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Sri Lanka navy offers new evidence in Avant Garde arms scandal

By Our Police Correspondent

Oct 16, 2015 17:17 PM GMT+0530 | 0 Comment(s)


ECONOMYNEXT - Sri Lanka's attorney general may have failed to prosecute Avant Garde Maritime Services over the controversial floating armoury discovered in Galle, but Sri Lanka's navy has provided new evidence of criminal activity.

Deputy Chief naval commander southern area, Nilantha Heenatigala, has found undeclared automatic weapons and over 200,000 rounds of live ammunition aboard a second vessel of Avant Garde near Galle.

Heenatigala made an even more shocking discovery of 59 automatic weapons which had their serial numbers altered or completely obliterated to prevent tracing the weapons to the actual end user.

The authorities have raised questions on why the serial numbers of these weapons had been obliterated and if they had been used for criminal activities in Sri Lanka and abroad.

India has raised serious concerns about private security firms operating in the Indian Ocean region and the possibility of gun running and the supply of weapons to non-state actors.

-Evidence of illegal weapons-

The defence ministry's former additional secretary Damayanthi Jayaratne told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry for Fraud and Corruption (PRECIFAC) last month that only 89 weapons had been issued legally to Rakna Lanka which in turn gave those weapons to Avant Garde.

However, there had been 3,473 firearms with Rakna Lanka and many more with Avant Garde, a fact that has not come to the attention of the Attorney General who has inexplicably ruled that there could be no prosecution under firearms law.

In a formal complaint to the police inspector general, navy officer Heenatigala has asked for a criminal investigation into the Avant Garde vessel which had arrived near Galle earlier this month without proper documentation.

After the ship was intercepted by the navy, an official of the defence ministry identified as D. M. S. Dissanayake, senior assistant secretary, had issued a letter authorising the vessel to enter the port of Galle.

However, the navy felt suspicious as the vessel had indicated its destination was Colombo and had given the name of a Sri Lankan national as its skipper although the actual captain was a Ukranian national.

Both the privately-owned Avant Garde Maritime Service Private Ltd., and the defence ministry-owned Rakna Arakshaka Lanka Limited (RALL) had previously claimed that they were operating a joint venture to provide sea marshals for vessels operating in pirate infested waters.

However, in the latest instance of the navy's intervention to interdict the "Avant Garde" ship of the company by the same name, RALL had not informed the authorities about the cargo or the route of the vessel.

The navy officer had asked police to investigate if Dissanayake of the defence ministry had in fact issued a letter authorising the Avant Garde vessel to enter the Galle port with the undisclosed cargo of weapons.

Heenatigala told police that the vessel had originated from the Red Sea and was ostensibly on its way to Colombo harbour and had authorisation to carry only three weapons.

"This vessel had violated international law by travelling in this manner without proper authorisation," he had said adding that as a Sri Lankan flag carrying vessel, the Sri Lankan navy had authority to board and inspect the vessel at any time in any location.

The naval officer had asked police to cause a separate investigation into the vessel's violation of international maritime law.

Government spokesman and Health minister Rajitha Senaratne told reporters on Thursday that the cabinet discussed the issue at its Wednesday meeting and President Maithripala Sirisena vowed to carry out a thorough investigation.

The minister dismissed allegations that several key ministers of the current government were involved in an attempt to scuttle the investigation after allegedly receiving huge kick backs.

Avant Garde not paid  919 million  rupees to state

During the current presidential commission of inquiry at the BMICH, it was revealed that Avant Garde company owed a staggering 919 million rupees to the defence ministry run RALL, but no action had been taken to recover the dues.

The new management of RALL took action to sack its general manager retired major general Gamini Jayasundera following allegations that he gave false  evidence at the presidential inquiry.

Minister Senaratne warned Prime Minister Wickremesinghe soon after the parliamentary elections that the fate of his government in 2004 could befall the current administration too unless they changed the officials still loyal to former president Rajapaksa.

Wickremesinghe’s government was sacked by the then president Chandrika Kumaratunga, partly following allegations of mishandling of the defence ministry by the then minister Tilak Marapone who has now been appointed minister for law and order. (Colombo/Oct24/2015)


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