrested again. His release does not mean he was freed from all charges.”
Wijesiri: “But the Police Spokespman said they had evidence to prove the suspect aided and abetted the terrorists by transporting explosives when he was arrested in April. Now he is saying that there was no such evidence. What should we believe now?”
Rajapaksa: “I personally think that the Police Spokesman should have waited until the conclusion of the investigation before making such statements. They are trying to create a Media circus so they tell the Media what they got.”
Responding to Wijesiri’s Oral question on employees in public and statutory institutions who had been interrogated about the terror attack Rajapaksa said that 130 employees were interrogated. Some of them were found innocent and there was no evidence against them. Such employees were released, he added.
He said, “Also, 10 employees in such institutions had been arrested and cases are pending before Courts against some of them. Some have been released. The Police had sought the instructions of the Attorney General regarding some who are still in custody.”
Demand to re-arrest
A group of Government MPs has sent a written request to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to arrest Riyaj Bathiudeen, the brother of All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader MP Rishad Bathiudeen who has allegedly helped National Thawheed Jama’at (NTJ) Leader Zaharan Hashim to flee to India in 2018 again and start a fresh probe into the allegations levelled at him.
Riyaj Bathiudeen who was arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department on 14 April in alleged connections with the Easter Sunday terror attacks in 2019 was released from the department’s custody after 168 days, sparking controversy in the country and drawing lot of criticism from many parties including Colombo Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith.
The letter signed by 100 Government MPs on Friday (9) pointed out that when Riyaj Bathiudeen was arrested the former Police Spokesman claimed that there was enough evidence to say that Bathiudeen had links with one of the suicide bombers.
“The former Police Spokesman clearly told that it had been discovered that Bathiudeen had met that suicide bomber in a famous hotel few days before the terror attacks. Also, former Army Commander General Mahesh Senanayaka told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) probing Easter Sunday terror attacks in 2019 that the military intelligence informed that Bathiudeen helped Zaharan Hashim to flee India in 2018. In such a backdrop the CID has released him even without producing him before the Court on 30 September and without any legal permission. This arbitrary conduct of the CID should be investigated thoroughly,” the MPs stated.
Mahindananda Aluthgamage, S.M Chandrasena, C.B Rathnayake, Mahinda Samarasinghe, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, W.D Weerasinghe, Wasantha Yapa Bandara, B.Y.G Rathnasekara, Sahan Pradeep, Akila Ellawala, Rajitha Wickramasinghe, H. Nandasena, Amarakeerthi Athukorala, Kumarasiri Rathnayake, Sanjeewa Edirimanna, Janaka Wakkumbura, Kanchana Wijesekara, D.V Chanaka, W.D.J Senevirathne, Sisira Jayakody, S. Viyalendran, Major Sudarshana Denipitiya, Nalaka Kottegoda, Piyal Nihantha de Silva, Sanath Nishantha Perera, Shehan Semasinghe, Kanaka Herath, Dilum Amunugama, Jayantha Weerasinghe, Susil Premajayantha, Mohomad Muzammil, Udaya Gammanpila, Angajan Ramanathan, Kader Mastan, S.B. Dissanayake, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Wimal Weerawansa, Rear Admiral (Rtd) Sarath Weerasekara, Sudarshani Fernandopulle, Madhura Withanage, Muditha de Soyza, Major Pradeep Undugoda, Nipuna Ranawaka, Gunathilaka Rajapaksha, Jagath Pushpakumara, Kapila Athukorala, Sumith Udukumbura, Lalith Ellawala, Widura Wickramanayake, Dilan Perera, Milan Jayathilaka, Nalin Fernando, Ajith Rajapaksha, Premnath C. Dolawatte, Pramitha Bandara Thennakoon, Tiran Alles, Sampath Athukorala, Arundika Fernando, Udayana Kirindigoda, M. Faleel, K.P.S Kumarasiri, Prasanna Ranaweera, Tharaka Balasuriya, Dr. Seetha Arambepola, Dr.Upul Galappaththi, Chamara Sampath Dassanayake, Jagath Kumara Sumithraarachchi, Sagara Kariyawasam, Jayaratne Herath, Isuru Dodangoda, Kokila Gunawardena, Asanka Nawarathne, Siripala Gamlath, Rohana Dissanayake, Chinthaka Mayadunne, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Roshan Ranasinghe, D.B Herath, Prof. Charitha Herath, Dayasiri Jayasekara, Bandula Gunawardena, Janaka Bandara Tennakoon, Ajith Nivaard Cabraal, Keheliya Rambukwella, Dinesh Gunawardana, M. Rameshwaran, Tissa Kuttiarachchi, Gayashan Nawanandana, Nalaka Godahewa, Dr. Suren Raghawan, Douglas Devananda, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, Chandima Weerakkody, Samanpriya Herath, Johnston Fernando, Sudath Manjula and Shashindra Rajapaksa
This comes in the wake of former Army Commander Mahesh Senanayake revealing that the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), in 2018, informed a weekly Intelligence review meeting that National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) Leader Zaharan Hashim had fled to India by boat with the support of MP Rishad Bathiudeen's brother, said former Army Commander, General Mahesh Senanayake.
General Senanayake, who is currently residing in the United Arab Emirates, on 7 October, testified before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the bombings on 21 April 2019, Easter Sunday, via the Internet.
Responding to a question by a State Counsel as to when he as the Army Commander became aware of Zaharan, General Senanayake said he came to know about Zaharan when he served as the Commander in Jaffna.
Adding that the DMI had informed him of Zaharan when he was serving in Jaffna, the witness said the DMI had the capacity to find more details about him, but that the institutions through which investigations into this were conducted, did not obtain the DMI's support.
He also said senior officials including former Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundara, Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police (SDIG) of the CID Ravi Seneviratne, Deputy Inspector General of Police of the Terrorist Investigation Division Waruna Jayasundara, State Intelligence Service Director, SDIG Nilantha Jayawardena and the former Chief of National Intelligence Sisira Mendis did not pay enough attention on the Intelligence information shared by the DMI.
Corruption at Anti-corruption Secretariat
This newspaper revealed last week that Deputy Solicitor General Thusith Mudalige from the Attorney General’s Department representing Attorney General Dappula de Livera, had allegedly appeared as the legal officer to file indictments against former Joint Opposition MPs and ex-State officers in Courts based on recommendations put forth by the Anti-Corruption Committee Secretariat (ACS), which was set up at Temple Trees by the previous UNF-led regime with the intention of politically victimising its opponents.
It has now been divulged that it had been DSG Mudalige who had appeared on behalf of De Livera for a spate of cases filed against such persons as Basil Rajapaksa, Duminda Silva, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, Wimal Weerawansa, Rohitha Abeygunawardena, Namal Rajapaksa, Yoshitha Rajapaksa, Prasanna Ranatunga, Lalith Weeratunga, Anusha Pelpita, Gamini Senarath and Piyadasa Kudabalage respectively.
It has also been alleged that Mudalige had also drawn a separate salary from the ACS operating from Temple Trees, for the services he had rendered appearing for De Livera, besides the monthly salary he had received as the DSG from the AG’s Department.
Hence more details are continuing to emerge concerning acts of professional misconduct committed by officials of the calibre of Thusith Mudalige of the Attorney General’s Department during the tenure of the previous regime.
The total of the monthly salaries Thusith Mudalige withdrew, as the legal adviser of the Anti-Corruption Committee, in 2016 was Rs 268,320. The same Assistant Director of the Anti-Corruption Committee Secretariat (Admin) Nalin Dayarathna approved these payments for six months in the year 2016 and the payments of the next six months were approved by Director of the Committee Secretariat Ananda Wijepala. The numbers of the cheques for the payments made to Thusith Mudalige are as follows: 051617, 069729, 100096, 100402, 130714, 152193, 152543, 169668, 218928, 219225, 219584 and 245466.
Mudalige’s payments under the cheques numbered 288286 in January 2017 and 288527 in February 2017 as per Rs 22,360 each were approved by the Deputy Director of the Secretariat M.D.S.A. Perera.
2017 March salary of the same amount was approved by the Director of the Committee Secretariat Ananda Wijepala and paid under cheque numbered 288833. The cheque numbers in April, May and June 2017 respectively are as follows: 317217, 341737 and 342026. Paid amount is same as above. Thusith Mudalige has signed before his name in the pay sheet on each of these times.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, said in Parliament that the Prime Minister's Office had paid Rs 33.71 million as salaries, allowances and other expenses to the staff of the Anti-Corruption Committee Secretariat set up by United National Front Government, from February 2015 to June 2017.
He also said, around 20 officers of the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) had participated in 19 overseas tours for investigations, spending Rs 14 million as travel expenses and allowances from 2015 to 2019.
Responding to a question by Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna MP Wasantha Yapa during the question round for the Prime Minister, Rajapaksa said the Committee was set up according to two Cabinet Memoranda, one by then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe titled ‘Establishing a unit to investigate fraud and corruption’ and the other by former Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka titled ‘Investigation on large-scale corruption during the previous years’ presented to the then Cabinet on 21 January 2015.
Premier Rajapaksa said: “Wickremesinghe, former Ministers Mangala Samaraweera, Ranawaka, Dr.Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe PC, Rauff Hakeem and Sarath Fonseka, MPs TNA Leader R. Sampanthan, M.A. Sumanthiran PC, JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne PC and Malik Samarawickrama, and J.C. Weliamuna PC and a Secretary to the Committee had been appointed as the Members of the Anti-Corruption Committee. They had not been paid any salary or allowance.”
“Furthermore, Wickremesinghe had proposed to proceed to establish a Committee Secretariat for the Anti-Corruption Committee and recruit staff based on the 21 January 2015 Cabinet memoranda. Thereafter, the Secretariat had a staff of 44 and their salaries and allowances were paid by the Prime Minister's Office.”
“Secretariat Director Ananda Wijepala, had been paid Rs 1,285,167.33 for three years’ of service and Advisor A.P.A. Gunasekara had been paid Rs 93,750 for two months service. Advisor T.K. Warnasooriya had been paid Rs 660,000 in 2015, while another Advisor M.A. Sathar had been paid Rs 243,750 for four months. Advisor S. Medawewa had been paid Rs 2,068,125 for three years and Advisor M.B.H.M. Dayaratne had been paid Rs 1,970,000 for three years. Advisor Thusith Mudalige had been paid Rs 626,080 for three years.”