BY SHALIKA WIMALASENA AND ARIYARATNA GANEGODA
Former UNP strongman B. Sirisena Cooray, a controversial character in politics during the Premadasa regime, a virtual scapegoat where fingers always pointed at him whenever political murders were committed in the country, once again broke silence to respond to queries regarding the tragic killings of Lalith Athulathmudali and President Premadasa during an interview with our sister paper Mawbima.
Answering questions, Cooray raised several questions at strategic points of the interview to ask the interviewers that if he was behind all these killings, how could it be possible that only he would be spared to still be alive? He dismissed reports that he had ordered to wash the scene where President Premadasa was killed and added that it could have been done because the President died on a main road. He raised doubts as to why the authorities failed to check the bullets of the pistols from which gun shots were fired at Lalith Athulathmudali. He claimed that Soththi Upali had not committed any crimes to his knowledge. Cooray felt bad when he was told, he stood accused before the public eyes over the killings of Athulathmudali, Premadasa and Ranjan Wijeratne. The soft spoken UNP strongman was the ‘able political commander’ in the Premadasa regime. Here is how he answered the following questions.
What recognition did you have in President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s government?
A: I had a very good place.
Q: Would it be right if I said that you were the second in command?
A: No. But I was a close confidante of President Premadasa.
Q: Were you like his right hand?
A: Yes, it may be a fair statement. I was so close but he had more left and right hands.
Q: But, they were late-comers, is it not so?
A: Yes. I had known him since the time he became the Colombo Municipal Council member. I was his best supporter in Colombo Central. Then we were very young.
Q: You should be aware of nearly everything about President Premadasa right?
A: Yes, you could say that.
Q: What was your Ministry?
A: The Ministry of Housing Development.
How did Ministers Weerasinghe Mallimarachchi and Vincent Perera fall out?
A: I don’t know anything about that.
Q: By anything, what exactly do you mean?
A: I read about this last week in your newspaper.
What kind of characters were these two ministers?
A: I know very well that Minister Weerasinghe Mallimarachchi was a very close confidante of V.A. Sugathadasa who was the Mayor of Colombo Municipal Council. Both were from Colombo North. But Sugathadasa was not on good terms with Premadasa.
A: It was because of political issues and because of Premadasa’s rise in politics.
You say that you did not notice any enmity between these two Ministers (Mallimarachchi and Vincent Perera) although you too were in the same cabinet with them.
A: Actually I don’t know. I only know that Mallimarachchi went to Kolonnawa while Vincent Perera stayed in Colombo North.
Then how did Mallimarachchi who was close to Sugathadasa become a close confidante of Premadasa?
A: Initially, Mallimarachchi was not close to Premadasa because Sugathadasa did not like Premadasa. Mallimarachchi made friends with Premadasa quite late.
You did not say how he made friends with Premadasa.
A: He got closer to Premadasa after the death of Sugathadasa.
Was he as close like you?
A: Mr. Premadasa did not trust persons easily. He did not disclose everything even to me although I was a close confidante of his.
Why was that?
A: That was his nature. He revealed certain things only, about 70% to me. I had to ferret out the rest of the 30%.
Then he might not have revealed even 40% to Mallimarachchi.
A: Maybe so, I couldn’t say. But his former relationship with Sugathadasa was no more a problem after he became loyal to Premadasa.
Is it true that Mallimarachchi always travelled with President Premadasa?
A: He and all of us travelled with him.
Did you know that about ten persons have died due to the enmity between Ministers Mallimarachchi and Vincent Perera?
A: Actually I don’t know. I don’t believe such killings have taken place. Minister Vincent Perera was a strange person. Although he was the Minister, he would sit on pavements in the night.
Who killed Minister Mallimarachchi’s elder son?
A: It was reported that the JVP did so.
Hasn’t suspicion been raised about the killing?
A: Do you mean that it was done by Vincent Perera?
Well, it was said that an act of ‘others’ was credited to the account of the JVP, wasn’t it?
A: What is the reason to say so? Such allegations cannot be made without a base.
Should you have not looked into it as a strongman of the Premadasa government?
A: It is my nature. I don’t interfere into the affairs of others. I am not used to carrying tales and making people enemies. I solved the problems of the people but did not create problems among them.
Do you mean that you were the mediator then?
A: Yes. I wasn’t envious of anybody. President Premadasa had problems with the likes of Lalith and Gamini but I met them weekly. They did not have problems with me.
Was President Premadasa aware of such meetings?
A: Yes. He knew, but he was not suspicious of me.
Minister Vincent Perera had told Minister Mallimarachchi that a powerful Minister was behind the killing of Jayantha Mallimarachchi.
A: I have no idea about that. Jayantha Mallimarchchi was a municipal councillor who was no challenge to others.
Janaka Mallimarachchi has written about this in his new book. What do you think about it?
A: He appears to know everything and it is questionable why he was silent so long as a person who knew those affairs.
Whatever you may say, hadn’t there has been an issue of Minister Vincent Perera opposing granting nominations to Weerasinghe Mallimarachchi’s son.
A: It could be right but I did not know. I was not the secretary of the party then.
Who could the other politician be who is allegedly linked to the assassination of Jayantha Mallimarachchi?
A: I don’t suspect any and there was no such talk then.
What is the reason for these matters to emerge so suddenly?
A: There may be various reasons.
Were you and Weerasinghe Mallimarachchi close friends?
A: To some extent. He had good qualities. He was very loyal. It was the same with Minister Sugathadasa also. He was angry with me if Sugathadasa was against me.
Did you associate closely with him?
A: No. I have to say one thing. I had no other political friends sans Premadasa.
How was the relationship with the Ministers?
A: Nobody was angry with me. Even the opposition was close to me. Mahinda Rajapaksa criticized me severely when I was a minister. He was a shadow cabinet Minister. But he met me in my office and discussed. That is one example. I had party differences only during the elections.
Did Minister Mallimarachchi have threats on his life?
A: As far as I know, there was none. I might also have threats, if he had.
Is it true that you had a close relationship with the underworld?
A: I don’t know the underworld but I was the electoral organizer for Colombo Central. People came and posed for photos with us. They might manipulate those photos for their advantages. Can we prevent them?
Is it true that there was an uncontrollable group with a strong politician?
A: May be.
Who conducted them?
A: I don’t know. But there were people like that. They put up posters and so on…
They might have manipulated other things too while they were used for pasting posters.
A: I can assure you about myself. I never spoke to the police to guarantee the release of criminals during my political career. You can ask the DIGs who were on duty then.
Did you wear a bullet proof jacket then?
A: Not really. I was not in fear.
But Weerasinghe Mallimarachchi wore them.
A: May be. I don’t know about it.
Have you seen bullet proof jackets?
A: No, I have not seen. I have not even touched a pistol. I had no enemies.
How could the most powerful Minister of President Premadasa’s cabinet have no enemies?
A: It was not the matter. We organized people correctly. Therefore, nobody was bold enough to confront.
Did President Premadasa wear bullet proof jackets?
A: As far as I know, he did not. On the other hand, Minister Weerasinghe Mallimarachchi also had no reasons to wear them.
It was said that President Premadasa was to reveal something about the assassination of Lalith Athulathmudali but he died before that?
A: Do you mean that I did the killing?
It was said that no such name was mentioned in Janaka Mallimarachchi’s book. But you may have something to say.
A: Various people may express diverse ideas.
What do you mean by diverse ideas?
A: Lalith Athulathmudali died at a political meeting during an election. Who likes to be the respondent during such time? President Premadasa was suspected for the killing. They said other persons had done it for his benefit. My name was also mentioned because I was his close confidante.
I know very well about both Premadasa and Lalith. Ask people of Colombo Central if he had quarrels then. We never attacked the meetings of the others. Do you know that there were 25,000 houses in Colombo Central then and Premadasa had personally visited all of them? I had files with details of all these houses.
In your perspective, what could President Premadasa have to say about the assassination of Lalith Athulathmudali?
A: It is a lengthy story. On that day, I was in Kandy and when an official in my security staff informed me about the killing, I did not believe it. President Premadasa was very much worried about it. Lalith was a good friend although there were political conflicts. Premadasa assigned Scotland Yard to probe the murder and they also concluded that this was an act of the LTTE.
Janaka Mallimarachchi mentions in his book, that Minister Weerasinghe Mallimarachchi had known certain facts about this killing. He was not that close to President Premadasa when compared to you is it true?
A: It can be both true and untrue.
Minister Weerasinghe Mallimarachchi who was aware of this was also killed later.
A: He was killed in the LTTE bomb attack at Thotalanga. Do you mean that it also was not an LTTE act then?
I don’t mean that but there were conflicts of interests weren’t there?
A: May be. But Gamini Dissanayaka, G.M. Premachandra and many others were killed in that bomb. I too could have been there if I was the party secretary. But all these are just stories.
Did you speak personally with President Premadasa about the assassination of Lalith Athulathmudali?
A: Yes. We generally discussed these matters.
You said you were in Kandy when you received the news isn’t it?
Did you come back to Colombo?
A: Yes, I did come back.
What did President Premadasa say?
A: He was worried a lot. He was worried more since the people put the blame on him. But he knew nothing about it. He knew about me too. I walk on the street alone today since we did not commit offences when in power.
Was Athulathmudali the biggest enemy of LTTE then?
A: I don’t think so. He waged war against LTTE. We had a chance to win but we missed it due to Indian interference.
Why are there contradictory stories about his killing?
A: May I pose a question to you? The LTTE killed lot of people. How did they kill people at public meetings?
SW: They used suicide bombers.
A: That was their way. But Lalith was shot at this meeting. Lalith’s bodyguard shot at the assailant. Many are not aware of this. The gunman fled with gunshot injuries. Somebody must analyze this.
Do you mean that there is a secret?
A: I can’t say. Now I am a retired elderly person. The others must think as to why this had happened. But I am very confident about Premadasa, Mallimarachchi, Ranil Wickremesinghe and myself. We never killed our own people, at least to my knowledge.
The compere of a rally at a meeting that Premadasa also attended, said that Lalith Athulathmudali would be the next Prime Minister. Can this be the reason?
A: Can be, but I have no idea.
Q: Then another story is that President Premadasa was blaming a politician and an underworld gangster when Minister Mallimarachchi went to meet President Premadasa a day after the assassination of Lalith Athulathmudali, any comments?
A: I understood this when I read the interview with Janaka Mallimarachchi in your newspaper last week. Another person said that the President hit the said minister with a cup of tea.
It was not mentioned here.
A: It was in another. Was that minister blamed face to face?
No. He hasn’t been there.
A: How can we know this story about blaming?
Q: Did you not hear it?
A: No. But I know that I was not blamed like that.
Q: Do you mean that you were unaware of these affairs although you were a close confidante of Premadasa?
A: Actually I didn’t know. He might have told that those individuals had put him in trouble. When such thing was done, he was suspected.
Q: Do you mean that somebody sans LTTE did this killing to put the blame on President Premadasa. But you hide the facts and why do you do so?
A: I don’t like it.
Q: Was President Premadasa of the view that the killing of Athulathmudali had been done to trap him?
A: It is good to discuss. Athulathmudali was killed as he was doing a massive campaign. It was a threat to us too. The killing was put into the account of President Premadasa. As a result, he lost popularity. After that he was also killed on 1 May.
Q: What do you want to say?
A: I don’t say anything. You must think of these things. Who might want to kill these two leaders? Who succeeded them? You analyze the facts. I don’t say anything.
Q: Who do you suspect? Can you give us a clue?
A: Who killed Premadasa? A suicide bomber killed him. Who had suicide bombers? LTTE had them. But the bomber had been near the President for a long time. Who brought him there? We must investigate those facts. Don’t ask questions from me.
Who is Lalith’s enemy?
A: What I say is that Lalith’s bodyguard shot at the assailant. Many saw that. Who hid that bodyguard’s pistol? It was not produced then. If it was produced, the bullets could have been examined. That leads to suspicion. Later, the pistol was produced. Who did those things?
Q: The assailant had died in a very mysterious manner, isn’t it?
A: Police recovered his dead body. The President called me and said happily that the man had died. After that he called Scotland Yard to probe the killing.
Q: Scotland Yard also said that the killing was an LTTE act. Can’t they too be wrong?
A: Can be.
Q: Did you visit the place President Premadasa was assassinated?
A: Yes. Weerasinghe Mallimarachchi, A.J. Ranasinghe and I, was at the Sugathadasa Stadium then. I was the UNP general secretary then. We were organizing the procession. President Premadasa visited there twice.
We had suspicion that whether he would come or not to the demonstration due to the allegations regarding Athulathmudali’s killing. Therefore, we brought all the garment employees. We heard the explosion and first the news was that President Premadasa had been injured. I went to the place.
You went to the scene of the incident and just observed the place with one foot out of the vehicle.
A: I don’t remember it. A security guard told me that the President had been injured and taken to the hospital.
You did not get down and investigate?
A: I don’t remember whether I got down or not. I changed the path of the procession since there might be another commotion.
Q: Did you instruct to wash and clean the place?
A: It was not my duty? I was not the mayor.
Then, how did that happen?
A: I don’t know. Normally police record evidences before the place is washed. Although the place was washed, there was evidence to prove that the suicide bomber committed the crime.
Q: But the evidence also could be washed like that place was washed couldn’t it?
A: No. Police observed this and the President’s security was also there.
Q: Were you informed later that the place had been washed?
A: I think the place was cleaned fast since it was a main road. The police may know it.
Q: Did someone mislead the investigation?
A: It cannot be done. Everybody said that a suicide bomber did it. But there are facts to analyze. Who was that Babu? Nobody knows even today. Who brought him there? Who got him close to Mohideen? That Mohideen was so loyal to Premadasa that he might not do any such act knowingly. That man manipulated Mohideen.
Janaka Mallimarachchi says that the godfathers who committed these crimes are still alive, what have you to say?
A: I don’t know. Only I am alive out of the people who know about those affairs. We are not godfathers. I think godfathers are in the underworld.
Q: You can be identified as a godfather in the political field, can’t you?
A: Do you mean that I killed Premadasa, Ranjan and Lalith. All these are nonsensical.
Q: According to your view, at who Janaka Mallimarachchi point his finger?
A: It is problematic to me too. My name was mentioned when a commission was appointed to probe the killing of Lalith Athulathmudali. Recently the report of the commission was published in a newspaper. My name was not there. Do you know that I petitioned to Supreme Court against mentioning my name? Justice Dheerarathna said the report had no evidence to penalize at least a dead person. The commission actually compiled false evidence.
Ranil, Mallimarachchi and I are alleged of having discussed this issue at my home. Such things never occurred.
Q: Doesn’t this book mention about the contradictions in the probe regarding the assassination of Vijaya Kumarathunga?
A: Was it also our task?
Q: There is no name. But Chandrika had told Jayantha Mallimarachchi that the gunman she saw was not Tarzan Weerasinghe who was identified as the killer.
A: I don’t know about it. Does he try to say that Vijaya was killed by President Premadasa or me?
Q: No. But she says that it was not the assassin although identified as such.
A: I have no idea.
Q: When compared to Mallimarachchi, you are not knowledgeable about these incidents.
A: I have another thing to say. Attorney-at-law Hemantha Warnakulasuriya told me that my name was also to be mentioned and I said I would come before the commission. I said they could ask anything and I would answer. I was to leave the country. Since they did not answer, I went abroad. When they knew that I was not at home, they summoned me. I instructed a lawyer to report that I would appear in court when I would be back. Normally, a witness like me is given such chance but they said they could not postpone. Therefore, I came early. I thought they would arrest me at the airport. Nothing happened and the probe was terminated a day before my return. The file was closed and the verdict had been delivered. I appealed in Supreme Court since the report contained false evidence.
Q: How do you prove that there was false evidence?
A: I know that they had asked Upali to say something with the promise of sending the entire family to Canada. But he did not do so.
Q: Who is that Upali?
A: He was known as Soththi Upali. As far as I know, he had not committed murders. He may have committed them without my knowledge. See, today people do such things when they are offered such chances. But Upali refused to do so. Then another man was manipulated to compile false evidence.
Then almost all the killings were credited to President Premadasa. But I must say that he was not a person who killed even a mosquito. I don’t say so because of our friendship. If he did so, I must know. But he had his weaknesses.
Q: On the day Ranjan Wijeratna was killed, Weerasinghe Mallimarachchi had mentioned to A.J. Ranasinghe that the wave of killings would end up finishing all leaders of the UNP.
A: I have no idea about that. If it is true, I must also be dead now.
Q: That is true. All were killed except you. How did it happen?
A: That means the entire list of killings is credited to me. What nonsense?
Q: Janaka Mallimarachchi apparently accuses you indirectly. You will have to answer when the book is out.
A: If my name is there, I will sue him.
BY SHALIKA WIMALASENA AND ARIYARATNA GANEGODA