I don’t know: Shiranthi

Former First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa pointed to her staff when questioned yesterday about the Land Rover received by her from the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society in 2011 as the head of the Siriliya Saviya Foundation. While speculation is rife about the possible role played by the vehicle in the abduction, torture and murder of national rugby star Wasim Thajudeen in May 2012, the former First Lady was not confronted directly with this evidence, it is reliably learnt.

She was interviewed by the police Criminal Investigation Department at length about the Land Rover Defender vehicle which she had received as a gift on August 11, 2011, from the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society nine months before the murder of Wasim Thajudeen in May 2012.

Police were tight-lipped about the questioning, but sources close to the investigation said she responded with a stock “I don’t know” to most of the questions put to her by investigators, diverting blame on many probing questions to members of her staff.

According to court reports by the CID, the 28-year-old national rugby player Wasim Thajudeen was sadistically tortured and murdered after being abducted late in the evening of May 16, 2012. The CID has yet to formally comment on the precise role, if any, allegedly played by the Land Rover vehicle that was officially given to Rajapaksa ostensibly for the use of her Siriliya charity.

A separate investigation is underway over the police cover up of the May 2012 murder, which the then Senior DIG of Colombo Anura Senanayake had allegedly declared as a traffic accident. Senanayake is currently on bail after being remanded for over one year on suspicion of obstruction of justice and destroying evidence of Thajudeen’s murder.

The Judicial Medical Officer who conducted the initial post-mortem examination, Ananda Samarasekera, is facing possible arrest for allegedly falsifying medical records, after a fresh post-mortem report indicated several critical flaws in his report, and also the disappearance of several of Thajudeen’s bones that he kept in his custody.

An exhumation and a fresh post-mortem examination in 2015 showed that Thajudeen was repeatedly hit on the head, his teeth and pelvic bones broken, his ribs fractured and the thighs slashed using a broken glass bottle indicating sadistic torture. There were also signs that he had been repeatedly assaulted with a blunt instrument and then put inside his own Toyota Vitz car which was then set ablaze at Park Road, Colombo.

There had been speculation that the murder was also linked to a love triangle involving Thajudeen, a Rajapaksa son and a woman who had been given a diplomatic posting and sent off to Australia by the former regime, however investigators ruled out that theory during investigations. The CID have homed in on another possible motive linked to the control of the Havelock Sports Club in which Thajudeen was a powerful figure. Members of the Rajapakse family were allegedly trying to secure control of the club against Thajudeen’s objections, according to people close to the Thajudeen family.

Telephone calls from the former President’s office

Minutes after Thajudeen was killed, the Officer In Charge of the Narahenpita police, where the accident took place, had received several calls from telephone numbers connected to the Presidential Secretariat. It is believed that a massive cover-up operation had been initiated without delay, and investigators also found that note books of presidential security men had vital pages destroyed. Several of them are unable to account for their movements during the period Thajudeen was abducted and killed. These bodyguards of the former president are under investigation in connection with the abduction and murder.

Red Cross vehicle allegedly used for murder

The Sri Lanka Red Cross had admitted that the vehicle had been gifted by the organisation to Shiranthi Rajapaksa following a request from the then government.

The head of the Sri Lanka Red Cross, Jagath Abeysinghe, who was questioned extensively by the CID, said he was asked to make the “donation” and had posed for photographs with the then first lady and the vehicle.

Abeysinghe, a close friend of the former first family, has maintained that he authorised the gift of the Defender to the Siriliya Saviya Foundation.

It was not clear on what basis the Red Cross, a member of the Geneva-based International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, gave the vehicle to Siriliya and subsequently took it back after Rajapaksa lost elections in January 2015.

The Sri Lanka Red Cross in a statement posted on its website said the then Social Services minister Felix Perera had requested them to give the vehicle to Siriliya and that they should “consider it a privilege” to be able to gift a vehicle to her.

Accordingly a Defender bearing the number plate WP – KA 0642 was handed over to the Chairperson of the Siriliya Saviya Foundation Former First Lady Mrs. Shiranthi Rajapaksa on the 11th of August 2011,” the Red Cross said.

Investigations are continuing and official sources said several high profile arrests were imminent.

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