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Cardinal’s counsel questions Sirisena on numerous calls with SIS head

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by Rathindra Kuruwita

A 159-second telephone conversation took place between former President Maithripala Sirisena and former Director of the State Intelligence Service (SIS) SDIG Nilantha Jayawardena from 7.59 a.m. on April 21, 2019, prior to the Easter Sunday bombings, the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) investigating the Easter Sunday attacks was informed on Saturday.

It was also revealed that another telephone conversation on April 20, 2019 at 6.16 pm had also taken place between the two. Earlier it was revealed that around 20 telephone conversations had taken place between Sirisena and Jayawardena from April 4 to 21, 2019.

April 04, 2019 was the day when Jayawardena received a warning of a possible terror attack from a foreign counterpart.

The details of the calls were revealed when the former President was cross-examined by President’s Counsel Shamil Perera, appearing for the Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith.

Perera asked the witness whether he had been in constant contact with Jayawardena over the phone. In response Sirisena said that he would not agree that there had been frequent telephone conversations between him and Jayawardena.

Perera then showed the former president a list of calls that had been place between Jayewardena and the former President from January 01 to March 31, 2019. The list contained over 200 calls. Sirisena, after referring to the document, said he did not remember such a large number of conversations with the former SIS Director.

“I do not even use a mobile phone. So, this document should be examined further,” Sirisena said.

When asked if the document contained details of calls from six telephone numbers at the former President’s official residence on Paget Road, Sirisena answered in the affirmative.

The document showed that a total of 221 telephone calls had taken place between Sirisena and Jayawardena from January to April 2019. Sirisena said he probably had not received all those phone calls.

“These are records of calls to and from my official residence or to the Presidential Secretariat. But I don’t think I answered all these calls. I would not have answered these calls if I had been at Cabinet meetings and other events and I was attending such meetings,” Sirisena said.

“Do you, as a practice, consult the former SIS Director on your security and the threats you had to face?” the counsel asked. Sirisena said that there were occasions when such consultations were made.

Perera then asked Sirisena whether Jayewardena had given him a call around 6.16pm on 20 April. Sirisena said he had been receiving treatment in a Singaporean hospital at that time and not even his personal security officers had access to him on that day.

Perera then said that the telephone records clearly stated that Sirisena had called the former SIS Director around 7.59am on 21 April, 2019 before the Easter Sunday attacks. Sirisena had earlier said that he first contacted Jayewardena only after the bombings.

The President’s Counsel told the Commission that despite Sirisena’s statement the phone records showed that Sirisena had made a large number of telephone calls on April 21 morning.

“I don’t know what is mentioned in this report but I was in hospital on the morning of April 21. It was not possible for me to make phone calls while undergoing treatment. I came back to the hotel and then heard about the attacks.”

Perera also said about seven telephone calls had been exchanged between Sirisena and the SIS Director after the bombings. The counsel said that a 133- second telephone call had taken place between Sirisena and Jayawardena on 21 April at 8.58 am, a 184-second telephone call at 9.13 a.m., and a 688-second telephone call at 1.10 p.m.

Perera also asked Sirisena how he had made these calls if he was feeling extremely sick.

“I was still weak but this was a serious development. I made a series of calls and advised all including the Prime Minister, the Inspector General of Police and the Tri- forces Commanders, to take necessary action,” Sirisena said.

Perera also asked how Sirisena had returned to Sri Lanka on the same night if his medical condition had been so serious. In response, the former President said that the relevant medical reports could be submitted to the Commission.

Perera also questioned Sirisena on a statement made by the former Director of the SIS, before the Commission, that between 10,000 and 15,000 people knew about the foreign report that the State Intelligence Service (SIS) had received on April 04, 2019 about a possible terrorist attack. Jayawardena said that by April 09, former IGP Pujith Jayasundara had informed the STF and the STF had about 5,000 personnel. The officers that provide security to VIPs too were informed. There were about 800 such officers.

The police in the Western Province too had been informed and there were about 8,000 such personnel, he said. Jayawardena said he had conveyed information about the possible attack to a number of senior officials, including former Defence Secretary, Hemasiri Fernando and CNI Sisira Mendis. Jayasundara had also forwarded the report to SDIG of Western Province, Nandana Munasinghe, SDIG crimes and STF M.R. Latif, DIG special protection range Priyalal Dassanayake and Director of the Terrorism Investigation Division, Waruna Jayasundara.

Sirisena said that although it might be true, his Chief Security Officer, DIG Rohan Silva had been unaware of it.

President’s Counsel: You were the President and Minister of Defence, none of the 15, 000 security personnel and other senior officials told you about the attack?”

Witness- “No one informed me.”

When Sirisena took over as President and Defence Minister he had been entrusted with the responsibility for protecting the people of the country by providing them security. However the attack showed that he had clearly failed in his duties, Counsel Perera said.

“I do not accept that. Terrorist attacks took place when other Presidents were running the country. No one asked this question from them,” Sirisena said.

Perera then asked Sirisena if he accepted that he had endangered the Catholic people by neglecting his responsibilities and that he had been trying to evade responsibility by blaming others.

Earlier former IGP Pujith Jayasundara told the PCoI that President Maithripala Sirisena on April, 24, 2019, had told him that if he took the blame for the Easter Sunday bombings, Jayasundara would be given a pension and an ambassador’s post to a country of his choice.

“I am deeply shocked about what happened but I am not finding any scapegoats,” Sirisena said, adding that he not believe that the report of the Parliamentary Select Committee which investigated the bombings on Easter Sunday was independent or accurate. “When I was asked to appear before the PSC, I did not go and instead, I informed them to come to the Presidential Secretariat and asked them to meet me if necessary. They came and recorded a statement from me. Former Army Commander, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka a member of the PSC harbours animosity towards me. The same can be said about some other members of the PSC. I, therefore, did not accept the proceedings of that PSC,” Sirisena added.

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PSC action could cripple health services, warns GMOA Secretary

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There were vacancies for 89 specialist doctors in government teaching hospitals due to certain actions taken by the Public Service Commission (PSC), the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) said yesterday.

GMOA secretary Dr. Senal Fernando yesterday told The Island those vacancies had the potential to cripple the state health service, as the service was stressed due to COVID-19.

Dr. Fernando said: “Specialist doctors are appointed and transfered according to procedures established by the Health Service Minute. The Ministry of Health is responsible for the transfers and the PSC should oversee the transfering process to ensure that they are made in a proper manner.”

“The PSC has ordered the appointment of a committee to look into the matter but there is no mention of such a committee in the Health Service Minute. Instead of following the process, the PSC has tried to intervene in the process and 89 posts remain vacant during the time of COVID-19,” he said.

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Hizbullah denies links with Zahran

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But signed agreement for Zahran’s help in 2015 GE

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Former Governor of the Eastern Province, M. L. A. M. Hizbullah on Monday night told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) probing Easter Sunday attacks, that he had not had any links to National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) leader Zahran Hashim. The NTJ members had assaulted his supporters at Kattankudy in March 2017, he said.

Hizbullah said so when the Commissioners asked him about his links with Zahran.

Hizbullah was also asked about billions of rupees he had received from foreign organisations since 2016. Earlier in the day, it was revealed that close to Rs. 4 billion had been deposited by foreign individuals and institutions in two accounts Hizbullah operated at the Bank of Ceylon Colpetty Branch from 2016 to 2019.

The witness said the Sri Lanka Hira Foundation, a social service institution run by him, had received money from foreign countries after March 2016.

“Ali Abdullah al-Juffali of Saudi Arabia gave Rs. 308 million and Siddique and Diana Osmond of London gave Rs. 5.5 million,” he said.

Hizbullah added that he knew al-Juffali and some other Saudi philanthropists. Al Juffali family was one of the richest Saudis with an estimated worth USD 19.8 billion, he said.

Then, a video of a discussion Zahran had with Sibli Farooq of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress was played at the PCoI.

The video showed Zahran and Farooq talking about a sum of one million riyals that Hizbullah had allegedly received from Saudi Arabia. In the video, Zahran says that he had no problem with Hizbullah receiving money from Saudi Arabia.

In response, Hizbullah said that by the 2015 Presidential election, Farooq and Zahran had been against him. A member of the Commission then asked why Hizbullah had entered into an agreement with Zahran during an election if he had acted against him.

Hizbullah said Zahran had told, on social media, that he would support politicians who agreed to some of his proposals.” All the parties joined him. I also went along,” he said. Earlier, it was revealed that representatives for the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC,) Democratic Party, UNP, UPFA and National Front for Good Governance (NFGG) had signed agreements with Zahran in exchange for the support of NTJ in 2015.

Hizbullah was also questioned on the Aliyar clash between NTJ and Sunnath Wal Jamaat, a group that supported Hizbullah, on 10 March, 2017.

“Did you ask Zahran to surrender to the court through his mother?” a member of the Commission questioned.

“I made no such comment. I do not know if anyone in my party did so,” he said.

The Commissioners also asked Hizbullah about growing date palms in the Kattankudy area and placing Arabic billboards.

The witness replied that he had grown date palms because of the high temperatures in the area. Nameplates with Arabic letters had been put up to attract Arabic students as they were largely visiting the area, he said.

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CA annuls summons issued on President

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The Court of Appeal yesterday annulled the summons issued on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over the disappearance of two persons in Jaffna in 2011.

Lalith Kumar Weeraraj and Kugan Muruganathan went missing in 2011. Last year, Jaffna Magistrate’s Court issued summons on Rajapaksa over a habeas corpus petition filed by the relatives of the two missing activists. They had named Rajapaksa one of the respondents since he was the Defence Secretary at the time of the disappearances.

Earlier, Rajapaksa had submitted a writ application stating that he found it difficult to appear before the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court due to security reasons. The Court of Appeal issued an injunction preventing Rajapaksa being summoned by the Magistrate.

President of the Court of Appeal A. H. M. D. Nawaz, declaring their decision, said that a Magistrate’s Court could only issue summons over a specific reason. However the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court had issued the summons based on a motion of a lawyer and that there was no legal basis for the summons. Thus, the Court of Appeal issued a writ notification declaring the summons issued by the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court void.

 

 

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