By Nirmala Kannangara
Deputy Minister Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development, Susantha Punchinilame, has denied ownership of the Defender vehicle that
collided with a cement carrier on the Kurunegala-Dambulla Road on June 18.
In its June 20 issue, The Sunday Leader carried a photograph of the accident (under the caption ‘Ministerial Road Rage’) which stated:
‘This Defender vehicle collided with a cement carrier and a sand truck at Melsiripura on the Dambulla Road on Friday, June 18. The Defender is believed to have been traveling at a speed exceeding 120 km/h. Witnesses described the vehicle being driven at high speed using strobe lights and horning excessively as it careened wildly along the main Dambulla road before crashing into the two trucks. Witnesses said the vehicle belonged to Minister Susantha Punchinilame.
Melsiripura police confirmed it was so but subsequently claimed the vehicle belonged to one Mendis. Three passengers traveling in the vehicle were remarkably unhurt escaping with minor injuries’
Pasted on the windscreen was a “VIP” sticker, adding fuel to the speculation that the vehicle did, indeed, belong to Punchinilame.
Although the Deputy Minister claimed that the vehicle in question did not belong to him, the Gokarella Police OIC IP Vitharana told The Sunday Leader that it was Punchinilame’s Defender jeep that met with the accident with two other vehicles at Melsiripura. The OIC continued to insist that it was so even when we contacted him again last week after receiving Punchinilame’s letter.
And in yet another twist, Police Sergeant Vasantha of the Melsiripura Police told The Sunday Leader that although the vehicle does not belong to Minister Punchinilame, the garage number plate which was found on the jeep was said to have been used by the Minister whenever he uses this vehicle. “We learned that this jeep was used by the Minister, and it is this garage number plate that he has used whenever he was traveling in the Defender,” PC Vasantha told The Sunday Leader.
Meanwhile The Sunday Leader visited Chrishantha Mendis’ residence at No 12, Airport Road, Ratmalana (who the police on the day of the accident — six hours after maintaining the vehicle belonged to Punchinilame said Mendis was the owner of the ill-fated Defender).
When we arrived at Chrishantha Mendis’ home in Ratmalana he was not in. We then spoke with his wife Mrs. Mendis. She, identified one of the young men travelling in the vehicle as her son and the other a driver but refused to identify the second young man – who was also a passenger — asking us to instead contact her husband Chrishantha Mendis.
When we spoke to Mendis he insisted the ill-fated Defender belongs to him. He said that the accident had taken place while his son C. Mendis and one of his friends B. Jayasinghe were traveling to Dambulla to see the Sri Lanka-Bangladesh Asia Cup cricket match being played that day. “I do not know why your paper is trying to give undue publicity to the accident and why Deputy Minister Punchinilame’s name has been dragged into the incident, when he has nothing to do with the vehicle or even with the accident although he is a personal childhood friend of mine,” Mendis complained. Asked why the Defender had a VIP sticker pasted on his front windscreen he said that he had been granted VIP access to the match and that the sticker had been given to him by the Cricket Board.
The Sunday Leader meanwhile went by what the OIC for Melsiripura told us – and IP Vitharana continues to maintain, that the Defender belongs to Susantha Punchinilame.