Ex-SLAF officer sheds light on developments leading to Aragalaya

- island.lk

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Against the backdrop of Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena’s quite belated (but better late than never) public confirmation of external interventions in Aragalaya, that led to the overthrow of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government in mid-July 2022, former cashiered Flying Officer Keerthi Ratnayake, with a never-say-die attitude even when odds are overwhelmingly stacked against him, asserted that he was the first to alert the then government regarding the impending chaos.

Ratnayake disclosed that he realized the unprecedented threat and got in touch with Shermila Rajapaksha, the then head of Social Media at the Presidential Secretariat. She conveyed the information to the relevant authorities though, to the unfortunate detriment of the country, they chose to turn a blind eye to the stunning disclosure, Ratnayake said, in an interview with The Island last week.

Responding to the writer’s query as to how he obtained such information and whether he could verify the same, Ratnayake revealed that a female Indian diplomat, based in Colombo, explained to him how a frightening situation could develop over a period of six months in case Sri Lanka failed to procure the essentials. This happened in mid-2021 as the country was beginning to experience economic difficulties but the government remained adamant that it could overcome whatever the challenges ahead, Ratnayake said.

The Island decided to withhold the diplomat’s identity though Ratnayake had no objections to us disclosing her name. “I was flabbergasted when she explained how a sharp and simultaneous drop in foreign remittances from Sri Lankan workers employed overseas, income from tourism and exports could overwhelm the government of the day. Unfortunately, instead of acting on the information provided by me, the government targeted me,” Ratnayake claimed.

Ratnayake alleged that, ironically, the powers that be found fault with Shermila Rajapaksha for being in touch with him. “The government shifted her from the Presidential Secretariat to the National Zoological Gardens, in late Oct 2021, as those in authority discarded my timely warning,” Ratnayake said.

Asked to clarify, Ratnayake pointed out that telephone records didn’t lie. “I have passed the information regarding some high profile incidents/developments over the years to authorities. Whatever I have done can be easily verified with telephone records as well as recorded conversations, in addition to statements taken from me,” Ratnayake said.

The writer got in touch with Ratnayake on Good Friday (March 29) after having watched his explosive interview with Chamuditha Samarawickrema that dealt with the sordid operations undertaken by a section of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).

‘The Truth with Chamuditha’ discussed clandestine operations undertaken by certain corrupt powerful elements in the CID against the backdrop of an alleged plot to assassinate Fort Magistrate Thilina Gamage. Ratnayake revealed that the ongoing investigation into the targeting of the Fort Magistrate was prompted by information provided by him to Public Security Minister Tiran Alles regarding the alleged plot.

The issue at hand is whether the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government could have averted the political-economic-social crisis even if his administration acted on the information provided by Ratnayake. Why should a government react to such unsubstantiated claims? It wouldn’t be fair to find fault with the government for disregarding Ratnayake’s alert received in September 2021 but when violent public protests started on March 31, 2022, outside President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s private residence at Pangiriwatte, Mirihana, someone in authority should have immediately realized the validity of the warning received six months earlier.

Unfortunately, the ruling Sri Lanka Podujuna Peramuna (SLPP), possibly overwhelmed by the snowballing situation, simply failed to inquire into the warning received in Sept 2021. Less than four months short of two years since President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s ouster, the high profile operation remained uninvestigated.

CBK withdraws commission

Having passed out in 1998 from the SLAF training academy after he successfully completed training there, as an officer cadet, during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s first tenure as the President, Ratnayake got into serious trouble quite early in his career after he exposed an unprecedented racket in gold smuggling allegedly carried out by corrupt elements in his own service, but the then President withdrew his commission for cooperating with the then Ravaya Editor Victor Ivan in the writing of ‘Chaura Rajina’ (Sri Lankan bandit queen), clearly accusing the then Head of State and the Commander-in-Chief of high level corruption.

Ratnayake justified the support provided to Victor Ivan. “I have no qualms about furnishing information at that time,” Ratnayake said, identifying himself as the one who was arrested over the death threats issued to The Sunday Times defence correspondent Iqbal Athas and W.G. Gunarathna of Lankadeepa in the Lankadeepa editorial in late August 2007. Ratnayake acknowledged that he did so over the inaccurate reportage of questionable acquisition of MiG-27s from Ukraine at the onset of Eelam War IV.

Ratnayake disclosed how the relevant MiG-27 file had been surreptitiously removed from Air Force headquarters by a senior officer (name withheld), now retired, during Air Marshal Roshan Goonetilleke’s tenure as the Commander of the Air Force.

Responding to queries, Ratnayake explained how he served the government in spite of losing his commission during Kumaratinga’s administration. The case was quietly settled by granting Ratnayake bail.

There had been a previous case involving Air Force personnel. The accused-appellants H.M. Rukman Herath (gunned down near his home) and Don Pradeep Sujeewa Kannangara who had been convicted for intimidating and assaulting The Sunday Times defence columnist Iqbal Athas and his family in 1998 were acquitted by the Appeal Court Justice S.I. Imam and Sarath de Abrew in Dec 2008.

They were earlier sentenced by the High Court for a period 10 years RI each and fined Rs. 10,000 each for intimidating and threatening them. They were found guilty, by the Colombo High Court on February 7, 2002, of several charges including intimidation and criminal trespass.

Reference was also made to para-military operations undertaken at the time by renegade LTTE field commander Karuna in support of the then government. Ratnayake complained bitterly how successive administrations conveniently failed to reinstate him though the Court of Appeal quashed the SLAF Commander’s decision to recommend the withdrawal of his commission following the exposure of gold and computer spare parts smuggling by some of its personnel.

An angry Ratnayake said that he asked for a Court Martial as he was confident of proving his innocence. “There were altogether 13 serious charges,” Ratnayake said, adding that the Court of Appeal observed that the procedure followed by the Air Force to withdraw his commission was entirely contrary to the stipulated process.

Ratnayake recalled how those who had been involved in the gold and computer spare parts smuggling operation made an attempt to do away with him. “Having abducted me, they assaulted me before making an attempt to drown me in the sea off Negombo in the first week of March 2022. But I was lucky to be rescued by some fishermen,” Ratnayake said, producing the front-page of the Lankadeepa report of March 3, 2002, revealing the incident.

“All print media, both Sinhala and English, reported the attack on me. They exploited Defence Ministry approval to deploy aircraft to fly in spare parts from abroad required by the Air Force to smuggle in gold and computer parts. We are a corrupt country. Corruption is a way of life here and both civilians and military alike rob at all levels,” he said as a matter of fact.

Developments in Aug 2021

Ratnayake said that several weeks after he passed the information to the Presidential Secretariat official regarding the impending economic catastrophe, a very interesting and significant development took place.

Having heard of a clandestine operation to attack Indian diplomatic mission in Afghanistan or in this region, including Colombo, Ratnayake sent a WhatsApp message to the Indian diplomat who shared information regarding the impending chaos in Sri Lanka. “As soon as I sent the message, internal security system incapacitated her phone. This happened on August 11, 2021, morning. Two hours later, the Kollupitiya Police contacted me and requested me to come over regarding an inquiry. However, the OIC there, at that time, wasn’t aware of what was going on. I then got in touch with Senior DIG (WP) Deshabandu Tennakoon and shared with him the developments taking place”.

Ratnayake asserted that the particular diplomat arranged a vehicle for him to safely reach the Kollupitiya Police where he found intelligence officers from different units, including State Intelligence Service (SIS) and Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) present. Asked why he first contacted the diplomat instead of local security authorities, Ratnayake explained that the information received by him suggested that the attack was to take place on August 15. Therefore, he first alerted the diplomat as the Indian interests were under threat and then the police at the highest level. Having questioned Ratnayake at the Kollupitiya Police station, a team of senior officers had put him into a white van and were on their way to Homagama to collect his laptop and some other personal belongings. “On the way to Homagama, one of the officers received a call. I was told of instructions received from higher authorities to take me into custody immediately. I sought an explanation and was told they couldn’t under any circumstances disregard the orders of their superiors.”

Later, Ratnayake had been taken to the Colombo Crimes Division (CCD), Dematagoda, where, after being held for several hours, arrangements were made to take him to Kandy around midnight. Ratnayake had opposed the move as he felt that the police were planning to get rid of him. Meanwhile, someone who had been at the CCD at that time contacted Saliya Peiris, PC, and the swift intervention made by him saved Ratnayake’s life.

Ratnayake said that he was granted bail on Feb 11, 2022, a few weeks before “staged” public protests erupted demanding President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation.

Responding to Chamuditha Samarawickrema, Ratnayake revealed that during the time he was held at the Magazine Prison he was able to contact the Indian diplomat as two persons held in custody there had hand phones. The two were identified as a drug dealer and a politician. Following a short stint here, the diplomat received an appointment to a key Indian mission in a Commonwealth country. Her transfer happened just two days short of one year after the Pangiriwatte incident. “I could contact her freely and she knew what was happening,” Ratnayake said.

The Island sought an explanation regarding the current status of the investigation into the Aug 15, 2021, threat against the Indian mission here. Ratnayake said that the Indian High Commission never furnished a statement requested by the local police though its First Secretary, in a note simply identified my telephone number as the one from which warning was issued over an impending attack. The Indian High Commission owed an explanation why it didn’t assist an investigation, Ratnayake said, revealing the role played by the same diplomat during the Norway-led peace process though, at that time, she hadn’t been with the Indian Foreign Service.

An incident in Nov 2019

In spite of the eradication of the LTTE in the battle field, in May 2009, successive governments never sought to restore normalcy. In fact, they worked overtime to cause turmoil. The constitutional coup caused by then President Mairithipala Sirisena, in late October 2018, plunged the country into an unprecedented crisis. Both Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ranil Wickremesinghe claimed to be the legitimate Prime Minister, Ratnayake said, claiming that he was based in Dubai at that time. Ratnayake, with the intervention of an interested party, had received lucrative employment from an affluent Indian there.

During this period, widely described as a 52-day government, there had been talk of a military take-over and Ratnayake acknowledged that he played a role and was to explore ways and means of securing support from various parties. However, at the last moment, Ratnayake alerted President Sirisena as well as Basil Rajapaksa through an academic (name withheld) regarding the plot. Mahinda Rajapaksa, too, had been alerted and on the orders of the President the military guard at the President’s House was replaced by the Special Task Force (STF).

Ratnayake said that he believed a military take-over could have caused a catastrophe. The former Air Force officer said that the killing of two policemen at Vavunathivu, Batticaloa, in late Nov, 2018, destruction of several Buddha statues in the Mawanella police area, in Dec 2018, recovery of explosives at Lactowatte (Wanathawilluwa, Puttalam), and shooting of the then Minister Kabir Hashim’s Coordinating Secretary Mohamed Naslim at Danagama, Mawanella, in early March 2019, should have been properly investigated. Had that happened the Easter Sunday plot could have been averted, Ratnayake said, asserting that perhaps former President Sirisena, too, has now decided to reveal an external hand in the Easter Sunday carnage.

Sirisena’s statement to the CID that India engineered the Easter Sunday carnage has raised eyebrows. Perhaps Sirisena hasn’t anticipated a swift intervention by Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, thereby paving the way for the Maligakanda Magistrate to record Sirisena’s statement tomorrow (4). Did Sirisena seek political advantage for him and his party in the run-up to the presidential poll scheduled for later this year.

But the issue at hand is whether the 2019 Easter carnage here helped the BJP polls campaign in neighbouring India, Ratnayake queried, calling for an investigation with an open mind. Perhaps, the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) and the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) failed to go deep enough to ascertain foreign interventions.

Speaker Abeywardena’s recent declaration regarding direct external intervention to overthrow Gotabaya Rajapaksa and make him interim President as a patsy of the conspirators didn’t result in the anticipated response. The government and the Opposition alike simply ignored that statement whereas the Speaker himself asserted that there was no point in looking into that matter, obviously due to the influence and power of those behind it. Seeing what is blatantly happening in Palestine before the entire world since the October 07 attack on Israel by Hamas, we, too, won’t blame Speaker Abeywardena for his assertion.

It would be a grave mistake on Sri Lanka’s part to be influenced by assertions made by foreign governments regarding the 2019 terrorist attacks though there is absolutely no harm in securing their assistance.

President’s Counsel Dappula de Livera, who declared, on the eve of his retirement as the Attorney General, that the Easter Sunday massacre was a grand conspiracy for there is clear evidence of a grand conspiracy linked to Sri Lanka’s 2019 Easter carnage, the privately owned NewsFirst network that quoted Attorney General Dappula De Livera as having said so on May 18, 2021.

In an exclusive comment telecast by it, the AG said that information by the state intelligence service, “with times, targets, places, method of attack and other information is clear evidence there was a grand conspiracy in place with regard to the April 21, 2019, attack.”

The identities of those involved in the grand conspiracy must come by way of evidence, the AG has said, adding that there were multiple suspects connected to the attack, including Maulavi (Islamic preacher) Mohamed Ibrahim Mohamed Naufer, “the person that the Sri Lankan government ruled as the mastermind of the attacks.”

But, De Livera declined to be subjected to police investigation, having clearly recognized the peril he was putting his retirement into by being a party to any such investigation.

Five years after the Easter Sunday carnage, the country remains in the dark as to police investigations and legal proceedings as regards the heinous crime that claimed the lives of nearly 270 and wounded approximately 500 other innocent people. The dead and wounded included foreigners.

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