By Ananth Palakidnar reporting from Jaffna
The Trial-at-Bar hearing on the gruesome murder of 17-year-old schoolgirl Vithya Sivaloganathan of Punkuduthivu is now on its final phase with the end of defence submissions on 29 August at the Jaffna High Court.
The tragedy occurred on 13 May 2015 when the innocent schoolgirl Vithya was on her way to Punkuduthivu Maha Vidyalaya.
Punkuduthivu is an islet connected to Jaffna by the Pannai causeway.
Several of the big time businessmen in Jaffna and in Colombo hailed from Punkuduthivu.
However, agriculture and fishing remain as prime livelihood activities in the Pukuduthivu islet.
The islet has also produced several leading professionals in various fields including one of the prime witnesses, former Dean of the Colombo Law Faculty, V.T. Thamilmaran.
The Jaffna High Court Judge and one of the three Trial-at-Bar judges M. Illanchelian also hails from Punkuduthivu.
The Vithya case is considered as the first high profile murder trial to be taken up before the Jaffna High Court since the judicial system was revived nearly after two decades in the Northern Province and the case also becomes the first Trial-at-Bar hearing to be held at the Jaffna High Court.
The Trial-at-Bar hearing on Vithya murder commenced in June 2017 with High Court Judge Sasi Mahendran chairing the bench accompanied by High Court Judges M. Illanchelian and Annalingam Premshankar.
After two months of hearing under heavy security blanket at the Jaffna High Court Complex, the Trial-at-Bar hearing has reached its last leg with the prosecution and defence expected to present their final submissions on 12 and 13 September.
When the defence submissions came to an end with the prime suspect Mahalingam Sasikumar alias Swiss Kumar giving his evidence, the trial judges were very particular that the case should not be delayed further.
The judges also cited a demonstration carried out in Colombo outside the UN office by a women’s association demanding to expedite the legal process and grant justice in the Vithya case.
Since the beginning of the Trial-at-Bar on Vithya murder case commenced in June this year, the prosecution despite presenting several details based on the investigation carried out by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), there was hardly any strong evidence found against all nine suspects.
Therefore there were several twists and turns in the trial with all nine accused denying the allegations brought against them.
For instance, on the directive of Kayts Magistrate M.M. Riyal, the CID recorded the statement from State Minister of Women’s and Children’s Affairs Vijayakala Maheswaran who was present at the spot near the Velanai bridge where one of the prime suspects Swiss Kumar was tied to a post and assaulted by the people in the area.
In her statement to the CID, State Minister Vijayakala Maheswaran has mentioned that she had gone to the spot to ensure the arrest of Swiss Kumar and she took the initiative to hand over the suspect to the Police.
The ninth accused Swiss Kumar giving his evidence on 30 August (Wednesday) said Vijayakala had come to the spot where he was tied to a post and verified whether he was the brother of another accused Mahalingam Sasinthran and released him to his wife and mother after getting them down from their house in Punkuduthivu.
Swiss Kumar also said he didn’t know whether Vijayakala was a minister when she arrived at the spot to release him.
With all the nine accused denying the allegations against them Mahalingam Sasinthran who is the fourth accused and the brother of Swiss Kumar stated at the time of the incident that he was in Colombo.
He also said he was a businessman who imported garments from Thailand.
Sasinthran said he even suspected that the Navy would have committed the crime and said earlier there were two incidents of this nature where Navy personnel were taken into custody.
Despite the Chief Police sleuth CID Inspector Nishantha Silva claiming that he has ample evidence of Swiss Kumar’s involvement in the gruesome crime in connivance with other suspects, Swiss Kumar in his evidence denied all allegations against him including the allegations that he was attempting to give a bribe of Rs 20 million to CID Inspector Nishantha Silva.
Cook in Switzerland
Responding to Deputy Solicitor General Kumar Ratnam, Swiss Kumar said he was only a cook in Switzerland and Rs 20 million was a big money for him and it was not just pieces of paper.
Swiss Kumar also responding to an allegation against him said he was not aware of anything about a mafia ring using him to video a gruesome murder of a girl in an Asian country and it was for that reason he had committed the crime.
Swiss Kumar denied the allegation and said he has been living in Switzerland since 1988 and married there with two children. He further said he divorced his first wife and married for the second time in 2012.
With the end of defense submissions last Wednesday (30), the judgment of the trial is expected to be delivered after the submissions by the prosecution and defence on 12 and 13 September.
As the gruesome murder of Vithya Sivaloganathan which had taken place two years ago had sent shock waves throughout the country the final judgment is expected to solve the mystery “Who killed Cock Robin?”