Assassination of Athulathmudali
Source: SRI LANKA: THE UNTOLD STORY
Chapters 55/58 : Assassination of Athulathmudali / Premadasa indicted
The Commission, after deliberating for two years, submitted its final report to the Sri Lankan President on October 7, 1997. The findings pointed the finger at former President Ranasinghe Premadasa (1988-93) and security force personnel who were close to him as directly responsible for the killing of Athulathmudali.
By K T Rajasingham
In the 1989 presidential elections, Lalith Athulathmudali, who was then the Minister for National Security, Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa and the Minister for Mahaveli Development, Gamini Dissanayake, were widely believed to be the contenders for nomination from the ruling United National Party (UNP). But Premadasa was nominated, and he won the presidential elections to become the country's second executive president, succeeding J R Jayewardene.
Subsequently, Athulathmudali and Dissanayake were believed to be the contenders for the post of Prime Minister. But Premadasa overlooked both of them and nominated D B Wijetunge. Furthermore, Premadasa took away from Athulathmudali the important portfolio of National Security and nominated Ranjan Wijeratne as Minister of State for State Securities, as he has helped him to secure the UNP nomination for the presidential elections.
Athulathmudali and Dissanayake, who had been powerful ministers and very influential personalities in the J R Jayewardene government, were progressively deprived of their powers and influence by Premadasa. Athulathmudali was appointed Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives and later Minister of Education and Higher Education. Dissanayake, who was appointed initially as the Minister of Plantation Industry, was stripped of this portfolio in the March 1990 reshuffle.
Earlier, during the parliamentary general elections held in February 1989, Premadasa supported his lieutenant, Srisena Coorey, against Athulathmudali for the position of Chief Organizer of the UNP for the Colombo District. In the elections, Athulathmudali won the highest number of preferential votes cast all-island - 235,447 - and also came first in the number of preferential UNP votes cast in the Colombo District. Whereas Srisena Coorey polled 92,236 votes and came a poor second. After the parliamentary elections, Athulathmudali once again became the Chief Organizer of the UNP of the Colombo district.
On March 2, 1991, the Deputy Minister of Defense and the General Secretary of the UNP, Ranjan Wijeratne, was killed, and Premadasa appointed Srisena Coorey as the General Secretary of the UNP, without consulting the working committee or other senior leaders of the party. Also, premier D B Wijetunge was appointed as Deputy Defense Minister. However, primary party elections were held a few weeks later and Athulathmudali's position as district leader was undermined by Srisena Coorey, who took over primary election matters for the Colombo Municipal Council.
Meanwhile, after the displeasure between Premadasa and Lalith Athulathmudali surfaced, President Premadasa at public meetings spoke of "learned fools" to wit and spoke of "learned men who robbed cleverly but also went to jail".
There were obvious references to allegations of wrong doing made against Lalith Athulathmudali in regard to ships and shipping, whilst being in charge and leveled during the general election campaign, and of his being remanded in custody in 1976 in respect of a conspiracy to cause grievous hurt to Ediriweera by means of corrosive substance to wit: acid and abatement of that offence which was committed. Lalith Athulathmudali spent time in the remand jail during the police investigations.
Meantime, Luxman Perera, Member of the Municipal Council (MMC) wrote a play using the title "Me - caudate - Monawada Karanne?" (The Sinhala translated into English: Who is he - What is he doing?) This title has been taken from the slogan of the same words used in the 1988, in support of President Premadasa's presidential election campaign.
Luxman Perera's drama was meant to be a satire on the Premadasa's administration. Luxman Perera joined hands with journalist and media man Richard Soyza. Luxman Perera's play was submitted to the Public Performances Board, which approved it. It was said that, Lalith Athulathmudali was aware of the content of the drama, as Luxman Perera was one of his close political associates.
Luxman Perera lived in a bungalow belonged to the Railway Department, in the Station Road, Dehiwala, with his family. Lalith Athulathmudali agreed to be the chief guest of the drama, on the opening night. Suddenly, a few days before the opening night, a van without a number plate arrived at Luxman Perera's home at night and took him away. He disappeared. He was presumed dead. It was rumored that Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Ronnie Gunasinghe was responsible for the abduction.
A few days later, on February 18, 1990, Richard Soyza was forcibly carried away from his bed, by a group of men, who arrived at about 3 am, despite his mother's protest and intervention. Subsequently, Richard Soyza's body was found washed ashore at Korolawella beach Moratuwa.
These were the beginning symptoms of Lalith Athulathmudali's troubles in the UNP. When the episode regarding the impeachment motion was staged, Lalith Athulathmudali was sacked from the UNP. The theme of depicting President Premadasa as being unsound mind in the impeachment motion was said to have originated from the play written by Luxman Perera. Premadasa referred to Lalith Athulathmudali as a "Ugath Modaya" - Learned Fool - because he was deeply insulted by the wording of "unsound mind" in the impeachment motion.
The impeachment motion against the President was given to the Speaker on August 28, 1991. It was reported that, at that point of time, Lalith Athulathmudali had not signed those papers, whatever was given to the Speaker. The Speaker communicated with the President about the impeachment motion. Premadasa then sought a vote of confidence from the Cabinet on that day. Lalith Athulathmudali and Premachandra were present and they voted with the other Cabinet colleagues, expressing confidence in the President.
On August 29, 1991, Athulathmudali and Premachandra both resigned their ministerial portfolios. On August 30, Athulathmudali, Premachandra and Gamini Dissanayake were sacked from the UNP by the Working Committee of the Party. The President prorogued parliament on the same day and the two ministers and others filed action in the District Court challenging their expulsion from the party. But they failed at the District Court and they filed the same petition in the Supreme Court, and there too their action failed and the dismissal from the party was upheld.
Subsequently, Athulathmudali and Dissanayake and others, who were dismissed from the party, began to organize public meetings all over the country, to explain what had happened and to inform the public of the content of the impeachment motion against the President. Also in the public meetings, speaker after speaker alleged the mental infirmity of the President and the conversion of the democratic constitution into a "One Man Show".
These developments marked a watershed in the political lives of Athulathmudali, Dissanayake and Premachandra. All security given to these ministers was withdrawn by the government. On August 30, 1991, the government withdrew the 12 security officers of Athulathmudali, but later he was given two back.
Athulathmudali, Dissanayake and others organized themselves into a political opposition to the Government of President Premadasa. They set about broadcasting the content of their resolutions against the President in numerous ways.
They held their first public meeting against the Government on August 10, 1991 at Nugegoda. Prior to this, Athulathmudali received information that the meeting was to be attacked and he complained to Henry Perera, SSP in charge of the Nugegoda division, on the night of August 9. It was later learnt that the written complaint made by Lalith Athulathmudali spoke of a conspiracy to disrupt the meeting on the 10th and kill him. It was further revealed that the complaint carried the names of the conspirators and vehicle numbers.
Henry Perera took all necessary security precautions for the public meeting, which commenced at 3.30 pm on August 10. The crowd was estimated at about 200,000. Lalith Athulathmudali addressed the meeting at 7 pm.
Besides the big meeting at Nugegoda, several pocket meetings were organized in private premises, which were held island-wide and at which Athulathmudali would speak for nearly 10 to 15 minutes and then stage a question and answer session for an hour or so.
Meanwhile, on November 28, 1991, an application to register the Democratic United National Front (DUNF) was made. Athulathmudali joined the party on December 3, 1991. The party was registered as a political party on January 20, 1992. In 1992, Athulathmudali was elected leader of the party.
On November 2, 1991, a public meeting was held at the playground at Pannala. Athulathmudali, Dissanayake, Premachandra and others addressed the meeting. It commenced at 5 pm and about 100,000 to 150,000 people were seen gathered. At about 6.30 pm, while Premachandra was speaking, a bomb exploded nearly 10 to 15 feet away from the stage, but the police recorded it as a bomb exploding 50 feet away from the stage. Two persons were injured. Unfortunately, no arrests were made in connection with the bomb blast. Athulathmudali demanded an inquiry but nothing came out of the police inquiry.
A meeting was scheduled to be held at Waidya Road, Dehiwala on April 2, 1992, but it was abandoned because thugs destroyed the stage and assaulted Athulathmudali's supporters. On the following day, the DUNF party organizer for Dehiwala's house was attacked and property destroyed, also his wife was attacked by thugs, allegedly supporters of President Premadasa.
Again, another important and serious incident happened at the Fort Railway Station on August 7, 1992, when Athulathmudali and Dissanayake and other DUNF supporters were at the station in the morning, collecting signatures from the public to commemorate the first anniversary of the motion to impeach the President.
The DUNF leaders, accompanied by numerous supporters, photographers and journalists, arrived at the station at about 6.30 am to meet the public commuting to work by train and to obtain their signatures of approval to commemorate the first anniversary of the impeachment motion in an effort to impeach Premadasa in terms of the relevant article of the constitution. The first anniversary was due on August 28, 1992.
Suddenly, armed thugs entered the station from the road side and began to attack the DUNF supporters with weapons. A press photographer's camera was snatched and a man brandished a knife at Athulathmudali, who raised his arms and cried for help. When the DUNF supporters saw the situation they came running towards Athulathmudali. Sensing the mood of the supporters, the attacker with the knife ran away and got into a moving train and disappeared.
Athulathmudali and the DUNF party men went to the Fort police station to make complaints. Lakshman Wijeratne, Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) came out of the police station and said, "The police station is closed."
Another mishap happened on August 29, 1992, when the DUNF was involved in a membership drive at Kawdana, Dehiwala. About 50 to 60 DUNF supporters and members were present when, according to one report, Clement Perera, one of the lieutenants of Athulathmudali, saw a maroon Peugeot 505 car go slowly passed.
Perera recognized Vasantha Weerasekera, an employee of Susil Jayasinghe, the Mayor of Dehiwala -Mount Lavania, seated in the vehicle. Immediately he realized that there may be trouble and he went and told Athulathmudali, who told Perera not to tell others as they could get excited.
Thereafter, Athulathmudali and his supporters started walking along Palliyodara Road, visiting houses and speaking to people and enlisting new members for the DUNF. While this was going on, they saw a group of people walking towards them with cricket bats, baseball bats, sticks, clubs, iron rods and pipes. They went up to Athulathmudali and started assaulting him. One person brandished a pistol, but before any harm was done, Athulathmudali kicked him. Another beat Athulathmudali with a club on his legs. Even Athulathmudali's security officers received blows.
Subsequently, the assailants ran away towards Dehiwala police station. Athulathmudali then went along with his supporters to make a complaint at the Dehiwala Police Station. It was said that, the Officer in Charge, Eric Perera, who had earlier been the body guard of the woman Minister Sunethra Ranasinghe, the former UNPer. The police treated Athulathmudali with disdain and contempt. They did not even offer him a chair to sit on. They refused to give any regard for the very minister who earlier controlled their destiny. However, his statement was recorded.
Meanwhile, the Government dissolved the seven Provincial Councils on March 16, 1993, and new elections were announced on the same day. It was announced that, the nomination papers to contest in the Provincial Councils should be handed in between April 2 and 8 April 1993. Athulathmudali handed in his papers to contest, seeking the Chief Ministership of the Western Province Council on the DUNL ticket. Others who filed nomination papers to contest the position were: Susil Moonasinghe - the incumbent from the United national Party and Chandrika B Kumaratunga, from the People's Alliance.
About this time, during the Sinhala New Year holidays in mid April, Athulathmudali requested his secretary to reschedule his meetings for the rest of April, as he wanted to visit the Munneswaram Hindu Temple in Chilaw, for religious ceremonies on April 23.
Originally, 23 April meetings were to be held in the Central province in Bibile, Moneragala, Wellavaya and Hali-Ela. At his request, his meetings for April 16 and 23 were rescheduled and on April 23, it was rescheduled for meetings in the Colombo district - Borella, Aluthkade and Kirulapone.
Meanwhile, Rukman de Silva, the Senior Superintendent of Police, told officers under him, at an instruction class regarding the Provincial Council elections, not to provide police protection to the opposition political parties at their public meetings, but only to provide it to Government party meetings. He also told, not to give police protection to meetings to be held at Kirulapone, where Athulathmudali was scheduled to make an address on behalf of the DUNF candidate. He further added to send police officers to record the speeches and make notes of what was said in the meetings. It was said that this was normally done by the City Intelligence Bureau at Borella.
The public meeting of the DUNF was scheduled to be held at Kirulapone park playground on April 23, approximately four weeks before the Provincial Council elections for the Western Province, due on May 17.
On April the Inspector of Police Ranagala, who was the OIC of Kirulapone, sent two police officers to tape record the speeches made at the meeting. The stage was erected to face the road. Two lights were focused on the stage and about 1,000 people were present. It rained off and on and the ground was wet.
It was reported that Lalith Athulathmudali came to the meeting at about 8 pm. Then the crowd began to increase. As it was drizzling, people moved closer to the stage, some even climbing under it.
At 8.10 pm, Athulathmudali started his address. Suddenly a person approached him and pulled out a pistol and fired three shots. Then one of the bodyguards, Tilak Shanthana, it was told that he fired at the attacker, hitting him on his right abdomen. The assassin shot back at the bodyguard, catching him in the leg before running away.
Meanwhile, Athulathmudali lay fallen on the stage. Both he and the injured bodyguard were taken to hospital, where Athulathmudali was pronounced dead at 8.50 pm on April 23, 1993.
A retired Judicial Officer was informed of the death and he went to the hospital and ordered a post mortem examination.
A police search party, including the Inspector General of Police, scoured the area and several search parties went to playgrounds in the neighborhood, but after a few hours they found nothing.
It was later reported that the next morning, April 24, IP Ranagala, the OIC of the Kirulapone Police Station, received a telephone call. The call was in the Sinhala language and the caller informed that there was a body near Cooperative Stores in Mugalan Road. According to the police, rigor mortis had set in, and the body lay about 200 meters from the stage where Athulathmudali had been shot.
The police found an automatic 9mm pistol with two magazines and several rounds of live ammunition, empty cartridge cases, a hand grenade, a national identity card and a little money.
The Judicial Medical Officer, Colombo Dr L B De Alwis, held a post mortem on the bodies of both victims. He expressed the opinion as to the cause of the death of each.
1. Athulathmudali. Death due to hemorrhage shock from necessarily fatal firearm wounds to the liver, heart and lungs. Two bullets had entered his body. One 9mm slug was recovered from his body.
2. The second victim was identified as Appiah Balakrishnan alias Ragunathan - a Tamil. His death was due to cyanide poisoning. A non-fatal bullet wound was found in his lower back. A 9mm slug was recovered from his body.
The Sri Lankan security forces immediately blamed the LTTE for the killing of Lalith Athulathmudali. As Minister for National Security in the UNP regime, between 1984 and 89, Athulathmudali had aggressively pursued a "dirty war" in the Tamil homelands and unleashed several unrestrained military offensives into the Northeast. So, it was believed that, the LTTE had a motive. The Colombo-based Sinhala-owned press was also quick to fall in line.
The timing of the assassination of Athulathmudali was important. President Ranasinghe Premadasa was still smarting under the ignominy of having to face an impeachment motion brought against him by the DUNF in parliament. Accusing fingers were pointing at Premadasa for the murder of Athulathmudali, despite his repeated assertions of innocence. He pleaded, "Assassinate me if you wish, but don't assassinate my character, which I have cherished from my childhood." Yet there existed a strong perception among the Sinhalese that Premadasa was behind the assassination.
At the time of the killing, it was alleged that Ragunathan, whose body mysteriously appeared on the following morning a few hundred yards from the scene of murder, was the assailant who fired the fatal shots that killed Athulathmudali. But later it transpired that Ragunathan, a Tamil youth who came to Colombo to go abroad in search of employment, had been arrested and detained by Colombo police. There was speculation that Ragunathan was shot dead by the police and his body dumped with a cyanide capsule in his mouth to fake his murder. It was an attempt to cover up the real murderer(s). Nevertheless, the Sinhalese-owned press, including The Island, continued to say that Athulathmudali was killed by the LTTE.
A communique from the Presidential Secretariat stated in part, "The person now known to be Ragunathan, alias Appiah Balasingham, shot and killed Mr. Athulathmudali and was later found dead at scene 2. Seriously injured and fearing imminent capture, he undoubtedly took his own life by way of cyanide poisoning ..."
The allegation against the LTTE was repeated over and over and newswire services carried it to the world media. The New York Times (May 10, 1993) said, "Ragunathan had been identified as the gunman who killed the opposition leader Lalith Athulathmudali."
The text of a news release issued by the Presidential Secretariat of Sri Lanka released internationally by the Permanent Mission of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to the United Nations; July 16, 1993 - The government analyst testified at the Lalith Athulathmudali Commission that swabs taken from the mouth of Ragunathan did not contain even a trace of cyanide. Dr Lalantha de Alvis, the senior most Judicial Medical Officer in Colombo, who conducted the autopsy on the body, had earlier testified that the body smelled of cyanide and that he found pieces of glass in the mouth of the body.
When President Chandrika Kumaratunga came to power, after putting an end to the UNP's 17 years of rule in 1994, she launched a Special Commission of Inquiry into the assassination of Lalith Athulathmudali, which had been an election promise.
Premadasa and Wijetunga's governments informed the public through the media that, Lalith Athulathmudali was the victim of assassination by the LTTE. It was reported that, Athulathmudali had taken action against the LTTE while he was the Minister of National Security, since March 1984, and as Deputy Minister of Defense thereafter, until 1989. According to the government's version, therefore, the LTTE sent its suicide cadres to shoot and kill Athulathmudali. Accordingly, a gunman killed Athulathmudali and then committed suicide by biting into a cyanide capsule.
This position was supported by seeking to connect the death of a Tamil youth found dead in Mugalan Road, Kirulapone on April 24, 1993, a few hundred meters from the scene of the shooting of Athulathmudali. The police determined that, the youth known as Ragunathan, was a LTTE activist. The findings of the Judicial Magistrate Officer in Colombo that the youth had died of cyanide poisoning were presented, as confirming the government version of the killing. It was therefore suggested that the two deaths were connected, that having shot Athulathmudali the youth found that he could not escape as he had himself received a gunshot. His cause of death as given by the Magistrate in Colombo, was sought to be supported by a visiting team of foreign detectives (including from Britain's New Scotland Yard) and pathologists, who arrived in Sri Lanka on April 26, 1993. They reported to Wijetunga's government that they had found a minute trace of cyanide in a blood sample they had taken at a second post-mortem of the youth.
This was done by Dr R T Shepherd, but Magistrate M A de Silva told the investigative Commission that no application had been made to the court for permission, and neither had he given any. According to the Commission Report, the fact that Dr Shepherd was permitted to do a second post-mortem without informing or obtaining permission from the magistrate, who had already commenced inquest proceedings, shows the high handed manner in which the local police conducted themselves.
In the meantime, Detective Superintendent Alec Edwards of the Investigation and Crime Branch of New Scotland Yard forwarded an undated report. According to his conclusion:
(i) That the person now known to be Ragunathan alias Appaiah Balakrishnan shot and killed Mr. Athulathmudali and was later found dead at scene 2.
(ii) Seriously injured and fearing imminent capture, he undoubtedly took his life by way of cyanide poisoning;
(iii) There is no evidence, direct or circumstantial, to support the allegation that this tragedy was orchestrated by or in any way linked to the Sri Lankan Government, UNP members or other official agencies including the police;
(iv) An analytical study of LTTE modus operandi showed that this act was in total concert with their current subversive activities.
The Presidential Commission concluded in its investigation as follows:
The Commission has come to a finding that the firearm wound on Ragunathan was caused by a shot fired at a very close range with a doctored and tampered 9 mm cartridge. To do this, Ragunathan had to be in someone's captivity and it is nobody's case, and there is not an iota of evidence that the wound was caused at very close range, maybe from two feet away at the playground. No one says the assassin was shot in his back from two feet away. No bodyguard would want to shoot at an assassin with a reduced-charge cartridge.
As it manifest from all of the evidence considered collectively, that Ragunathan was in captivity at the time he was shot, then it must follow that the poison, which caused his death, was administered to him. This alone absolves the LTTE from any involvement in these crimes. We accordingly reject totally and unreservedly all four conclusions stated by Detective Superintendent Alec Edwards of Scotland Yard. According to the Presidential Commission Report, Ragunathan was a Tamil. He had come to Colombo to go abroad. He was really alone. His few associates were Tamils. Thus there were people who could confirm that he was a Tamil, but who would not be searching for him. This is an important connection as being classified as an LTTEer.
The deaths of Lalith Athulathmudali and of Ragunathan are closely linked. The police investigation of 1993 into these deaths suggested the assassination of Athulathmudali by the LTTE and a suicide by its agent when confronted with arrest.
The evidence now available proves beyond any doubt that Ragunathan was murdered by those who killed Athulathmudali, by an administration of poison, to wit; potassium cyanide. In conclusion, the Presidential Commission served notices under section 16 of the Law No: 7 of 1978: Cap 9: LEC who in the opinion of the Commission were implicated or concerned in the matters under inquiry and subsequently implicated were:
1. Arambawalage Don Ranjith Upali de Silva alias Sothi Upali. There is satisfactory evidence that suspect Sothi Upali was directly concerned in the murder of deceased victim 2 - Ragunathan earlier named Appaiah Balakrishnan. The acceptable evidence implicates Sothi Upali as conspiring with others to abduct Ragunathan, receive him as a prisoner, keep him in secret wrongful confinement, starve him of food and water and have him killed by probably secret administration of poison, to wit, cyanide and then make up false scene as if he committed suicide by biting on a cyanide capsule, when he faces imminent capture. All this was done to suggest that Ragunathan was a member of the LTTE, who assassinated Athulathmudali.
The Commission recommended that Arambawalage Don Ranjith Upali de Silva alias Sothi Upali be made subject to civic disability. Apart from the above the Commission recommended that the evidence was sufficient to consider indicting him with conspiracy and abetment with others of the murder of Ragunathan and in the same transaction, conspiring and abetting Janaka P Jayamanna alias Sudumahattaya to assassinate Lalith W Athulathmudali, offences punishable under Penal Code.
2. Uswatte Liyanage Senivaratne. A Provincial Councilor of the UNP for the Western Province. The Commission while recommending the subjection of the civic disability, also reported that there was sufficient evidence to indict U L Senivaratne with having conspired and abetted the commission of the offences of unlawful assault, voluntarily causing hurt while being armed with deadly weapons to wit; pistol, iron rods, clubs etc and wrongful restraint, criminal intimidation, offences punishable under the Penal Code in respect of the Fort Railway Station incident on 07.08.1992 and conspiracy with Janaka Priyanka Jayamanna and others to assassinate Athulathmudali on 23.04.93 and conspiracy with others to abduct and murder Ragunathan between 23 and 24 April 1993, all offences punishable under the Penal Code.
Also with the same charges against (3) Janaka Priyanka Jayamanna alias Wellapittye Sudumahattaya, (4) Wanadula Bandulage Somaratne alias Konda Some (5) K Nandasiri Karunatilake alias Nandana, (6) Bulathsinhalage Srisena Coorey - the former minister of Housing and Construction in the Premadasa government, and earlier the Colombo mayor and subsequently after becoming the minister was also inducted as the general secretary of the United National Party by President Premadasa The last indicted person was Bulathsinhala Ajith Coorey, the son of Srisena Coorey.
The Commission report said that, it had dealt at length with the conduct of public officials, mainly police officers with regard to the several incidents of physical attacks on Athulathmudali at Pannala, Madapatha, Colombo Fort and Dehiwala. It was no different at Kirulapone.
Reports further add that, before the assassination, the conduct of the police officers in shifting the venue of the meeting and withdrawing police strength from the meeting is evident. It says that after the assassination there was the recording of the false statements submitting incomplete report to the Magistrate's Courts and avoiding questioning witnesses on relevant matters. Further it shows the falsification and tampering suppression of evidence and fraudulent conduct. Those involved were, according to the Commission report, A S P Lugoda, I P Dharmawardene, S I Sunil Shantha and I P Ekhanayake.
The investigation regarding the death of Ragunathan was most unsatisfactory. Those involved were, as pointed out in the Commission report, Senivaratne, Gunaratne, Dharmawardene, Basil, Jayasinghe, Devasundara, Aabdeen, Nilaabdeen, Deepthi Wijewickrema and other CDB officers. Galgamuwa of the Wellawatte police is seen showing weapons to underworld gagsters at the police station. Adhikari of the Borella police had given protection to criminals, particularly to Sothi Upali, whom he addressed as "Chief". Devasundara and Ilabdeen visited Ragunathan, who was held in captivity in Gothami Road. According to the Commissioners, the IGP should have had their conduct investigated through the entries they made in police books, the omissions and failures to perform their duty as seen in those entries and statements recorded by them, and meaningful disciplinary action taken against them. The report was replete with criticism of their conduct.
The Commission report in it concluding paragraphs reported that it remained to say something about President Premadasa in relation to the terms of reference. It was he who had the strongest possible motive to eliminate Athulathmudali. He was badly insulted by the contents of the so-called impeachment motion, his place as head of state publicly ridiculed and undermined, a political force headed by Athulathmudali was developing against his continuance as president. Ministers who were supporters of him were from the Colombo district and were grouping in the political firmament. They all had connections with the underworld, the world of gunmen, smugglers, drug dealers and outlaws. He also had the support of corrupt policemen.
Underworld gunmen and thugs did these killings. Before that, Athulathmudali was hunted, assaulted and humiliated during his election campaign. The killings were elaborately planned, the need for deception being of paramount importance. Who could enlist the support of so many policemen all over the country to interfere with, fabricate and tamper with evidence after the numerous physical attacks on him by assorted thugs and politicians.
The Commission expressed that it was of the view that President Premadasa was himself directly involved in the conspiracy to assassinate Athulathmudali and that others did his bidding. He has preferred deception to debate.
The Commission, after deliberating for two years, submitted its final report to the Sri Lankan President on October 7, 1997. The findings pointed the finger at former President Ranasinghe Premadasa (1988-93) and security force personnel who were close to him as directly responsible for the killing of Athulathmudali.
Earlier in an interview with the Sunday Times of May 4, 1997, the former UNP kingmaker Sirisena Coorey, looking relaxed and confident despite uncertainty over his position, insisted that he had retired from the UNP and from politics and had no intention of making a comeback. Cooray suddenly re-appeared in Sri Lanka (he had been in Australia) and said that he had nothing to hide or fear, especially relating to the Athulathmudali assassination, on which the Presidential Commission was finalizing a report.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q. Wasn't it bad for your image to be considered a sort of fugitive from justice with a warrant out for you?
A. It is all nonsense, there is a Sinhala saying rata wate vetak bandath kata wate bandinda be. You can fence the country but you can never fence the tongue. I was by no means a fugitive from justice for the eight months I was away. I was never accused or convicted to be a fugitive. Like any ordinary person I was out of the country, and that does not mean I was in hiding.
Q. But there were aspersions that you, one time strongman of the UNP, was keeping away from the country. What were you doing?
A. I traveled in America. My sons live in Australia and there got involved in retirement villages, not homes for the elderly as such. Another son met with an accident and he was in a hospital in Bangalore for two weeks, and he is still in Madras undergoing treatment. So you see I spent my time profitably.
Q. Why did you not appear before the Special Presidential Commission inquiring into the assassination of Lalith Athulathmudali?
A. As I said before, people talk a lot of nonsense, not knowing the full story. I requested the Commission to allow me to appear before it and believe it or not I did not even get a letter of acknowledgment from it for three months. Therefore, is it wrong for me to presume that I was not required by the SPC and so I legally left the country like any citizen and did not go stealthily.
Q. When did you get to know the Commission wanted you?
A. I first read about it in the papers three months after I had left. So I took the obvious step of asking my lawyers to get a date for me to come in time. I never showed reluctance to appear before the Commission. I don't think there was any concrete evidence against me. It was largely loose talk and hearsay. Would I have offered to go before the Commission if I was guilty? Even when I wrote to the Commission it never asked me to stay on in the country.
Q. It is alleged that you were associated with men like Sothi Upali who were linked with the Athulathmudali killing. Would you comment?
A. You cannot just indulge in drawing room and cocktail party gossip and assassinate people's character. There must be acceptable evidence and it was conclusive that the LTTE had planned the killing.
Q. Then why all these allegations and innuendo?
A. Ask those who talk. It may be to tarnish my political image. What can I do about it?
Q. Will you remain in Sri Lanka or are you planning another long trip?
A. Why should I leave my country unless it is for a holiday? I am too old to start a new life. I will definitely not leave. Charges were earlier made against President Premadasa and Minister Ranjan Wijeratne. Now people are pointing a finger at me over various killings. Such people either don't have anything worth doing, or they are afraid I will get back to active politics.
On September 8, 1998 one Devasundara, Inspector of Police in charge of the local unit of the newly formed Terrorism Investigation Department (TID) was arrested in Anuradhapura in connection with the murder of Athulathmudali.
The other accused arrested in the case were W Bandulalage Somaratne alias Malwatte Some, U L Seneviratne, B G Devasurendra and A Abdeen. They were all charged with conspiracy, aiding and abetting to commit the murder of Lalith Athulathmudali and unlawful detention of Ragunathan.
Subsequently two of the accused were killed.