ECONOMYNEXT – A just concluded audit of weapons at the defence ministry’s private sector arm known as Rakna Arakshaka Lanka Limited (RALL) has led to a shocking discovery of an organised trade in weapons that is illegal anywhere in the world.
The most alarming discovery is the haul of 320 automatic assault rifles which had their serial numbers defaced in order to prevent the tracing of the original owner of the firearm in addition to the illegal weapons found aboard the now detained Avant Garde floating armoury.
These weapons were stored by RALL, a company initiated by former defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, at the Galle naval facility. The authorities also found another 59 automatic weapons with similarly tampered serial numbers aboard M.V. Avant Garde that was intercepted off Galle on October 5.
The audit of weapons was sparked by the latest raid on the Avant Garde floating armoury which the police say had made an illegal journey from a Red Sea port without proper documents for its cargo of weapons and ammunition.
The defence lawyer for Avant Garde Tilak Marapana told parliament last week that there was nothing illegal about the operation of his client who was in partnership with the defence ministry’s fully-owned subsidiary RALL.
Police were baffled why the state should have weapons with serial numbers altered and in some cases completely obliterated to prevent them from being traced back to the actual owner. It is not clear for what purpose these weapons had been used and in fact if they had indeed been used for any criminal activity both in Sri Lanka and abroad.
The private Avant Garde Maritime Services which operates the floating armoury by the name of Avant Garde is said to have received weapons from RALL and was supposed to be a joint venture with the defence ministry initiated by the then secretary Rajapaksa.
The latest audit shows that out of the 816 weapons found aboard M.V. Avant Garde, only 203 had actually been issued by RALL while the others were described as “alien” weapons. The balance 613 weapons are not owned by the Sri Lankan state or any of its agencies.
Foreign sea marshals are known to leave their weapons aboard floating armouries, but such vessels are anchored in international waters and need special permission to enter territorial waters of any nation. It is not immediately clear if the alien weapons are from foreign sea marshalls, but if so, the vessel did not have permission to enter Sri Lankan waters with such a cargo, according to the police.
In this instance, the navy and the police maintain that the Avant Garde vessel did not have proper authorisation to enter Sri Lankan waters with its lethal cargo. The ministry of defence had issued a letter asking the vessel to be allowed into Galle port only after the navy intercepted and boarded the vessel for a search on October 5, 2015.
An investigation had been ordered into the conduct of the ministry official, an additional secretary, who allegedly granted authorisation, but there had been conflicting signals from some ministers in the current administration who endorse the private security arrangements of the defence ministry initiated by the previous regime.
Despite three ministers in the current government maintaining that the RALL and Avant Garde operations begun by former defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa were “legal,” Rajapaksa’s own deputy has said otherwise.
Former Defence Ministry Additional Secretary Damayanthi Jayaratne told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Large Scale Corruption and Fraud that the procedure followed in giving weapons to RALL was illegal.
“Weapons were issued without permits, contravening the accepted rules,” Jayaratne said. “The Rakna Lanka Company had been issued with 3,473 firearms, of which only 89 has been issued with proper permits. The balance 3,384 were provided violating the usual legal practice.”
Apart from the evidence already gathered by the presidential commission, the latest weapons audit has added fuel to the raging Avant Garde fire that is threating the very stability of Ranil Wickremesinghe’s administration.
The audit uncovered serious discrepancies in the number of weapons issued by RALL and the weapons it is supposed to have received and the number of weapons stored at two armouries in Galle.
Defence sources noted that RALL and Avant Garde together had more than a division of men (over 10,000 highly trained combatants) who were not under the command of the Commander-in-Chief.
From a national security stand point, the private security firm could have posed a serious threat to stability of the government.
Sustainable development minister Gamini Jayawickrema Perera told parliament that an Avant Garde employee was terrorising his electorate and the police did not take any action until he complained to the elections chief.
The weapons audit has found that 230 automatic weapons were missing from the RALL armoury in Galle and recommended that immediate steps be taken to track them down.(COLOMBO/November 08 2015)