The investigation into the abduction and the murder of 11 children has taken a new turn with fresh evidence showing the involvement of former navy chief Wasantha Karannagoda, a magistrate has been told. Criminal investigators told the Colombo Fort Magistrate Lanka Jayaratne last week that Karannagoda intimately knew about the abductions and is continuing to suppress evidence and was keeping a tab on key navy witnesses.
Karannagoda becomes the second ex-navy chief to face impending arrest over the abduction and killing of 11 children of wealthy families. They were abducted for ransom by a gang of navy officers, allegedly led by Hettiarachchi Mudiyanselage Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi. The children had been held at naval facilities in Colombo and Trincomalee between 2008 and 2009. Evidence uncovered the CID showed that Karannagoda knew the details, but did nothing to release the children. The abducted children had nothing to do with the Tamil Tigers or the armed conflict, investigators said.
The CID found evidence that the children had been detained in locations controlled by the then navy spokesman D. K. P. Dassanayake and Commander Sumith Ranasinghe. Karannagoda’s secretary, RearAadmiral Shemal Fernando, had investigated the abductions at that time following a request from former Fisheries minister Felix Perera. Fernando reported to his boss Karannagoda that the children were being illegally held at a navy camp in Trincomalee, but nothing was done to release from their illegal detention or save their lives.
During the ongoing investigation, the Colombo Fort magistrate was told last week that Karannagoda has been keeping a close tab on navy officers who are key witnesses and have given statements to investigators. Karannagoda has now emerged as a key person of interest in the investigation. He becomes the second senior officer implicated in the case after the former navy commander and current Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne who has been asked to make a statement to the CID. The magistrate has also asked the CID to arrest Wijegunaratne, an order that is yet to be carried out.
Earlier last month, Magistrate Jayaratne asked the Bank of Ceylon to release details of transactions of a navy account between March and May last year.Evidence confirms the navy had given Hettiarachchi 500,000 rupees to escape arrest and flee to Malaysia. At the time of his arrest last 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.
Ironically, the alarm was raised by Karannagoda himself. That was when Karannagoda had a personal issue with his then aide-de-camp Sampath Munasinghe over an illicit relationship that he (Karannagoda) resented. Despite Karannagoda complaining to the police about the disappearance of five children (not 11 as discovered by the CID), the case has dragged on with powerful political interests protecting the suspects. Police said the current CDS Wijegunaratne was not implicated in the abductions or the murders, but he was accused of shielding the suspects and providing them cash and protection.
Wijegunaratne’s successor Travis Sinniah took office in August last year pledging no forgiveness for any of his officers who might have committed crimes under cover of the island’s drawn out separatist war. But Sinniah, regarded as one of the most honourable officers in service, was terminated in just two months after he was denied an extension of service by President Maithripala Sirisena.