Top Police sources alleged yesterday that the controversial removal of the Moneragala Police division from DIG M.R.Lathif was prompted by an incident involving the arresting of illegal sand miners connected to Cabinet Minister Sumedha Jayasena of the Moneragala District.
The minister had reportedly urged the Police officers at the arresting station, including senior officers overlooking the area to release the offenders stating “They are my men and the sand was to build my house”.
However, the Police had withstood the pressure upon instructions from DIG M.R Lathiff and produced the three men in courts. Consequent to the calls from the Minister and a subsequent background check on the suspects, it was revealed that they had been convicted for the same offence on a previous occasion.
The suspects were reportedly fined Rs. 170,000 each after being produced in court.
Sources said the sand was actually to be transported to a site of a “three to four storey hotel that was being built.”
While pressure was building up on the Police over this incident, in a separate incident on January 30 four men including the brother of a Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman of the area were arrested for allegedly assaulting three Police officers on duty.
Four men under the influence of liquor had created a stir at the Moneragala main bus stop, after which three patrolling policemen had intervened. The four men had allegedly assaulted the Police officers with a sword and fled the area.
Later that night all four men were arrested and brought to the Moneragala Police station.
During investigations it was revealed that one of the suspects, who is the brother of the PS Chairman was under a suspended sentence imposed on him for assaulting and snatching away the duty pistol of a range forest officer previously.
The local government member had then allegedly exerted undue pressure on the Police to release the suspect, to which the Police had not relented. It is reported that DIG Lathif had stood his ground and instructed the local Police to act according to the law which irked the PS member and his colleagues.
Sources in the area said that the former STF veteran upon appointment as DIG had initiated “Community based Policing” with vigour in the area. Police personnel including the OIC of Police stations were instructed and encouraged to participate with affairs of the locals in order to curb an increasing crime rate, and other social vices prevalent in the rural villages.
It is reported that the “complaint box” system, whereby a complaint box is placed in a school system was introduced by the DIG, which led to the detection of many criminal activities in the area together with social vices. This system was later implemented islandwide on instructions of the Police Chief IGP N.K. Ilangakoon.
The DIG had also initiated many projects which were focused on curbing social vices, sources in the area said that the Buttala, Dambayaya school issue was a case point, where the DIG using his personal contacts had urged donors to contribute to the schooling of children who had to move away from the village school after grade 5.
The DIG had also initiated a 24 hour traffic Policing system which included Policemen conducting random checks on vehicles.
“This was a turning point, The Police were instructed to be vigilant on three 8 hour shifts. That meant that all the illegal activities of treasure hunting, illegal sand mining and transportation of ganja were curbed because the Police officers on duty were instructed to be vigilant on every moving vehicle. This created a major stir within many powerful people who resented it” a source said.
Thereafter at the District Development Committee meeting held on February 12 the local politicians had accused the DIG of being biased to which he retorted in the strongest possible terms. The local politicians had insisted on the transfer of the DIG and had threatened not to participate in any meeting until there demands were met and walked out of the meeting.
UNP Moneragala District parliamentarian Ranjith Maddumabandara speaking to the Daily Mirror alleged that the Police had succumbed to political pressure.
“He was an officer who worked independently and this is the fate of such Police officers who work independently without fear or favor” he said.
Police spokesman SSP Prishantha Jayakody denied that the transfer of the DIG had been due to political pressure.
“There is no truth in the assertion that there was political pressure. In the letter of appointment to the DIG to the Badulla district it was stated that he would overlook the Moneragala District until a permanent DIG was appointed. Recently senior Police officers were promoted and therefore a different DIG was appointed to the Moneragala District. There was no transfer as such” he said. (Hafeel Farisz)
Minister Jayasena says called IGP to “seek relief” .
Cabinet Minister Sumedha Jayasena while admitting that she called the IGP and requested the release of three illegal sand miners, who were arrested on December 27, said she intended to make a statement regarding the issue.
“This is all fabrication; the media is slinging mud at us. There were three people who were caught on December 27, and they were helpers working at a building I am constructing but I had no knowledge of this particular incident. These people were arrested and they did not know that it was illegal. They had done this before as well. When they were arrested I didn’t call any other officer because I don’t do things like that. I only called the IGP and asked him to give the people some relief” she said.
The Minister of Parliamentary Affairs when asked if calling the IGP to “seek relief” for those involved in illegal activities was ethical, the Minister admitted it was not.
“I thought it was more prudent to call the IGP and tell him. I admit it was wrong. I have called the DIG twice before and on both occasions the people were punished so I didn’t call him. I asked the IGP to give some relief because those arrested didn’t know what they were doing was illegal or that there was no permit,” the Minister said.
Speaking further the Minister said the IGP had responded saying if the complaint was not written “he would see what he could do”.
“You can verify with the IGP if you wish. At the time the complaint was not written and as soon as the DIG had gotten to know about this (call to the IGP) he had hurriedly written the complaint and told to produce them in courts.”
The Minister when asked if she was aware about the previous convictions of the suspects for the same offence, she said she wasn’t.
“How would I know? They were only helpers or the workers and I was not aware of any such thing” she said.
She further said she had requested the IGP to conduct an investigation into the actions of the DIG “much before these incidents”.
“ I have documentary proof to show how the DIG victimized people and I will submit them all. Innocent people were victimized. I’ll give you an example.
There was an incident in the Moneragala town where there was fight between a group and two drunken policemen. The four people who were arrested in connection with the fight were produced with bogus possessions. One person was even produced and said to have had 2 kilos of Ganja. Who will come to a fight with Ganja?” she asked.
When it was pointed out that the incident involved a brother of the Chairman of a Pradeshiya Sabha, who was convicted for assaulting a forest range officer and was serving a suspended sentence the Minister said she was not aware of this fact.
“ I don’t know about the history, but on this instance everything was false. I have never done anything wrong in my life. We had urged the IGP to give the people of the district some relief by taking the DIG out of the area. The OIC and the HQIs were terrified of him and we can’t talk to them. He had instructed everyone not to listen to politicians and to only take orders from him. The OICs will talk now, they were frightened to work under him” the Minister said.