By Anura Bandara Rajaguru
In a dramatic turn of events that connect to tragic political assassinations over the past quarter century, the truth seems to be emerging in a slow but steady manner. Film idol, the late Vijaya Kumaratunga was known as the heart throb of the silver screen. The actor turned politician was shot dead opposite his Polhengoda residence in the manner most gruesome by an unidentified gunman on 16 February 1988. Bullets were sprayed mercilessly at his face, which had attracted millions of film fans across the country. He lay in a pool of blood that day when his wife Chandrika Kumaratunga rushed to the scene from the house. Vijaya was gone…gone forever…millions shed tears. The heart throb of the silver screen was no more.
The murder took place at a time the country was embraced in political turmoil with the JVP insurrection rising to its peak. Ranasinghe Premadasa was on his march to become the next President. Fingers were pointed at him and the JVP. The assassin was known as Tarzan Weerasinghe, a criminal who had links to powerful politicians.
Today, Janaka Mallimarachchi, son of Premadasa confidante Weerasinghe Mallimarachchi reveals certain facts behind the assassination of Vijaya to Ceylon Today and how he showed the photograph of the reported assassin to Chandrika Kumaratunga who was the Chief Minister of the Western Province in later years.
Janaka also spoke to this newspaper on facts he knew about the murders of the late Lalith Athulathmudali, a political murder which had even stunned President Premadasa who was in power at that time. On receipt of Lalith’s murder, Premadasa has blamed a minister and a well known criminal. Who is that minister? Not stopping at that, Janaka also reveals how the police failed to remove the dead body of late minister Ranjan Wijeratne from the car and just allowed it to get charred by the fire that erupted as a result of the bomb explosion.
Excerpts on the interview:
You are Janaka Mallimaarachchi. How would you introduce yourself in another way?
A: I am the son of former UNP Minister Weerasinghe Mallimarachchi.
Where were you educated and tell us about your profession?
A: After completing my education at Ananda College, Colombo, I joined the Government Film Unit as a trainee cameraman. While I was there, the Independent Television Network (ITN) was taken over by the government. Then, Thevis Guruge, Chairman of ITN, invited me to join it. I joined the ITN as an assistant producer of the music section of P.L.A. Somapala. When the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) started, I joined as an assistant producer with ten others as the first group of employees of Rupavahini. A group was sent for foreign training. I was in that group of ten together with Lucian Bulathsinghala and Bandula Vithanage.
Where was the training conducted?
A: In Malaysia. We were the first Sri Lankan group that was trained in a foreign country. After that, I worked at SLRC as a programme director / stage administrator.
At that time your father was a powerful political character as the Electoral Organizer of the Kolonnawa electorate. How would you compare the present crisis ridden Kolonnawa and as the then electorate where your father was a representative?
A: My father won the Kolonnawa electorate as a UNP candidate for the first time in 1977. He was appointed as the electoral organizer of Kolonnawa in 1974. It was a leftist stronghold at the time he was appointed. T.B. Illangaratne was the strongman and my father defeated him at the 1977 general election. The ground situation and the political environment was better than today till the untimely death of my father who was caught up in the Thotalanga bomb blast on 23 October 1994. The discipline and culture in the electorate has come to the lowest ebb from 1994 and it has worsened.
Can you elaborate?
A: My father clashed politically with the likes of Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra only on political platforms.
Were such clashes based on conflict of policies?
A: Definitely it was a conflict on policies of the two political parties. There were no hate campaigns and exchange of blows. The situation has completely changed today. Some people identified my father as a very strict person. But neither he nor Bharatha Lakshman lodged complaints against each other at police stations. The situation is very bad now. No leader lives there and Kolonnawa has become a hub of the drug trade. This is the contrast of then and now.
You were engaged in your father’s political activities. You must have gained a lot of experience?
A: Yes. I was engaged in his political activities while working at the SLRC. Actually my brother Jayantha Mallimarachchi, who was killed by the JVP, was engaged in politics fulltime. He was a member of the Colombo Municipal Council. My father was first elected to the Colombo Municipal Council in 1962 and was re-elected in 1965. My brother followed in his footsteps in local government politics. I gained a lot of experience from the early 1980s to 1994.
Do you remember the exact day Jayantha Mallimarachchi was assassinated?
A: Yes. He was killed on Election Day in 1989.
There were rumours about this assassination. What do you have to say after 25 years?
A: There can be reasons beyond our control for such rumours to spread.
Did your father and brother get threats from the JVP?
A: Definitely they were threatened. I remember how we had a close shave in 1989 when we were canvassing for the election. Between 7.30 or 8 o’ clock one evening, when we were engaged in door to door canvassing in the Kotuwila area, as we turned to a road, a security guard who was on my left said something hit his head. As he was holding his head, something fell near my father’s feet. It was a grenade made of PVC tube. They aimed the grenade at us. Fortunately it did not explode. A large number of persons would have been killed had it exploded. On another occasion, a bomb exploded five minutes before my father and I arrived at a meeting in Gothatuwa. Nearly 20 persons were injured including Dhanapala, Daya Samarasinghe and the Kolonnawa representative of the Colombo Municipal Council. My father got threats from the JVP. My brother and Colombo North MP Vincent Perera were like father and son but they disagreed politically.
There were rumours that Vincent Perera and Weerasinghe Mallimarachchi were like the cobra and mongoose?
A: The clash was not between Vincent and my father; it was between Vincent Perera and my brother. Later, my father’s name was also dragged into it.
Both were UNPers, isn’t it?
A: Yes. Both Weerasinghe Mallimarachchi and Vincent Perera were Cabinet ministers. When my brother applied for nominations to contest the Colombo Municipal Council, Vincent Perera objected to it. Party Leader President J.R. Jayawardene decided to take a vote at the Working Committee over the issue and Jayantha Mallimarchchi was given nominations.
What happened after that?
A: Vincent Perera, angered over that development, wanted to resign from the cabinet. Later he withdrew his resignation stating that the voters wanted him to remain in the cabinet. The issue aggravated in the electorate and nearly ten supporters were killed in the electorate due to internal clashes. In the end, my brother Jayantha was assassinated by the JVP. The same gunman Tarzan Weerasinghe also shot dead Vijaya Kumaratunga.
Would you argue that Vijaya’s killing was not caused by the rift between Vincent Perera and your brother?
A: After some time, Vincent Perera came to meet my father. My father forgave him. He organized Vincent Perera’s funeral arrangements. But my mother never forgave him. She did not come to meet him although my father asked her to do so when Vincent Perera came to our house. Vincent Perera then came to the upper floor and said, ‘Prema, Jayantha was like my son. Please don’t misunderstand me’. My father later told me that Vincent Perera hinted that a powerful politician’s cohort was connected to the assassination of my brother. From that day, our family believed that the assassination of Jayantha Mallimarachchi was not done by the JVP but by a JVP contract killer known as Tarzan Weerasinghe. I have no idea if Vincent Perera was linked to it.
My question is how such a thing could have happened when your father was a close confidante of President Premadasa?
A: It is true that my father was very close to President Premadasa. But my brother’s security was at stake as he led a public life. Once, when I was at the Kolonnawa junction, a group of five persons in civvies stopped my vehicle and ordered me to get down with my hands up. They asked me who I was. When I introduced myself as an employee of SLRC and the son of Weerasinghe Mallimarachchi, they said, “Ado, we don’t care whether your father is a minister. We are not under the control of our Minister too. We’ll let you go since you work in Rupavahini and as you play a song that we like. It is good that you did not go against us.” Then they left me there and drove away. That was the situation those days.
Did you follow the advice of President
J.R. Jayewardene to protect yourself?
A: Actually, that was what was happening. After that incident, we were scared. We were not sure if they were coming after me or my father.
How many members are there in your family?
A: Three. Jayantha Mallimarachchi was the eldest. Then Anuruddha Mallimarachchi and I am the youngest.
Was your father extremely careful about the two of you after the death of Jayantha Mallimarachchi…?
A: Yes. He was very strict and we had to wear bullet proof jackets. My father also had such jacket. He had not worn it on the day of the Thotalanga explosion. It was the last meeting of Presidential candidate Gamini Dissanayaka. A large number of UNP leaders including my father died in that bomb attack.
There was a rumour then that your father was aware of the personal issues of President Premadasa and the President consulted your father and a few others on those matters…
A: I remember one incident. It was related to the assassination of Lalith Athulathmudali.
President Premadasa was to reveal something regarding the assassination of Lalith Athulathmudali. But he was killed before that. There were rumours that your father was aware of what the President was to reveal…
A: When Lalith Athulathmudali was shot dead, my father, President Premadasa, Minister Renuka Herath and Susil Siriwardhana were at a meeting in the Unity Plaza Janasawiya Trust office. A secretary of the President gave the message about the incident to the President. He asked the others to carry on the meeting and went away with my father stating that there was trouble.
My father said that the motorcade was stopped at Bambalapitiya junction and an officer who was in the police pilot car ran to the President’s vehicle and said that Athulathmudali had passed away. My father described the President’s reaction. President Premadasa touched his chest and asked, ‘Who killed this man Weerasinghe? Who did this gruesome assassination?” As the motorcade was moving, the President said to my father, ‘Weerasinghe, this is a plot to kill me.’
Did President Premadasa address your father as Weerasinghe?
A: Yes. My father said that President Premadasa was silent and deep in thought. As he alighted from the vehicle, he had asked my father to go home in the same vehicle and to come the next morning. My father went to Sucharitha the next morning. Mohideen and Vijitha Kadiragonna had been there. My father had heard the President scolding somebody. My father asked Mohideen whom the President was scolding. ‘Boss threw away the tea also. He is blaming that politician and an underworld figure.’ Mohideen has said requesting my father not to go inside. My father listened to him and returned home. He met the President later. I think my father was aware of who did it. Later, both the government and Scotland Yard Police investigated the incident and found that it had been done by the Tamil Tigers.
Who was the person who was found killed in a garbage dump at Kirulapone near the playground close to the location Athulathmudali was assassinated?
A: A street vendor (a woman) at Gothami Road, Borella identified that person. She had seen that an underworld leader was assaulting that person inside a house located opposite her house. That woman gave a statement to police and it was published in newspapers at that time.
A name of a supporter of your father was also mentioned in police investigations…
A: Yes. That person’s family supports the UNP even now. That person supported my father. His parents were very loyal to my father. His name was mentioned and the commission probed him. Finally he was released due to contradictory evidence. Later, he told me and some others in Kolonnawa that he shot Athulathmudali.
He is not alive now…is that correct?
A: He was shot dead at his home 10-15 days after making that statement. We do not know the truth.
There are contradictions everywhere regarding these murders, would you agree
A: Yes, the truth must emerge someday. I want to highlight it. Some ministers close to President Premadasa are accused of being behind the assassinations. They are accused of withholding evidence from the scenes of crimes. People have a right to know as to what happened to their leaders.
Don’t you think these statements that you make can be harmful to you?
A: Definitely, there are threats. The dark shadows of those who were connected to this are still present.
Are those criminal ‘godfathers’ yet alive?
A: Yes, they are alive. Those who used to be small timers at that time are now ‘big’ people. They may possess modern methods and weapons. They can kill me. But that is not the solution. Those who are linked to these crimes join each government to cover their crimes. They might have joined an LTTE government also if there was one such in existence. I appeal to the authorities to probe such killings. We can reveal what we know. Respect the right of the people to know the truth. Please investigate. Sometimes, we can be wrong.
Do you mean that the final outcome of the Athulathmudali killing probe was not true?
A: Yes. Everybody can understand that there are contradictory issues that embrace those investigations.
Do you accept or say all crimes have been blamed on the LTTE?
Is it correct to say that in the same way, the responsibility of some crimes was blamed on the JVP.
A: That was the practice at the time of the JVP insurrection. For instance, the responsibility of the assassination of my brother was placed on the JVP. But we understood through our studies that the JVP was not fully answerable although it was the JVP Leader who manipulated or planned certain murders.
Do you mean there was a hidden paw?
A: When we raised doubts, Minister Vincent Perera told us to investigate if a certain person was linked to it. I don’t know if he has betrayed another minister to make friends with our father. That is another side of the story which is not relevant to us. What I mean is that the responsibility of all crimes cannot be put on the JVP or the LTTE. I ask the authorities to probe them and find the truth.
Did you participate in the Gam Udawa programmes with President Premadasa as a producer of SLRC?
You may know lot of stories relating to many incidents…
A: Once when I was at the entrance of the Gam Udawa office of President Premadasa, the President was in the office after opening an exhibition. Then I saw a person clad in a safari suit coming down the stairway shouting and scolding.
Where was the Gam Udawa?
A: As I remember, it was in Kamburupitiya. He was shouting “Killer government. You kill the youth and burn them on tyres. Go home!” and so on.
Was he with a group?
A: No. He was alone. Then he stood before me and scolded me in the same way. People were watching. He was parliamentarian Mahinda Rajapaksa. As he was shouting there for several minutes, President Premadasa asked, “Who is shouting there? The Tresident then said, ‘This is not a place to shout. Ask him to give me in writing if he has anything to say. Tell him I will arrest him if he does not go now.” But Mahinda Rajapaksa did not budge. He continued to scream and went away waving at me. I panicked. When I went near the President, he looked at me from head to toe. “Didn’t you know he was coming?” he asked. I said – no.
“See, this man came right here and blamed us. Then he was tapping the table for some time. This man will be a big trouble for us in the future. Anyway, let us visit the exhibition,” the President said. MP Mahinda Rajapaksa was bold enough to come near President Premadasa at a time everyone feared Premadasa. Now Mahinda Rajapaksa is the President.
I associated with President Premadasa with the Gam Udawa programme. He is a very humble, artistic person.
Were there toy pistols at that time?
A: There were real pistols then, unlike the toy pistols of the present day.
What are the other amazing stories your father related to you?
A: The assassination of my brother was the fifteenth killing done by Tarzan Weerasinghe. He killed Vijaya Kumaratunga also and he was arrested after the killing of Prof. Stanley Wijesundara.
There was suspicion about the killer of Vijaya Kumaratunga also. The JVP was accused but some blamed President Premadasa. Eventually, a commission was appointed to investigate.
I have another story to tell you. When I was a Western Provincial Council member, Chandrika Bandaranaike was the Chief Minister. One day my father told me that he had met Chandrika at a party and he had promised to send her the photo of Tarzan Weerasinghe that my father had. He asked Chandrika if she could identify the person who shot Vijaya. The next day at the tea time of the Provincial Council meeting, I showed Chandrika the photo of Tarzan Weerasinghe. She studied it and said, “Janaka, I saw the person who shot Vijaya closely. This is not that man.”
A commission was appointed later.
What happened to Tarzan Weerasinghe?
A: One day when my father remembered my brother, he asked me, “Putha, do you know what happened to that Tarzan Weerasinghe who killed Aiya?” I said no.
“He has been killed,” father said. I asked how it happened.
“I don’t know where. They say it was committed at Nugegoda junction. One day a senior officer of the police phoned me and told me that the killer of my son would be killed on that day. I just tell you for your information.”
Now see the contradiction. That man said he shot. But the eyewitness Chandrika said that the man in the photo I gave her was not the killer.
The alleged killer was also killed secretly. As a citizen who loved Vijaya, I asked what the truth was. What happened to the assailant? My father told me that the killer was also finished off.
Why did you enter politics amidst all these contradictions?
A: I have another story to tell you before that. It is about late Minister Ranjan Wijeratna. It was 2 March 1991. I was producing a live morning programme for Rupavahini. The studio is soundproof but we heard an explosion. There was a vehicle always at the ready near the canteen those days. It was loaded with camera and other equipment. The driver had to wait in the canteen ready to leave at any time.
I came out of the studio when I heard the sound. The employees were running helter skelter. I got into the vehicle with a camera crew. We saw a cloud of smoke in the horizon from the side of Thunmulla. We drove the vehicle there. Injured men were scattered on the ground. They were screaming. The STF was running here and there. We rushed to the scene of crime and saw a white colour car thrown aside and a Defender jeep was behind it heavily damaged. In the white car, a man with grey hair wearing a white shirt and black trousers was lying on the rear seat clutching his chest. I could not identify him in shock and asked an STF official who he was. The reply was, ‘He is Minister Ranjan Wijeratna.’
Premaratna Gunasekara arrived there. By that time a side of the vehicle had caught fire but nobody was trying to recover the body of the slain Minister before that. It could catch fire in a moment.
Premaratna Gunasekara said to me, “It is true he is dead but the car can catch fire and explode. His body may be burnt.”
Nobody listened. A senior DIG came there. I knew him very well. I pleaded with him, “Aiya, take the body out. Otherwise the entire body will burn. It is a crime if we do not save at least the body.”
“Please Malli, I can’t interfere in such things,” he replied.
Then I phoned my father and asked him to come. Minister A.J. Ranasinghe lived close by and he also came. He asked the police to get the body out. “Please take out Minister Ranjan Wijerathna’s body. Otherwise it will burn,” he said but nobody touched it.
I came to Minister A.J. Ranasinghe’s house with my father and Minister Ranasinghe. My father said, “AJ, one day the LTTE will finish all in the UNP.”
My father went back. I came back to the crime scene. Then the vehicle was burning with the body of Minister Ranjan Wijerathna. His body which was intact was charred. The body of that six feet tall man I saw at 12.10 midnight that day at Jayaratna Undertakers was a heap of ashes.
My question is why he was not taken out. We knew that he was killed by the LTTE. Didn’t the police have the freedom to take his body out of the burning vehicle? Why did they allow their Minister’s body to be burnt like that?
Your statements are very controversial and shocking. Your answers are re-defining the politics of those times. Will you take steps to reveal the truth going beyond this interview?
A: I will take a decisive step. I hope to launch a book with these details and many other stories on 17 August.
What is the title of the book?
A: Red Amber.
Where will the launching ceremony be held?
A: At the Olympic House adjacent to Independence Square. Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara will deliver the keynote speech. Actor Ravindra Randeniya and Prof. Tissa Kariyawasam will deliver other lectures. Minister Jeewan Kumaratunga will be the chief guest.
Will these revelations become walking on red amber?
A: These are facts that my heart has questioned me for a number of years. I will expose them to the world. I am ready to face any challenge. I am well aware of the challenges and risks but I think Red Amber is a social responsibility.
at Nugegoda Junction
By Anura Bandara Rajaguru