Sri Lanka’s former defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has attempted to shift the blame to his army commander Sarath Fonseka over the assassination of editor Lasantha Wickrematunge and asked police to investigate on those lines.
Responding to an Economynext report published in the latest Sunday Island, the former defence chief said the then army commander Fonseka was in charge of the military intelligence which had been linked to the January 2009 killing of Wickrematunge .
Contrary to Rajapaksa’s claim, police had told the Mount Lavinia magistrate in a B report in March last year that security in Colombo and military intelligence was handled by Rajapaksa and Chief of National Intelligence Kapila Hendavitharana, based on a testimony of Fonseka who maintained he did not handle either responsibilities.
Rajapaksa in his latest response, issued as a statement to the Island newspaper, said Hendavitharana had no “combat troops” under his command and “was functioning in a co-ordinating and advisory role on national intelligence.”
“He (Hendavitharana) did not have any command responsibility whatsoever. He also did not have combat troops under his command, let alone a ‘killer squad’, as mischievously and maliciously reported,” Rajapaksa said.
“If, as the newspaper story reports, military intelligence was involved in the killing, the CID can easily investigate the actions of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) which reported to then Army Commander Sarath Fonseka, who would be directly responsible for the Military Intelligence Directorate outcomes.”
Rajapaksa argued that Fonseka also may have had a motive because apparently Wickrematunge’s Sunday Leader had carried an article critical of the army chief a few weeks before the killing.
Investigators have noted that Wickrematunge was killed a few days before he was due to testify at the Mount Lavinia courts in a defamation case filed by Rajapaksa in connection with the alleged “MiG -deal” corruption exposed in the Sunday Leader.
“It would also be pertinent to point out that the then army Commander Sarath Fonseka was also harshly criticized in a news story by Lasantha Wickrematunge in the Sunday Leader, a few weeks before Wickrematunge’s murder.
“Accordingly, based on your newspaper story’s logic that the Wickrematunge murder could have been due to a newspaper exposé, it would be appropriate for the CID team investigating Wickrematunge’s murder, to meticulously follow up that possibility as well.
“In fact, when I was questioned by the CID several months ago on a different matter, I suggested to the CID that they closely investigate the activities of a team of combat personnel functioning under an officer named Brig Keppetiwalana, who was the 112 Brigade commander, who was responsible for Colombo operations.”
It was not clear from Rajapaksa’s latest 1,300-word statement if he had caused any investigations into the activities of Keppetiwalana or what progress his regime made in tracking down Wickrematunge’s killers.
He also referred to then opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and UNP lawmaker Joseph Michael Perera accusing Fonseka in parliament of responsibility for Wickrematunge’s killing. Rajapaksa, the then powerful defence chief, does not say if he had those allegations investigated. He was in office for six years after the killing, but there was no breakthrough in getting at the killers.
However, the case received new impetus when former police top brass this month made statements to the magistrate about attempts to scuttle the investigation, destroy evidence and falsify even judicial medical records. A senior Deputy Inspector-General is already in custody for trying to scuttle the investigation.
Rajapaksa said he felt that the authorities were trying to shift the blame for Wickrematunge murder on him, “in order to fulfil their party’s oft-stated political objective of arresting and incarcerating its key political opponents, including myself.”