SriLankan staff in gold racket raising questions over security lapses: probe

ECONOMYNEXT  – State-run SriLankan Airlines, had found gold smuggled past a security check point manned with the support of Rakna Lanka, a state security firm, but no action had been taken despite questions over lapses, a commission of inquiry was told. 

Senior Security Manager Titus Kannangara, who is acting head of security, testifying at a Presidential Commission of Inquiry into irregularities at the national carrier, said that on 19 August 2015, airline staff were caught trying to smuggle in 7.5 kilogrammes of gold into the country.

He said Security Officer Wijetunge who is a member of a 3-man Security Strike Team, which moves around the airport and randomly checks areas which the airline is responsible for had made the detection.

In earlier testimony it was shown that a member of security strike team, who had detected knives among staff members in restricted area, had been sacked over an accident, while those who were responsible for the lapses, continued to work with no disciplinary action.

Strike team member Wijetunge had found 5 kilogrammes of the gold in the pockets of Aircraft Dispatcher Ramesh Fernandopulle, and the remainder inside a box in his service vehicle.

The box also had food intended for passengers which was smuggled out of the aircraft against regulations, Kannangara said.

Kannangara said that the airline’s security officer named Thissera and outsourced security personnel from Rakna Lanka who were assigned to the area near the aircraft were manning the checkpoint through which gold was smuggled out.

"They were supposed to check, but I don’t know if they did," Kannangara said.

The fact that Fernandopulle was caught was informed to the Customs Department by the SriLankan Airlines; Investigation Division (which was then under Security Division), Kannangara said.

He said he was not sure if the Security Division had disclosed Thissera’s name to the Investigation Division.





He admitted that Customs was not told of the fact that Fernandopulle had got past Thissera and the Rakna Lanka team undected.

No action was taken against Thissera as the Customs verdict did not mention his name, Kannangara said.

SriLankan security had chosen not to interfere with the Customs investigation, he said.

"That could have been two grenades in Fernandopulle’s pocket. What does that say about the quality of your service? You talk of everyone else, what about your division? Wasn’t there a lapse?" Senior State Counsel Fazly Razick questioned.

Kannangara admitted there was negligence in his department.

He also admitted that he had submitted a letter to the Customs requesting a reward be given to him for the detection.

Thissera had continued to work for SriLankan for one and a half years, resigning on 28 March 2017.

The Rakna Lanka staff were transferred out of the airport, but the state-owned security firm continues to provide outsourced services to the airline despite multiple lapses, Kannangara said.

He admitted that it was not acceptable to have kept telling his superiors that a string of security lapses, including the gold smuggling and other instances of weapons smuggling was due to ‘human error’. (Colombo/Nov29/2018)

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