Decks cleared for arrest of Sri Lanka’s top military chief

Arrangements are in place for the long-awaited arrest of  Sri Lanka’s  senior-most military officer in connection with an extortion racket and the horrific murder of 11 young men, official sources said.

The Colombo Fort magistrate on Wednesday ordered the arrest of Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne after the CID said it had evidence of him shielding the main suspect, a navy intelligence officer.

Despite the unprecedented order seeking the arrest of a military officer equivalent to the rank of a four-star general in the army, Wijegunaratne continued to receiving visiting foreign dignitaries.

Incidentally, Wijegunaratne was attending the funeral of one of his predecessors, General Rohan Daluwatte, when the court made the stunning pronouncement against him.

The order came at a time when President Maithripala Sirisena was out of the country, attending a regional summit in Nepal.

It is suspected that political pressure prevent his arrest in December 2016 in connection with a different case. Television footage caught Wijegunaratne, the then navy chief, punching a cameraman covering a trade union protest at the Hambantota port.

President Sirisena granted Wijegunaratne an extension of service and made him the Chief of Defence staff, a largely ceremonial role, in August last year.

The 56-year-old  Royal College alumni is likely to be arrested and produced before a magistrate this week .

The police Criminal Investigations Department has told the Colombo Fort magistrate Lanka Jayaratne Wijegunaratne is believed to have funded navy intelligence officer Hettiarachchi Mudiyanselage Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi alias Navy Sampath to escape the police net.

The magistrate has ordered the Bank of Ceylon to release details of transactions of a navy account between March and May last year.  The admiral is alleged to have given 500,000 rupees from the navy to Hettiarachchi to escape arrest.

At the time of his arrest earlier this month, Hettiarachchi had in his possession several fake identity cards, including one which he is believed to have used to obtain a passport and travel abroad.

The CID has uncovered chilling details of how children and young men of wealthy families were abducted for ransom by a gang of navy officers, allegedly led by Hettiarachchi, and subsequently killed after holding them at naval facilities in Colombo and Trincomalee between 2008 and 2009.

The alarm was raised by the then navy commander, Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, who complained to the CID  during the former regime of president Mahinda Rajapaksa.  However, the case has dragged with powerful political interests protecting the suspects, police said.

Police said the current CDS and ex-navy chief was not implicated in the abductions or the murders, but he was accused of shielding the suspects and providing them cash and protection.

Several other navy intelligence officers, including former navy spokesman D. K. P. Dassanayake, who were arrested in connection with the murders have now been released on bail.

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