|Sea Street under siege!
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|Author:||Peter [ Mon Jul 17, 2006 1:08 am ]|
|Post subject:||Sea Street under siege!|
Police investigations continue into extortion racket in the heart of Pettah
Sea Street under siege!
@ The Nation / 16JUL2007
By Wilson Gnanadass
Pettah traders, recovering from the shock following an extortion racket, are slowly limping back to their day-to-day business, after an assurance by President Mahinda Rajapaksa that they would be safe.
Gem and jewellery traders mostly from Sea Street, Pettah, were threatened and forced to deposit millions of rupees into a bank account opened at the Hatton National Bank (HNB) Kotehena Branch by anonymous callers.
The police arrested Kanapathipillai Sudagaran (26) in Vavuniya last week in connection with the alleged racket. The police are also on a desperate search for Sudagaran’s cousin who is believed to be a moving force in this chain of crime.
The police believe Sudagaran has been used by his cousin to carry out this racket even without his knowledge.
According to an investigation carried out by the police, Sudagaran’s cousin had opened a bank account under Sudagaran’s name and thereafter used several persons under different names to telephone the traders, demanding that they deposit money into the bank account, bearing number 0960167511.
The numbers of the two mobile phones used by the extortionists are 0779350318 and 0713251890. According to some victims, over a period of one month, they had received more than 1000 calls.
Sudagaran is at present held in the custody of Colombo Crime Division.
Sudagaran has testified to the police that he was shocked when his cousin informed him about a bank account being opened in his name and demanded that the money deposited by people unknown to him be withdrawn and given to him.
Sudagaran, according to SSP Lugoda, who directs the investigation, had also withdrawn Rs. 1 million from his new bank account and given it to his cousin through fear.
SSP Lugoda says the police team is in touch with the parents of Sudagaran’s accomplice and had wanted him handed over. “Our investigation indicates this person is in touch with his parents but is unwilling to surrender. But we are certain he would be caught within a week or two,” SSP Lugoda said.
Sudagaran had also confessed that his cousin was planning to marry his sister.
Meanwhile, Lugoda also ruled out any possible connection between the extortionist and the LTTE or Karuna group. “So far our investigations verify that these men are not linked with either the LTTE or Karuna,” he said.
The Sri Lanka Jewellers Association President and one of the advisors to the Export Development Board (EDB) K. Radhakrishnan, also confirmed that the extortionists had no links with either the LTTE or the Karuna group.
He told The Nation that though this racket has been going on for weeks, the traders had not brought this to his notice or lodged any police complaints due to fear of reprisals. “Therefore nobody knew what was happening until some traders went underground for safety. Then only I took up the matter directly with the President, after discussing this matter at a special meeting summoned by the secretary general of our association S.Kulendran,” he said.
Asked whether businessmen fled the country due to fear, he said one such person left the country after he had deposited half of the money demanded by the extortionist and pledged to deposit the balance later on. “I believe this is why he opted to quit the country,” Radhakrishnan said.
Radhakrishan said a tight security net has been placed around Sea Street, with 60 policemen in plain clothes on guard in the area. “We are now safe and there is no necessity for any panic,” he said.
Meanwhile, mystery surrounds the abduction of three prominent jewellers also from Sea Street, in Pettah, by unknown persons.
According to informed sources, Anandan, owner of Western Jewellers who lives in Wellawatte was abducted near Miami Hall in Wellawatte a few weeks ago and the abductors had demanded Rs. 20 million as a ransom. He had not been taken out of Colombo but released upon making the payment the same day near Borella Kanatte.
Ganeshamoorthy, owner of Yal Ganesha Jewellers, had also been kidnapped near Kotehena junction by unknown men in police uniform.
The abductors had removed his personal jewellery and Rs. 15,000 and taken him to an undisclosed location and kept him for two days and released him. When releasing him, the abductors had returned Rs. 5000.
Mahesh, owner of Ravi Jewellers was also abducted along with his sister’s two children, by unidentified men and all three of them had been driven to Polonnaruwa and kept there for two days.
The abductors had then contacted the family of Mahesh and demanded that a sum of Rs. 20 million be handed over at a particular location in Dambulla. After the family made the payment, Mahesh and the children were released.
SSP Lugoda says this trend is likely to escalate in the country if the public fail to cooperate with the police to identify these culprits. He says the public must inform the police of these incidents and further cooperate with the police in the investigation.
However, Pettah businessmen said they prefer silence and safety. They would rather run the risk of harassment or even death by abductors and extortionists.
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