THE KILLING OF A PRIME MINISTER
by Sanjiva Senanayake
(continued from last week)
CROWN WITNESSES AND CONDITIONAL PARDONS
Three additional suspects were originally produced before the Chief Magistrate of Colombo, when hearings started on December 14, 1959. They were F.R. (Dickie) de Zoysa, Mrs. Wimala Wijewardene and Carolis Amarasinghe who provided different perspectives on Somarama’s involvement.
Dickie de Zoysa was a close associate of Buddharakkitha and a long-standing personal friend of the deceased PM. He was the elder brother of both the Minister of Finance, Stanley de Zoysa, and DIG Sidney de Zoysa. He was apparently involved in Buddharakkitha’s brother’s unsuccessful shipping venture, and was annoyed with the PM when it was rejected in August 1958.
Shockingly, there was no valid evidence against him. Justice Alles’ book included this cryptic passage, pregnant with meaning, about his arrest –
“In view of the political implications of the assassination case, it was inevitable that interested parties, particularly politicians, should have interfered with the police investigations. Pressure was brought on the police to arrest Dickie de Zoysa, a factor that would necessarily have embarrassed his brother, the Minister of Finance. The police, however, were of the view that the admissible evidence against him was too slender to warrant his arrest, but as a result of political pressure, particularly by some Ministers, the Inspector-General of Police gave a written order to ASP Iyer to arrest Dickie de Zoysa. Iyer had Dickie de Zoysa arrested in November 1959, just before plaint was filed. He was brought to court and discharged and no charges were framed against him at any stage.”
(Alles p. 158)
The only mention of Dickie de Zoysa in connection with this case was in Somarama’s ‘confession’ made on November 14, 1959. De Zoysa was arrested on November 19, five days later. One can speculate about how and why de Zoysa featured in it at all, even as an insignificant, minor character. His alleged ‘involvement’ resulted in political pressure and led to the early resignation of the Minister of Finance. Somarama’s ‘confession’ is dealt with later.
Wimala Wijewardene, had been the Minister of Health in the MEP Cabinet until she was forced to quit after the assassination. It was publicly known that she was in an intimate relationship with Buddharakkitha, and it was clear from the evidence of many during the SC trial that he conducted all of his personal and political discussions in Colombo at her residence. It was effectively his Colombo office. She was arrested on the same date as de Zoysa but there was insufficient evidence against her and she was discharged by the magistrate.
Carolis Amarasinghe, ended up as the prosecution’s star, opening witness in the Supreme Court (SC). He was a practitioner of Ayurveda, a father of seven and Jayawardena’s family physician. He was also the Chairman of the Kolonnawa Urban Council and a die-hard supporter of the PM. His close association with Buddharakkitha was via the College of Indigenous Medicine.
Amarasinghe was remanded on October 15, 1959, and was effectively treated as a co-conspirator throughout. He made three statements to the police prior to his arrest but did not say anything about the alleged conspirators. But on October 21, one week after his arrest, he gave an elaborate account of secret meetings and plans discussed at his house by the accused. He followed up the very next day by making a statement to a Magistrate, which was admissible as evidence in a court under the Law of Evidence. As a quid pro quo, he was promised a conditional pardon by the prosecution, and was officially made a Crown Witness on January 12, 1960 in the middle of the magisterial inquiry. Since the pardon depended on the evidence he would give, he was held in remand custody even during the SC trial in 1961 and was brought to court under prison guard.
In an article written in 2008, Mr. R.J.N. Jordan, Superintendent of the Magazine Prison at that time, provides some interesting insight into Amarasinghe’s mental state before he made the statement –
“Some days after being on remand, suspect Dr. Amerasinghe complained of an uncontrollable diarrhoea to me on my daily visits to his place of location (cell). Dr. B.T. Jayasekera the Senior Prison Medical Officer who treated him mentioned to me, that it was a condition induced by fright and medication alone would not arrest the condition.”
The question arises – did the information in the statement come gushing out all of a sudden, or was it fleshed out and flushed out?
The ploy of suspects turning Crown Witness and escaping punishment was quite current at the time due to sensational cases such as the Turf Club Robbery (1949) and the Sathasivam murder case (1951). During cross-examination of Amarasinghe by counsel for Newton Perera, it was established that a discussion between Amarasinghe and Newton Perera took place regarding conditions to be negotiated for pardons. This had taken place during a three-week period preceding Amarasinghe being officially given a conditional pardon, when the two were held in the Magazine prison. It is clear that Perera, who was arrested on October 22, also considered turning Crown Witness but that did not happen for reasons unknown.
A key part of Amarasinghe’s wide-ranging statement, as far as Somarama was concerned, recounts a few meetings at his house about six weeks prior to the assassination during which there was talk by Buddharakkitha of “shooting practice”, presumably for Somarama with Perera as the trainer.
It is incredibly strange that almost all of Buddharakkitha’s meetings in Colombo were held at the home of his confidante and partner Wimala Wijewardene but, when it came to the most critical decision of his life, he chose Amarasinghe’s place. It is especially so if, as stated by Amarasinghe, he was never part of the ‘plot’.
On the first visit (fixed as August 14 by Newton Perera) Buddharakkitha, Jayawardena, Somarama and Newton Perera visited him. Perera had allegedly obtained a revolver and some bullets for Buddharakkitha’s personal protection several weeks earlier, but the latter complained that the bullets were not firing. Buddharakkitha gave some money to Perera to procure better bullets and asked Amarasinghe to provide his car. A few minutes after Perera left, the others departed leaving a message for Perera to get in touch with Buddharakkitha. The car returned later without Perera.
Two days later, the same foursome arrived separately in the afternoon, with Perera getting dropped off in a police car, wearing police uniform. Buddharakkitha again asked for Amarasinghe’s car for Perera, who left and came back, wearing the national dress. When the visitors wanted to leave immediately, Amarasinghe asked where they were bound and was told they were off to Muthurajawela for some shooting practice. Muthurajawela in 1959 was a vast, sparsely inhabited marshland a few miles north of Colombo. Amarasinghe declined an invitation to join them.
Then two days later Somarama came alone in the morning. He was not a close associate and had not visited alone before. When questioned about the shooting practice, Somarama told him categorically that it was in preparation to murder the PM. Amarasinghe was horrified that such dastardly deeds were being discussed in his house and told Somarama that he didn’t want them to visit any more. Just then Buddharakkitha and Jayawardena arrived and took Somarama away. Despite all this, Amarasinghe could not explain why he did not go promptly to the police and save the life of the PM, whom he ardently admired.
Newton Perera in his evidence mentioned the visit on August 14 but said there were no other visits. Instead. he said that on the next day, August 15, Buddharakkita called him still complaining about his revolver not firing. Jayawardena then came for him, picked up Somarama and went to Buddharakkitha’s temple. After Perera cleaned the gun, Buddharakkitha suggested going to Muthurajawela to test it. Where Buddharakkitha had tested the gun to discover that it was not working was unknown.
When they got to a desolate spot Perera fired a few shots in the air and returned the revolver to Buddharakkitha. As Perera was getting into the car, he saw Somarama run out and fire a few more shots in the air. It seemed such a waste of precious, hard-to-find ammunition, when one shot would have proved that the revolver worked. Anyway, there were no available targets and no training in marksmanship took place. Perera said that he did not meet any of the accused thereafter till after the assassination.
Amarasinghe and Perera were both considered co-conspirators and, therefore, could not legally corroborate each other’s evidence – corroboration had to come from an independent source. In effect, their accounts about the visits to Amarasinghe’s house and Muthurajawela stood alone, unconfirmed by other, independent evidence.
There is an interesting and controversial interpretation of this aspect in the judgement of the Court of Criminal Appeal –
“Amarasinghe’s evidence that he said that he practised firing with a revolver to shoot the Prime Minister is corroborated by the fact that he shot the deceased with a powerful revolver. No more corroboration need be looked for as his act provides corroboration in the most material particular. It is therefore unnecessary to discuss further the charge of conspiracy against the 4th accused.”
Readers who wish to check further can access the text of the judgement at
TO BE CONTINUED …..
The writer can be contacted on this subject at email@example.com