Disgraced DIG Vass is only the tip of the iceberg
The downfall of DIG Vass Gunawardena, once a star crime buster, known for his special relationship with the powers that be in the defence establishment is interesting, not so much for the extent of his alleged involvement in a myriad of killings and extortions, but for the strange reason that his political bosses and quasi-political bosses, especially, in the defence establishment, have let him down.
But those within the defence circles should know that investigating DIG Gunawardana would tantamount to opening a can of worms.
They should brace for more disturbing disclosures, if the investigators are given a free hand. Perhaps they do not need to worry as even the top echelons of the government, who authorized the investigation, would find it more convenient to confine the investigation covering only the murder of Mohamed Shiyam, whose brother was a generous financer of the ruling party.
Fight the underworld
Disgraced DIG Vass Gunawardena was a cornerstone of the government’s unorthodox and highly questionable strategy of fighting the underworld, which saw suspected underworld kingpins, disappear, and being shot dead under suspicious circumstances.
Vass commanded a special police team, which was deployed to fight the underworld, in underworld style. Their operations were officially sanctioned, though some of which had little to do with fighting the underworld. In the aftermath of the abduction and the torture of media activist and journalist, Poddala Jayantha in Nugegoda, it was alleged that Vass’s elite police team was involved. Last year, in the wake of the paranoia over the spree of killings in Kahawatta, Vass and his team were deployed in the area. In one particular incident, three men who were arrested over the killings and subsequently released were abducted by unidentified gunmen. Vass Gunawardena, however, was applauded by the villagers for bringing the spree of killings to an end.
Subsequent to Vass’ arrest last week, the over-enthusiastic investigators have now gone on record, helped by their friendly scribes and their inspired media leaks, that Vass and his cops were involved in a series of extortions and murders. The investigators allege that Vass, through his cops, had been demanding millions of rupees from Tamil business, threatening them with arrest, over charges of involvement with the LTTE, should they fail to pay up.
However, this is not the first time that the allegations about the extortionist rings run by the security forces and police officers have come to light. The government and its interlocutors have regularly dismissed those allegations as ‘conspiracies and propaganda.’
Notwithstanding Vass’ now much publicized warning to the CID, in which he bragged he was a murderer, the investigators deserve a word of caution for different reasons.
Several years back, DIG Pujitha Jayasundara who tried to play the good Samaritan when journalist Parameshwari Munusamy was abducted and later detained in TID custody, was transferred to Nuwara Eliya on the same night itself.
The fact of the matter is that DIG Vass Gunawardana did not act alone. He was a trusted figure of the government. His operations were sanctioned by the State and when he stepped beyond his mandate, the State looked the other way. This time, Vass apparently moved far beyond, and allegedly ordered the abduction and murder of Shiyam, who hailed from a politically connected family.
In this country, some people, such as Shiyam are more equal than others.
Many others, less fortunate, disappeared without a trace, like businessman Ramasamay Prabhakaran, alias Majestic Prabha, 42, who was abducted by armed men, after he filed a FR petition over the torture he had been subjected to by the police, when he was held in the custody of the TID for 28 months, earlier. One respondent cited in the FR application was then SSP Vass Gunawardena.
Prabha also alleged, during a discussion with a group of human rights activists, days before his abduction, that SSP Vass Gunawardena tortured him and demanded Rs 100 million during his earlier stint of detention.
Three days before his FR application was taken up by the Supreme Court, Prabha was abducted by seven armed men, in the presence of his wife and daughter, near his residence on Canal Bank Row, Wellawatte, on 11 February, 2012.
In his FR petition, Prabha demanded Rs 90 million as damage for degrading treatment and torture he had suffered during his 28 month detention by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID).
Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Vaas Gunawardena, Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Anura Senanayake, SP Mahin Dole, and five others were cited as respondents.
In his FR petition, the petitioner stated that “on 21 May, 2009, he was interrogated by one of the Respondents, SP Mahin Dole together with otheroOfficers, of how well he knew Col. Ranjith Chandrasiri Perera of the Sri Lanka Army and what connections he had with him…
“Petitioner was then taken by SSP Vaas Gunawardena to the CCD and was assaulted with an iron rod in the most inhuman and degrading manner, where he was injured over most parts of his body, including his private parts.”
After Prabha was abducted, a caller telephoned his wife, in faltering Tamil, and demanded Rs 100 million to release her husband. After two days, the caller stopped calling.
Prabha joined a long list of the disappeared and abducted.
Climate of impunity
Vass Gunawardena is a product of the climate of impunity that the incumbent regime and some of its key protagonists, perpetuated in the country. Gunawardena, though now demeaned, rightly so, served his political and quasi-political bosses. It would be naïve to believe that the latter would remain idle as investigators unearth more and more incriminating evidence, some of which indicate, their own culpability.
The state sanctioned cover-ups are part of the game. Those who are familiar with the investigations into the disappearance of journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda would recall that the CID investigators traced the last caller to Eknaligoda, whom he was supposed to have gone to meet on the day of his disappearance. The CID using its advanced equipment traced the caller, who continued to use the same phone, to somewhere in Ampara. After this particular breakthrough, the investigations were suddenly stalled, in the words of the officials’ privy to the investigations, ‘due to the instructions from the top.’
It was in this culture of sanctioned killings, abductions and cover-ups, that Vass Gunawardena and his ilk thrived – and were thriving.
Some would genuinely hope that recent findings would lead to a genuine clean up of the rogue elements in the police and the defence establishment, and would deliver justice to their victims. I beg to differ. Here is my two cents: A blanket ban would be imposed on the media pronouncements of the investigating officers, and the investigation would strictly be confined to the particular killing of the businessman and anything beyond it would be a ‘no go zone.’
As far as Vass Gunawardena is concerned, his luck has not run out totally. He may even emerge unscathed, charges against him dropped, and statements retracted. But, that is only if he plays by the cardinal rule of loyalty; don’t desecrate the names of your bosses, no matter how culpable they are.
Should he decide otherwise and choose to drag the rest with him, he ought to reminiscence about the dozens of suspects who died in the custody of the police. Vass does not need advice.
And I should not teach my grandmother to suck eggs.
- Ceylon Today