Sirisena and Jayawardena conversed via phone
By Buddhika Samaraweera
According to telephone data reports, a 159-second telephone conversation had taken place between former President Maithripala Sirisena and then Director of the State Intelligence Service (SIS), Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena at 7:59 a.m. on 21 April 2019, before the Easter Sunday bombings.
Also, another telephone conversation had taken place between the two on 20 April 2019 at 6:16 p.m. In addition, there had been about 20 telephone conversations between Sirisena and Jayawardena from 4 to 21 April 2019, after the foreign intelligence information that a group including the Leader of the National Thowheed Jama’ath (NTJ), Zaharan Hashim could launch a terrorist attack, being received by the SIS.
This was revealed when the former President testified before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday bombings on 24 October. President’s Counsel Shamil Perera, appearing for the Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, cross-examined the witness.
Perera asked the witness whether Jayawardena and he were in constant contact over the phone and in response, the former President said that frequent phone calls were not exchanged.
Perera also showed the witness a document containing information on the telephone conversations that took place between Jayawardena and the former President from 1 January to 31 March 2019. Sirisena, who referred to it, said he did not remember the phone numbers on it. “I even do not use a mobile phone. So this document should be examined further,” he said.
When asked if the document contained six telephone numbers belonging to the former President’s official residence on Paget Road, the witness accepted it.
According to the document, a total of 221 telephone calls had exchanged between Sirisena and Jayawardena from January to April 2019 alone. The witness, however, said he could not accept that he had received all those phone calls. ‘There may have been phone calls to my official residence or to Presidential Secretariat. But it is hard to say I got them all. Phone calls would not have been directed to me if I were at Cabinet meetings and other events,” he added.
“Have you always consulted with the SIS Director about your security and the threats you had to face?” Perera questioned. In response, the witness said there were occasions when such consultations were made.
Meanwhile, when asked whether Jayawardena had given a telephone call to the former President on 20 April 2019 at around 6:16 p.m., Sirisena said he was receiving treatment in a hospital in Singapore that day and added that not even a security guard was able to approach him that day.
Perera then pointed out to the witness that the telephone call records clearly state that he (Sirisena) had also made a phone call to the former SIS Director on 21 April 2019 at around 7:59 a.m., before the bombings took place. Sirisena said that this was totally unacceptable and that he had first contacted Jayawardena over the phone only after the bombings.
However, the Cardinal’s Counsel told the Commission that according to the report, the former President had made a large number of telephone calls on 21 April morning. “Whatever is mentioned in the report, I was in the hospital until the bombings. At that time it was not possible for me to make phone calls. I was brought to the hotel after hearing about the incident,” Sirisena said.
According to telephone call detail reports, it is confirmed that telephone conversations had taken place between the former President and Jayawardena before on 20 and 21 April 2019. Sirisena said he completely denied it. Also, about seven telephone calls were exchanged between Sirisena and the SIS Director after the bombings.
Also, a 133-second telephone call had taken place between the former President and Jayawardena on 21 April at 8.58 a.m., a 184-second telephone call at 9:13 a.m., and a 688-second telephone call at 1:10 p.m.
Perera further questioned the witness as to how he could have made several telephone calls after the bombings if he was in a weak condition as he earlier said. Responding, the witness said, “I was still in great distress. However, the incident was a serious tragedy and I, therefore, advised all, including the Prime Minister, the Inspector General of Police and the Tri-Forces Commanders, to take necessary action.”
The Cardinal’s Counsel also asked Sirisena as to how he could have returned to Sri Lanka the same night if he had been so seriously ill. In response, the former President said the relevant medical reports could be submitted to the Commission in secret.
Counsel Perera - I suggest to you that according to the evidence presented before the Commission so far, you have consistently sought security advice from Jayawardena?
Sirisena - I do not accept that. Security advice was often sought from Tri-Forces Commanders and the Chief of Defence Staff.
Perera also questioned the witness regarding a statement made by the former Director of the SIS, Jayawardena before the Commission that at least 15,000 people were aware of the intelligence information received on 4 April 2019 regarding the possibility of a terrorist attack, before the bombings.
The former President, in reply, said although so many persons are said to have been aware of it, when he went abroad on 16 April 2019, his Chief Security Officer, DIG Rohan Silva, was aware of it.
Counsel Perera - Does that mean that as the President and Minister of Defence, did not any of those 15,000 inform you about this?
Sirisena - No one informed me.
Counsel - Is that acceptable?
Sirisena - It is difficult for me to imagine how those 15,000 came to be. It is also hard to believe that 15,000 people knew about that information.
Also, when asked whether he had concluded that the people of the country could be provided security when he assumed office as the Minister of Defence, the witness said that he had concluded that security could be provided. Perera then questioned him as to whether he was responsible to the Parliament in case of any incident related to security as the President and the Minister of Defence.” If such a thing happened, I was responsible for it,” the former President said.
Counsel - I suggest that the Easter Sunday Bombings show that you have not done your duty properly.
Sirisena - I do not accept that. Such incidents took place during the tenures of all those who held the Presidency before me. So none of them have fulfilled their responsibilities. I took every possible step to prevent such an incident from happening.
Counsel - I also suggest to you that you have completely failed to ensure the safety of the people by creating the necessary environment for the Easter Sunday Bombings to take place?
Sirisena - I totally reject it.
Counsel - I further suggest to you that you have completely neglected your duty as the Minister of Defence, by letting this attack happen.
Sirisena - I totally reject it.
When asked if he admits that he had undermined the Catholic people by neglecting his responsibilities and directly accusing other officials working under him, he said he did not accept it. “This incident that took place during my tenure as President resulted in a large number of deaths. Among them were a large number of Catholics. I am deeply shocked about that,” he said.
Also, when the Counsel suggested that the former President was primarily responsible for the deaths of nearly 300 people, including Catholics, the witness denied it.
Perera asked Sirisena whether the SIS had reported Zaharan’s extremist activities directly to him since 2016. In response, the witness said he had instructed the relevant authorities and agencies on the steps to be taken in each case.
When asked about a statement made by the former President before the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) which investigated the bombings on Easter Sunday, the witness said he did not accept the proceedings of the PSC.
He went on to say, “When I was asked to appear before the PSC, I did not go and instead, I informed them to come to the Presidential Secretariat and meet me if necessary. So they came and recorded a statement from me. Former Army Commander, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, who was a member of it, is a person who hates me. And the other members of the PSC also had personal grudges against me. I, therefore, do not accept the proceedings of that PSC.”