Police headquarters yesterday claimed that the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), probing the alleged involvement of a group of navy officers in eleven wartime disappearances, had recorded the statement of British national Mike Horgan, who allegedly witnessed one of the abductions.
Police spokesman and attorney-at-law SP Ruwan Gunasekera said Horgan had been here to arrange for a victim, identified as Soosai, from Mannar to join a football team in the UK.
Addressing a hurriedly arranged media conference at the Information Department, SP Gunasekera said the navy had abducted the footballer’s father. The police spokesman described the Britisher as the person in charge of a local football team in Britain.
The group of missing persons Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese. SP Gunasekera said that they hadn’t been involved in terrorism and were also cleared by the military.
SP Gunasekera said investigations had got underway after police headquarters received a written complaint from the then navy chief Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda on May 28, 2009, soon after the successful conclusion of the war.
The CID launched an inquiry on June 10, 2009.
Gunasekera said the CID had recorded the foreigner’s statement in respect of the abduction as well as seizure of his hand phone allegedly by the navy.
At the onset of the briefing the police spokesman said police had decided to brief the media in the wake Commodore DKP Dassanayake’s arrest in connection with the disappearances.
The Joint Opposition flayed the government over the arrest in the wake of UN Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson. It said last Friday a senior officer had been arrested in connection with the disappearance of over 11 persons. Emmerson said the arrest had been made close on the heels of Army Chief Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake’s public assurance that those members of armed forces who had committed crimes would be brought to justice.
The police spokesman said Admiral Karannagoda had complained to police headquarters against his chief security officer Lt. Commander Sampath Munasinghe on May 28, 2009 following the recovery of four national identity cards, one passport bearing the name of one of those whose national identity cards were found, one mobile phone, promissory notes worth over one million rupees and approximately 450 rounds of ammunition from Munasinghe’s cabin. The police official said that Admiral Karannagoda wanted to have Munasinghe investigated as regards his possible involvement with terrorists primarily due to him being in possession of ammunition not issued to him by the navy.
Gunasekera said the Britisher had identified the hand phone recovered from Munasinghe as the one seized from him. The official said that the Britisher had provided vital evidence and investigators were in the process of examining available data.
The lawyer said that the four national identity cards that had been found were issued to the missing footballer, his father and two other residents of Kotahena and Trincomalee.
Following Admiral Karannagoda’s complaint, the CID had received information from the navy that led to the arrest of Lt. Commander Hettiarachchi.
Subsequent investigations revealed that those who had been responsible for four abductions were accountable for seven more disappearances in Kotahena, Grandpass, Maradana and Dematagoda and Dehiwela in 2008.
SP Gunasekera said that the abductions had been carried out to obtain ransom. Asked by The Island whether the victims’ were wealthy for them to be especially targeted, the SP said they had money.
Claiming that investigators had gathered vital information regarding the use of hand phones by missing persons during secret detention at Chaitya road, Colombo and Trincomalee, Gunasekera said that the abductors used a vehicle seized from a missing person. They had changed the chassis number and used it as a navy vehicle, the police officer said.
According to SP Gunasekera the detained persons used hand phones belonging to some navy personnel based at places where they were held. “Obviously, some navy personnel resented what was happening,” the police spokesman said. The official said that some family members of the detained persons had even ‘reloaded’ phones belonging to navy officers as their loved ones used them.
The then Captain Dassanayake had been the officer in charge of two special teams headed by Lt. Commander Hettiarachchi and Lt. Commander Ranasinghe responsible for the disappearances, the police spokesman said.
He said with the arrest of Commodore Dassanayake, now attached to the Office of the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) the number of navy personnel taken in connection with disappearances had gone upto seven.
Of them, Lt. Commander Munasinghe, who had been arrested at the beginning of the investigation was given bail.
Asked by The Island how one officer whose arrest led to other personnel being implicated in disappearances received bail, the Police spokesman said that it was not a problem. The spokesman emphasized that it did not mean Lt. Commander Munasinghe had been cleared and no longer under investigation.
The police spokesman said that they had received altogether 28 complaints as regards disappearances though only eleven were being investigated at the moment.
When The Island sought an explanation regarding the inordinate delay in the CID making arrests in spite of receiving a complaint in May 2009, SP Gunasekera said that investigations were complicated and the progress slow. However, since the change of the government, the process had been accelerated and they were going ahead with investigations.
Gunasekera said there could be further arrests.
Responding to another query, Gunasekera said that some family members of the missing had met Captain Dassanayake at that time and the CID could prove its case.