Lawyers watch CID question Sri Lanka ex-President over journalist abduction
ECONOMYNEXT – Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa had his key lawyers by his side as a team of CID officers interviewed him for three hours in connection with the 2008 abduction and torture of Nation journalist Keith Noyahr.
Sources on both sides said the former president began the interview by offering short eats and tea and the meeting went off cordially despite dozens of Rajapaksa loyalists demonstrating outside by holding banners expressing solidarity.
Former minister G. L. Peiris and former chief justice Sarath Silva were also by Rajapaksa’s side as CID officers went through the events of May 22, 2008 when Noyahr was abducted from outside his home in Dehiwala.
Shortly after the meeting, Rajapaksa told reporters at his home that the CID asked him about two telephone calls made to his phone by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, then a minister in the Rajapaksa administration, and Lalith Allahakkon, the chief editor of the Nation.
Speaker Jayasuriya had said that if not for the intervention of Rajapaksa, Keith would not have been freed by his abductors who had tortured him. A short while after Jayasuriya sought Rajapaksa’s help, Noyahr was freed by his abductors.
Investigators believe a group of military officials behind the abduction of Noyahr was also responsible for the assassination in January 2009 of another newspaper editor, Lasantha Wickrematunge who was fiercely critical of the Rajapakse regime.
The former leader said he could not recall the telephone calls said to have been made to him by Jayasuriya and Allahakkon.
"I don’t remember such a call," Rajapakse said. "I asked them (the CID) whether it was wrong to have released him (Keith Noyahr)."
Police sources said the CID at the outset made it clear to Rajapaksa that he was not being treated as a suspect and only as a witness who could shed more light on the events that followed Noyahr’s abduction.
Rajapaksa reportedly accused the CID officers of fabricating evidence to meet a “political agenda,” but was said to have been rebuffed. The detectives have reportedly pointed to two senior lawyers present and said they could easily demolish the case if there was any fabrication of evidence.
During an otherwise cordial meeting, the former president was seen restraining Silva. One of the lawyers present left the room half way through the interview leaving one behind.
As the CID team left, Rajapaksa came out to speak to a large crowd of reporters and declare he was the victim of a political vendetta.
"This questioning is part of mounting pressure on me, to corner me and to hurt me," he said. "There is a political motive behind this. This is a political witch hunt."
But at the same time, he tried make light of the questioning.
“I was told that Karu jayasuriya’ had called me at 11.20 p.m. This shows I don’t go to sleep at 10.00,” he said referring to a previous claim of his successor Maithripala Sirisena that he goes to bed early.
He said the detectives did not accuse him of involvement in the abduction, but his administration was blamed.
During Rajapaksa’s tenure, 17 journalists and media workers were killed in Sri Lanka.
The former leader and members of his family are under investigation for murder and large-scale financial fraud during his decade as president. All deny any wrongdoing and blame the current government for a witch hunt.
Noyahr’s abduction, which prompted widespread criticism, came after he published an article criticising a top military commander during the height of the government’s war against Tamil rebels.
He was snatched from outside his home near Colombo as he returned from work, and was released — battered and bruised — in the streets of a suburb of Colombo a few hours later.
Prosecutors allege he was taken away in a white van and beaten up at a safe house run by the directorate of military intelligence (DMI). Noyahr has since moved to Australia and given statements to the CID twice.
Investigators also believe the DMI was behind the killing of Wickrematunge, the editor of the Sunday Leader, who had accused Rajapaksa’s brother Gotabhaya of taking kickbacks for arms purchases, and was due to testify in court when he was killed.
Major General Amal Karunasekera, the DMI’s chief at the time, is currently in custody over the case. (COLOMBO, August 18, 2018)