Court orders arrest of Sri Lanka’s top military commander

ECONOMYNEXT – The Colombo Fort magistrate Lanka Jayaratne Wednesday ordered the arrest of Sri Lanka’s chief of defence staff  Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne over his alleged role in helping the main suspect in the abduction and murder of 11 children escape arrest.

Jayaratne told the police Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to arrest Wijegunaratne who is said to have funded Hettiarachchi Mudiyanselage Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi alias Navy Sampath last year to escape the police net.

At the time the arrest order was issued, the chief of defence staff (CDS), the country’s senior-most military commander, was attending the funeral of general Rohan Daluwatte, official sources said. He was due to be arrested later Wednesday.

Earlier this month, Jayaratne asked the Bank of Ceylon to release details of transactions of a navy account between March and May last year.  The admiral is alleged to have given 500,000 rupees from the navy to Hettiarachchi to escape arrest.

At the time of his arrest earlier this month, Hettiarachchi had in his possession several fake identity cards, including one which he is believed to have used to obtain a passport and travel abroad.

On a previous court hearing, the magistrate had told the CID that there was no impediment for them to arrest any individual, however highly placed they may be, but Wednesday’s order the first directed specifically against the top military officer.

The CID has uncovered chilling details of how children and young men of wealthy families were abducted for ransom by a gang of navy officers, allegedly led by Hettiarachchi, and subsequently killed after holding them at naval facilities in Colombo and Trincomalee between 2008 and 2009.

The alarm was raised by the then navy commander, Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda who complained to the CID  during the former regime of president Mahinda Rajapaksa.  However, the case has dragged with powerful political interests protecting the suspects, police said.

Police said the current CDS and ex-navy chief was not implicated in the abductions or the murders, but he was accused of shielding the suspects and providing them cash and protection.

Several other navy intelligence officers, including former navy spokesman D. K. P. Dassanayake who were arrested in connection with the murders have now been released on bail.

Admiral Wijegunaratne was caught on camera in December 2016 assaulting a television journalist at the Hambantota harbour, but despite a huge public outcry, President Maithripala Sirisena granted him an extension of service and later promoted him CDS.

His successor Travis Sinniah took office in August last year pledging no forgiveness for his officers who may have committed crimes taking the cover of the island’s drawn out separatist war. But Sinniah, regarded as one of the most honourable officers in service, was terminated in just two months after he was denied an extension of service. (COLOMBO, August 29, 2018)