By Rathindra Kuruwita
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) investigating the Easter Sunday attacks ordered SDIG Mahesh Welikanna, attached to the PCoI Police unit, to take into custody a mobile phone used by former State Intelligence Service (SIS) Director SDIG Nilantha Jayawardena to record some of his conversations with senior security officials after the Easter Sunday attacks.
Earlier Jayawardena presented the Commission with a recording of a conversation he had with former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando in late April about the role played by various senior officials regarding the Easter Sunday attacks.
The conversation took place after both men had testified before the Malalgoda Committee, appointed by former President Maithripala Sirisena on April 21, 2019 to investigate the attacks and to make recommendations to prevent recurrence.
SDIG Jayawardena told the Commission that the recording had been transferred to a CD and then to his laptop.
When questioned why he had recorded this conversation, SDIG Jayawardena said that there were many attempts to tarnish the image of SIS after the attacks and he was also aware of those who were behind the slandering.
“I recorded this conversation to defend our reputation, as evidence,” he said.
The Chairman of the PCoI asked the witness if he had edited or altered the recording. SDIG Jayawardena said he had not.
Chairman then instructed the Secretary of the PCoI to hand over the recording to the Government Analyst’s Department and to obtain a report on it within one week. The Government Analyst was instructed to identify whether the conversation was between Jayawardena and Fernando and whether the recording had been altered. Jayawardena and Fernando were asked to provide voice samples to the Government Analyst, if necessary.
The PCoI Chairman also observed that from the beginning Jayawardena had been using his laptop to present evidence and that on a previous occasion, Jayawardena had played a recording of a conversation with former CNI Sisira Mendis on his laptop.
“Under Article 7 (c) of the Presidential Commissions Act, I instruct you to hand over the laptop to the police unit attached to the PCoI. The Police unit will examine it to see if there are recordings that are important to this investigation, categorise and hand them over to AG’s Department officials. This should be done before Jayawardena and his lawyer. Then his laptop can be returned.”
Counsel Dilshan Jayasuriya and Anura Meddegoda, PC, who appeared for former Defence Secretary and former IGP Pujith Jayasundara, respectively, requested the Commission to send both the phone used by SDIG Jayawardena to record the conversation and his laptop to the Government Analyst. They also asked the PCoI to give a copy of the recording for their perusal.
The Chairman said that they couldn’t provide copies of the recording and lawyers could listen to it at the commission, if necessary.
The Attorney General’s Department official leading the evidence said that there was no need to send those devices to the Government Analyst. Such action could be taken if the Government Analyst said that those devices were needed for their investigation.
“The witness has a personal life,” she said.
In response, the two defence counsel said that there might be some vital documents which SDIG Jayawardena had not submitted to the Commission.
Counsel Jayasuriya said: “Throughout his evidence, the witness had been hinting that he had further information. In the recording played today there was insinuation that he was trying to save people. What if he has a recording with former President Maithripala Sirisena that is vital for this investigation. I believe this witness is providing information selectively.”
Considering all the arguments, the Commissioners directed the PCoI police unit to take into custody the phone used to record the conversation with Fernando. Jayawardena said that the conversation had been recorded on his private phone, one of his family member was now using.
Chairman instructed SDIG Mahesh Welikanna to send the Director of the police unit, SSP Liyanage to Jayawardena’s house and obtain the mobile phone.
Given below are selected excerpts of the conversation between Jayawardena and Fernando.
The recording starts with SDIG Jayawardena explaining to Fernando the kind of intelligence that the SIS would furnish a senior official like the Defence Secretary. The SIS would not provide him with all intelligence information that they would come across and only operational intelligence would be given to the Defence Secretary.
“You gave to the media after the attack where you say that you had received prior warnings of the attacks but that you didn’t take the matter seriously. This showed that the information had not been relayed to the superiors?’
“Yes, I didn’t tell my superiors. When they asked, I told them that I didn’t”.
“Don’t worry about it. People are attacking me and the SIS. They call me a henchman of President Maithripala Sirisena. They want to remove me but I have done what I could do as SIS head.”
I told Sisira (former CNI). He should have told IGP (Pujith Jayasundara).”
“When this matter was taken up on April 09, this wasn’t taken seriously. If they took it up seriously, this wouldn’t have happened. I informed everyone.
“When I sent the intelligence report to the CNI, I was expecting instructions and advice from him. I didn’t get any advice and I sent my officers and found out information. On April 09 all information I had was sent to the IGP.”
“You had sent? I didn’t know. I am not telling President Sirisena had become a problem. Pujith also said so.”
“People also ask me but it’s not up to me to tell the President. But there is no point telling the President or the Prime Minister. What can they do? They can’t put roadblocks. I have told people who can do things. On April 20 I said hotels were targeted and I told CNI to put some people and look at hotels. I can only advise but I can’t instruct.”
“Will it be a problem for me because I had not given him specific instructions?”
“What can you say? Do you know where to put road blocks? People with experience must do it. IGP knows what to do. So you have done your job. The rest is up to the IGP.”
“If you had given me instructions on what to tell the IGP, I could have given him more specific information.”
I don’t need to say. And neither do you. The IGP should know what to do.”
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AG not bound by its recommendations, yet to receive report
PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks:
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC is not bound by recommendations made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) into the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, or presidential directives in that regard, according to authoritative sources.
They said that the AG couldn’t under any circumstances initiate legal proceedings until he had received the full PCoI report.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the PCoI report on Feb 1. The President’s Office delivered a set of PCoI reports to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on Feb 23, a day after the report was presented to the cabinet of ministers. The Island raised the matter with relevant authorities in the wake of a section of the media reporting the PCoI recommending punitive measures against former President Maithripala Sirisena, Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, IGP Pujitha Jayasundera, Chief of State Intelligence Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena, Chief of National Intelligence retired DIG Sisira Mendis and All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader and Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Rishad Bathiudeen et al over the Easter Sunday carnage.
Sources pointed out that due to the inordinate delay in sharing the PCoI report with the AG, the department hadn’t been able to take preliminary measures required to initiate the proceedings. Sources said that a team of officers would take at least six weeks or more to examine the report before tangible measures could be taken.
With the AG scheduled to retire on May 24, 2021, even if the AG Department received the P CoI it would be quite a tough task to initiate proceedings ahead of retirement, sources said. However, in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in last October, both the AG and the IGP could receive extensions beyond 60 at the President’s discretion.
Dappula de Livera received an Acting appointment as the AG a week after the Easter Sunday carnage whereas his predecessor Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, was elevated to Chief Justice.
Responding to another query, sources said that the Attorney General two weeks ago requested Secretary to the President for a copy of the P CoI. However, the AG was yet to receive one, sources said. In spite of the AG not receiving a P CoI copy, the AG had instructed the IGP to obtain a copy of the report when he requested the police to complete investigations into the Easter Sunday carnage. The AG issued specific instructions after having examined police files pertaining to the investigations.
The IGP, too, hadn’t received a copy so far though some sections of the report were in the public domain.
Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage displayed at a live political programme on Derana a copy of the P CoI report he received at the cabinet meeting earlier in the day.
Sources said that the Attorney General’s Department couldn’t decide on a course of action in respect of the Easter carnage on the basis of a section of the report. In terms of the Commission of Inquiry Act (Section 24), the AG enjoyed significant powers/authority in respect of investigations; sources said adding that the Department urgently required both the P CoI report and police investigations report. The Attorney General’s Department has raised the delay in receiving a P CoI report amidst the Catholic Church attacking the government over the same issue.
Sources said that ministerial committee appointed to study the P CoI report couldn’t decide on how to proceed with the recommendations and the matter was entirely in the hands of the AG. Sources pointed out that the delay on the part of the government to release the report had received the attention of sections of the international media, including the New York Times. Public Security Minister retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera having met Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith at the Bishop’s House on Dec 8, 2020 said that the AG would get a copy of the P CoI report once the President received it. Minister Weerasekera said that the CID had handed over the relevant files after having completed investigations into eight blasts. Referring to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) report on the Easter Sunday carnage, the former Navy Chief of Staff said that all such documents would have to be brought to one place and considered before initiating legal proceedings. Acknowledging that there could be delays, lawmaker Weerasekera said that on the instructions of the Attorney General a 12-member team of lawyers was working on the case. The minister vowed to expose the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday attacks. Investigations continued while some of those wanted were overseas, the minister said.
The minister acknowledged that the Attorney General couldn’t proceed without the P CoI report. Minister Weerasekera reiterated that once the President received the P CoI report, it would be sent to the Attorney General. The minister said that there were documents two to three feet high that needed scrutiny. The minister assured comprehensive investigation. The minister said that investigations pertaining to eight blasts had been completed and the reports handed over to the AG. However, the Attorney General had found shortcomings in those investigations.
JVP picks holes in PCoI report
By Saman Indrajith
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday bombings had failed to identify the mastermind of , the JVP said yesterday.
Addressing the media at the party headquarters in Pelawatte, JVP Propaganda Secretary MP Vijitha Herath said that the PCoI report had levelled accusations against former President Maithripala Sirisena, former IGP and head of intelligence for their dereliction of duty, shirking of responsibilities and not taking action to prevent the attacks and negligence. There were reference to the causes of the terror attacks and actions to be taken to avoid such attacks and the influence of extremist organisations. “However, there is no mention of the mastermind of the attacks, the handlers of the attackers and those whose interests the carnage served. It is also not mentioned whether there has been any foreign or local organisation behind those attacks. As per the PCoI report the attack took place as a result of culmination of extremism.
“According to the PCoI the extremist activities were a result of the prevailing political situation then. The entire nation was waiting to see who was responsible and who masterminded those attacks. The PCoI has failed to identify the true culprits responsible for the terror attacks. The report says that the leader of the suicide cadres killed himself in the attacks and it was a puzzle. That means those who are actually responsible for the attacks are still at large. The report does not provide exact details of the sources of the attacks. The PCoI had sittings for one year and five months. It summoned various persons and got their statements but it has failed to shed any light on the terror attacks. Everybody knows that the top leaders of the government and heads of security and intelligence establishments failed in their duties. Ranil Wickremesinghe was the second in command and he too is bound by the responsibility but the PCoI report fails to identify him as one of the persons against whom legal action should be instituted. The PCoI has treated Wickremesinghe and former President Maithripala Sirisena differently. We are not telling that this report is a total failure but we cannot accept this as a complete report. The PCoI handed over its report to the President on Feb 1. After 23 days it was sent to Parliament. Now, a copy of the report is there in the parliamentary library for the perusal of MPs.”
Herath said that the PCoI did not have powers to take punitive action. “It only has powers to name those responsible and recommend action to be taken against those named.
TNA MP faults govt. for delay in answering questions, gets under Johnston’s skin
By Saman Indrajith
It did not matter whether the MPs were wearing pressed clothes or had travelled long distances when their questions were answered, Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando told Parliament yesterday.
The Minister said so in response to a complaint by Batticaloa District TNA MP Shanikyan Rasamanikkam, who expressed his dismay for government taking time to answer a question raised by him.
MP Rasamanikkam has raised a question whether the Minister of Health is aware that the Dikkodai ospital, located in the Batticaloa district is not used for public purposes and the patients who visit the hospital for receiving services, face inconveniences, owing to that. On behalf of the Minister of Health, the Chief Government Whip and Minister asked for additional two weeks time.
MP Rasamanikkam: I come to parliament from Batticaloa, which is 422 km away. To attend Parliament we take great care including pressing our clothes. After taking so much trouble to come there braving the pandemic threat we do not get answers. There is a Health Minister and Acting Health Minister and neither of them is here. I saw Minister Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle in the House this morning. She too has gone out. I travel more than 800 km. We could attend to many other problems. It is because the government does not give answers we are conducting protest marches, but when we do so we are hauled up before courts.
Chief Government Whip Minister Johnston Fernando: Every MP comes here wearing pressed clothes. But that has nothing to do with questions and answers here. I have been requested by the subject minister to ask for two weeks’ time. The MPs have a right to ask questions and in the same way the ministers have the right to ask for time. On the other hand, whether you cover 400 km to reach parliament does not matter. The majority of MPs travel 200 to 250 kilometers to come to Parliament. It is for that purpose they contest elections and get elected. Once elected the distance is not an issue you have to come to Parliament. The government has answered all your questions. This is the first time the Minister has asked for additional time. It is unfair for you to level charges. A more responsible conduct is expected of you as an upcoming political leader.