Sri Lanka police uncover criminal conspiracy over sterilization claims
ECONOMYNEXT – Investigations into the sterilization scare at Kurunegala have taken a new turn with the discovery that medical administrators colluded with law enforcement officials and even the magistrate to fabricate evidence and alter judicial records.
The Criminal Investigations Department (CID) reported to court that the director of the Kurunegala Teaching Hospital, A.M. S. Weera Bandara, was fully aware that the sterilisation allegations against a Muslim doctor were untrue.
Dr. Weera Bandara, a dentist by profession, had objected in court earlier to tests being carried out on women who claimed they had been illegally sterilized by Dr. Mohamed Shafi while delivering their babies through C-section procedures.
Clandestine HSG Tests
In a stunning revelation, the CID told court on Friday that the Kurunegala hospital had, in fact, clandestinely tested seven of the women and found that they had not been subjected to the alleged tubal ligation procedure.
Dr. Shafi had been accused of carrying out the procedure, allegedly tying the fallopian tubes after delivering babies of Sinhala Buddhist mothers.
Hospital Director Dr. Weera Bandara had claimed that Dr. Shafi had carried out over 8,000 such procedures. He claimed that half of them were Sinhala Buddhist mothers who had been illegally sterilized by Dr Shafi, a claim investigators found to be false.
A total of 615 women complained to the CID that they believed they were made infertile by Dr. Shafi, but investigators found that only 147 complaints merited further investigation as others were neither subjected to C-section procedures by Dr. Shafi nor had he interacted with them at all.
Even the shorter list of 147 had later been whittled down to 14 by a specialist doctor at the Kurunegala hospital, according to court records. Out of the 14, seven were tested and found that their fertility had not been affected, a fact that was suppressed from courts by the hospital director, Dr. Weera Bandara.
Despite Dr. Weera Bandara insisting in court on June 27 that subjecting women to a test known as HSG could expose them to high risk of cancer or even death, he himself had already ordered the very same test and had the negative results with him at the time.
He had instructed specialist Obstetrician-Gynecologist Peshala Rangajiva Dangalle to carry out the tests.
The deputy director of the hospital, Chandana Kendangamuwa, had surreptitiously arranged a room next to his office for Dangalle to carry out the tests. When the results showed that none had been sterilized, the hospital did not share that information with the investigators or the courts.
Fully aware that women had not been sterilized as initially claimed, the hospital director started insisting that women cannot be tested for their own safety. He raised fears of cancer and even death if women are subjected to the HSG test.
But, instead of coming clean on the allegations , Dr. Weera Bandara and a small group of doctors allegedly affiliated to the SLPP suppressed the vital findings which could have cleared Dr.Shafi at the end of June itself. Dr Shafi was a United National Party candidate at the 2015 parliamentary elections.
He was held in detention from May 24th on an allegation of supporting terrorism, and was released on bail in late July when investigators told court that he was not linked to any terrorist organization.
On June 27th, Director Weera Bandara made an uninvited presentation before Kurunegala magistrate Sampath Hewawasam, arguing that the HSG test should not be carried out because of the risks to women. The magistrate, whose wife is an anesthetist at the same hospital, agreed.
However, the CID later discovered that director Weera Bandara’s statement in open court had been omitted from the court record with the registrar saying it was done at the instructions of magistrate Hewawasam who is now under investigation by the Judicial Service Commission for corruption.
To check the veracity of the claims made by Dr. Weera Bandara, the CID obtained court orders to collect data on HSG tests for the last five years from both state and private hospitals, including the Kurunegala teaching hospital.
Kurunegala Hospital Data Not Given
Only the Kurunegala hospital is yet to provide the data, but all others have said there had been no complications, let alone deaths following the HSG test at their facilities. The Castle Street and De Zoysa hospitals carried out 920 and 273 tests respectively with no complications.
Twelve private hospitals conducted 9,881 tests in the past five years without a single incident.
The CID on Friday reported both the director and the deputy director of the Kurunegala hospital to the health ministry to initiate disciplinary action against them for misleading courts, suppressing evidence and obstructing a criminal investigation.
The CID has also started a separate investigation against deputy director Chandana Kendangamuwa for attempted intimidation and threats against CID officers investigating the case.
Dr. Shafi was arrested by the Kurunegala police on May 24 on allegations of terrorism and that he had acquired wealth illegally. CID found that local police claims that the arrest followed complaints from two doctors at the Kurunegala Teaching Hospital was false.
The statements from the doctors — anaesthetist Deepani Nandasena and surgeon Indika Senaratne — had been recorded after the arrest and the two doctors who colluded with the local police now face imminent arrest.
The National Police Commission (NPC) has ordered the transfer of both the Deputy Inspector General Kithsiri Jayalath and Superintendent Mahinda Dissanayake over their role in fabricating evidence.
The NPC, under pressure from a Buddhist monk, had initially wanted the CID out of the investigation, but the Acting Inspector General Chandana Wickramaratne stood his ground saying any shift would amount to contempt of court.
It is understood that Acting IGP Wickramaratne also stood firm on the transfers of the two top police officers whom he suspected of having initiated the scare that turned into a serious national issue which heightened inter-communal tensions.
The two police officers are being transferred temporarily pending an internal inquiry after which they could face prosecution under the ICCPR Act, police officials said adding that the department had spent a colossal amount of time and resources over what had become an unsubstantiated allegation.
A separate investigation is also under way over DIG Jayalath using a local Sinhala language newspaper to spread the scare. (COLOMBO Aug 10, 2019)