Alleged abduction: Swiss embassy denies SL access to its employee

FM asks embassy to follow ‘established procedure’ to allow smooth probe

By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Swiss embassy in Colombo has declined to give Sri Lanka, conducting an investigation into an alleged abduction of one of its employees, access to the person concerned.

Authoritative sources told The Island yesterday that the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) had been denied an opportunity to record the alleged victim’s statement. Responding to another query, sources said that the investigations had been hampered by the failure on the part of the detectives to question the alleged victim.

Susil Premjayantha, who assumed duties as the junior foreign minister at the Foreign Ministry yesterday morning declined to comment on the alleged incident as he wasn’t aware of it. The lawmaker said so when the media raised the alleged abduction of the Swiss embassy employee.

Cabinet spokesman Minister Bandula Gunawardena on Wednesday, Nov 27, told the first-post Cabinet media briefing that he wasn’t aware of the alleged incident.

Government sources said that for want of cooperation on their part, the CID had been compelled first to verify the Swiss government accusation. First of all authorities had to establish the identity of the local female employee who complained to the embassy of unidentified persons seeking information from her as regards Sri Lankans seeking refuge in Switzerland.

The New York Times quoted officials in Colombo as having said that the men forced her to unlock her cellphone data, which contained information about Sri Lankans who have recently sought asylum in Switzerland, and the names of Sri Lankans who aided them as they fled the country because they feared for their safety after Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the presidency at the election this month.

The Foreign Ministry yesterday morning expressed hope that the Switzerland embassy would fully cooperate with the government.

Authoritative sources said that the Swiss refusal to reveal the identity of the alleged victim meant that she had been also advised against lodging a complaint with the police.

Sources questioned the allegations that unknown persons obtained cellphone data regarding Sri Lankan asylum seekers and those who assisted them. “We have never heard of diplomatic missions allowing local employees access to confidential information,” a senior official said.

Switzerland demanded an investigation into alleged abduction soon after Chief Inspector Nishantha Candappa de Silva, who handled a spate of high profile investigations during the previous administration, sought refuge in Switzerland.

Silva accompanied by his wife and three children left the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) over the last weekend.

Sources said that Sri Lanka hadn’t so far raised the issue of the police officer being given refuge in Switzerland. Sources suggested that Swiss accusations in respect of alleged threats to an employee had pre-empted Sri Lanka raising the issue regarding the policeman receiving refugee status.

The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice and for the guarantee of the security of the Swiss representation in Colombo and for the full restoration of its employees. The statement added, “this message was conveyed by the Swiss ambassador to Sri Lanka to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena together with a diplomatic demarche.”

The Foreign Ministry, in a second statement that dealt with the alleged incident, stated: “In order to enable the relevant authorities to conduct the investigation smoothly and according to established procedure, the fullest cooperation of the Embassy of Switzerland has been requested.”

The Swiss mission brought Monday’s incident to the notice of the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday, Nov 27.

Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Germany who is concurrently accredited to Switzerland, Karunasena Hettiarachchi would soon meet Swiss authorities to obtain an update on the investigation.

The Foreign Ministry reassured unequivocally its commitment as a State Party to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961) to facilitate the smooth functioning of diplomatic missions in Sri Lanka.

Sources pointed out that the alleged victim instead of complaining to the police on the day of the incident sought intervention of the diplomatic mission. The police were yet to receive access to the alleged victim, sources said, Thursday afternoon.

Swiss embassy alleged the abduction of local staffer in the wake of former Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, MP, urging the Foreign Ministry to take the Chief Inspector’s case with the Colombo mission.

Well informed sources told The Island that a Navy officer who provided a statement implicating Chief of Defence Staff Admiral Ravi Wijegunaratne in a high profile case, too, reached Switzerland ahead of CI Nishantha de Silva.