Suspect in Keith Noyahr abduction once nominated for diplomatic post by Rajapaksha

Major Prabath Bulathwatte from military intelligence, who was arrested last month by the CID for his alleged role in the abduction and torture of senior journalist Keith Noyahr, was once nominated for a high-profile diplomatic post by former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and former Chief of National Intelligence Kapila Hendawitharana, the Daily FT learns.

The nomination was made in January 2010, shortly before the presidential election where former president Mahinda Rajapaksa was challenged by then General Sarath Fonseka. The news was first revealed by a source connected to efforts to defend the former officials against accusations of involvement in the attack of Noyahr, before being independently corroborated.  According to several sources, Major Bulathwatte and his family, who had already been issued diplomatic passports, visas and air tickets, were finalising plans for their departure when the Ministry of Defence suddenly put their departure plans on hold indefinitely until mid-February 2010.

 The change in plans came shortly after CID officers sought to question a soldier under Major Bulathwatte’s command concerning the January 2009 murder of Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge. 

Before the CID had a chance to question the soldier, Private Kannegedera Piyawansa, control of the investigation was transferred to the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID). The CID is investigating the circumstances of this transfer, which occurred around the same time that the plans to send Major Bulathwatte abroad were halted.

The TID subsequently arrested Piyawansa and detained him, although the Supreme Court found that they failed to maintain notes justifying the arrest. The TID did not develop the leads that had led CID detectives to him. While Piyawansa was in custody, he was granted a promotion by the Army and his full salary continued to be paid. The standard procedure for soldiers arrested on criminal charges is for them to be interdicted and for their pay to be withheld.

 Shortly after his arrest in 2010, Piyawansa filed a fundamental rights application in the Supreme Court under the guidance of Attorney-at-law Gowrie Thavarasha. The application claimed wrongful arrest and deprivation of liberty. The Supreme Court ruled in Piyawansa’s favour and awarded him Rs. 100,000 in damages.

Last Friday, when Major Bulathwatte and four other soldiers in remand were produced before Mount Lavinia Additional Magistrate Lochana Abeywickrema, the CID revealed to Court that the Keith Noyahr abduction case was re-opened at the request of officers investigating the Wickrematunge murder.

CID Inspector Nishantha Silva explained that Major Bulathwatte and his team were originally suspects in the murder of Wickrematunge and that evidence of their complicity in the abduction of Noyahr came to light as the murder investigation progressed.

Inspector Silva’s revelation raises questions over other attacks on media personnel the CID are investigating as part of the Wickrematunge murder probe. Likely candidates are the commando attack on the Sirasa TV broadcasting station in January 2009, the firebombing of the Lanka E-News offices in January 2011, the abduction and torture of Poddala Jayantha in June 2009, the assault on Namal Perera in June 2008 and the assault of Upali Tennekoon in January 2009.

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