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FeaturesNewsMuseum robbery: 4 months on mystery deepens

Museum robbery: 4 months on mystery deepens

Stanley Liyanage.

Security officer at closeby Art gallery who spotted luxury vehicles at musuem on night of the robbery relates ordeal of being kidnapped and mercilessly beaten by gang . Hours before the National Museum in Colombo was robbed, nearly four months back, several luxury vehicles were seen in the area, according to a statement made by a security officer of the Art Gallery situated nearby.
Stanley Liyanage, 40, was on duty at the Art Gallery on March 16 – the night the museum was burgled.
 Mr. Liyanage himself underwent an ordeal last month at the hands of an unidentified group who abducted him and threatened him with death if he did not confess to the robbery. After he refused to do so he was tortured and held for more than 20 days before he was dumped on a road in Gadaladeniya, a town close to Kandy.

The victim told the Sunday Times that he travelled from Kandy to report to work on June 12. The nightmare began when he got off the bus around 2.30 in the afternoon at Colombo Fort. “I was taken away by force in a three wheeler and later blind folded and bundled into a van,” he said.

Recounting the ordeal he said the men asked him whether he had anything to do with the robbery and he said he had no idea what they were talking about. “They told me to admit that I was the one who was responsible for the theft and accept the charge. But I told them that I can’t do that because I won’t accept something that I didn’t do,” he said.

He said he was tortured for 19 days inside a building with continuous beatings by about more than 10 men.�“I cannot stand or walk due to the injuries I sustained,” he said.

“When they released me they said they were not doing so because of a complaint made to the Human Rights Commission but because they wanted to do so,” he said adding that the men had threatened they would finish him off with just one bullet if he tried to act smart and that they would also tackle his brother in law, Sunil Wickremesinghe, a JVP councillor of the Udunuwara Pradeshiya Sabha.

Mr. Wickramasinge told the Sunday Times that when the family learned that his brother-in-law had not reported for work, they made a complaint regarding his disappearance at the Davulagala Police Station on June 12, around 10 p.m. and on the following day too.
 He said they made a complaint to the Human Rights Commission regarding his disappearance on June 17 and after he re-emerged on July 2, they placed another complaint this time on charges of kidnapping and torture.

Mr. Wickremesinghe said the family believed that his brother-in-law’s abduction would have been linked to a statement he had made to the CID following the robbery, that he had seen an unusual sight of several luxury (VIP) vehicles parked in the vicinity of the museum on the night it was robbed. He said Mr. Liyanage had to report to the CID twice to record statements.
 Mr. Wickremesinghe further charged that there was no development in the probe to identify his brother-in-law’s kidnappers and that his life was still in danger.

Meanwhile, the Colombo Crime Division (CCD) arrested a man on June 28, for possessing three gold biscuits weighing around 630g in a house in Kadawatha on the suspicion that the gold may have been from the artifacts stolen from the Colombo National Museum.

The suspect Thenuwara Arachchige Kelum was remanded by the Colombo Chief Magistrate Rashmi Singappuli who also ordered that the recovered gold be sent to the Gem and Jewellery Authority to ascertain whether the gold was from the stolen swords or any other artifact.
 According to Colombo Crimes branch IP Suresh Indika Edirisuriya the suspect had said that he had found the gold in some gravel that had been brought to raise the foundation of his house in Wellampitiya. He further said the manner in which the suspect answered made them suspicous that the gold may have been connected to the museum robbery.

At one time during the interrogation the suspect had said that he had found the gold at the construction site of a house where he assisted in masonry work, Inspector Edirisuriya said, adding that the suspect had said he found the gold in a tin while he was cleaning the shelves of the house. IP Edirisuriya also said the suspect had sold some of the gold via brokers to goldsmiths in Ambalangoda and Sea Street in Colombo. However, IP Edirisuriya said the investigations had not yet been concluded.

Meanwhile, nearly four months after the robbery police are yet to make a breakthrough in the investigation into the break-in at the museum, while questions have arisen about the state of the security arrangements at the building.
 Colombo National Museum former director Sirinimal Lakdusinghe said even before his time the government didn’t pay much heed to strengthening the security at the museum in spite of the valuable artifacts that are housed there.

“When I was there the security guard didn’t even have a baton to protect at least himself and there was no camera but only an alarm system,” Mr. Lakdusinghe said, adding that the funds provided by the government was not enough to strengthen the security or even pay the people who work at the museum. He said the government should give more priority to the upkeep and security of the country’s premier museum.
By Chamal Weerakkody and Lalith Walisundara

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