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Of heroin, drug dealers, and pastors

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by Hemantha Randunu

(Translated by Uditha Devapriya)

It was the first week of April 2019. A conspiracy was hatching in secret in a dark cell in Negombo Prison. “Pastor you have nothing to fear. We can do this job easily. If we load a load of heroin from Pakistan we can become millionaires.”

Ibrahim, a Maldivian national was talking to Dunstan, a Catholic pastor. “Pastor you know all boatmen do this kind of things to live. Don’t worry. We can do this job easily.” Ibrahim was explaining to the pastor about smuggling heroin into Sri Lanka.

The pastor, interested in making money by any means, agreed to Ibrahim’s proposal.

“A friend of mine called Abdullah is in Pakistan. He’s trying to send a large load on Sri Lanka. We need to set up some boatmen. You can do that easily, pastor. Please handle that side of the plan. I will prepare the plan. We’ll earn millions.”

The pastor was listening quietly. At the end of Ibrahim’s request, he raised his voice.

“I can’t do this job in Prison. We will have to wait for bail. As soon as I go out, get started.” The pastor held Ibrahim’s hands tightly.

Pastor Dunstan was a resident of Sangammana in Chilaw. From the beginning this pastor was known for fraud. Claiming that the power of God heals the needy; he would leech money from innocents. The 44-year-old had perfected the art of human trafficking. Not one, but six cases of human trafficking were pending in courts against him. For years, he had been extorting hundreds of thousands of rupees from innocent people by illegally and dangerously smuggling them to Australia by sea.

This pastor was married. He had two daughters and they too were married. His legal wife lived in Chilaw and his mistress in Nittambuwa. The pastor had chosen to make money through human trafficking to feed these families and lead a life of luxury. But then things gave way. He was arrested by the police one day in April 2019 for engaging in human trafficking.

He was caught trying to smuggle out 56 people to Australia in a small boat under very dangerous conditions. Following his arrest by the police, he was detained at the Negombo Prison. There he met a large-scale heroin trafficker called Ibrahim. Realizing that heroin could make a lot of money more easily than human trafficking, he agreed to join Ibrahim’s drug business.

Ibrahim, who had been arrested with heroin in his possession, had been held in the Negombo Prison for several years.

Despite imprisonment, Ibrahim continued his heroin business with the help of a group of corrupt officials at the Negombo Prison. Ibrahim wanted the pastor, long engaged in people smuggling by sea, to be involved in his business.

Secret discussions between them about this heroin racket took place for almost a year. The pastor said it would be difficult to get involved in the racket until he was released from prison; so during that time Ibrahim took steps to make life easier for him.

Ibrahim contacted Abdullah in Pakistan and introduced the pastor to Abdullah. “If we get together the pastor can do a lot of big work and a big roll. Let’s start the work as soon as the pastor get released.” Abdullah then contacted the pastor by telephone from Pakistan and explained his future plans.

The leader of the heroin gang that Ibrahim and Abdullah were involved in was a Sri Lankan: Sanju, or Battaramulle Sanju. Arambewelage Don Upali Ranjith (alias Soththi Upali) was a big name in the country’s underworld. He became a mastermind of the underworld in the country in the 1980s under the patronage of the then UNP government. Soththi Upali was assassinated in 1995 after the UNP lost power. Hei had a daughter who later married Sanju.

Following in the footsteps of his father-in-law, Sanju became a large-scale racketeer in the country. Soththi Upali’s racketeering and violence took place mainly in Sri Lanka. His son-in-law Sanju took his racketeering overseas. Sanju had fled to Dubai a few years earlier, after having been involved in a large-scale heroin racket in Battaramulla. He became a millionaire in a very short time by smuggling heroin in bulk to Sri Lanka.

Ibrahim contacted Sanju and introduced the Pastor to him. Sanju was specific. “Send 200 kilos of heroin soon. Everything is ready. The pastor has to bring it in a pile, and I will pay him Rs. 35 million for his services.”

The pastor thought himself lucky to be able to earn tens of millions of rupees in this way. ” I’ll have everything ready as soon as I get out. Let’s play do the job as soon as we can, ” he told Sanju over the phone. Ibrahim was encouraged. “Ok Pastor, I will give you an advance of Rs. 10 million. All you have to do is use the money to get the boatmen ready. As soon as I come out I will give you a phone with which you can coordinate better.” Ibrahim and Abdullah were the main partners in Sanju’s heroin gang. Eventually Pastor Dunstan also joined the gang. After nearly a year in the Negombo prison, he was released on bail in April of 2019.

The pastor arrived at Sangammana in Chilaw on bail. From then on, he began to plan the future of the heroin trade. On Sanju’s instructions, the pastor went to Dehiwala and got a satellite phone. That was through one of Sanju’s acolytes. In addition to the phone, the pastor also received Rs. 1.5 million. It was his responsibility thereafter to bring the consignment of heroin safely to Sri Lanka.

The pastor was searching for someone to enlist into the racket.and thought of Priyanga, one of his accomplices. Most of the people smuggled to Australia were on trawlers belonging to the Priyanga. He was highly trusted. The pastor invited Priyanga to join him and Priyanga agreed. “OK Pastor I will do it; I want 35 lakhs for this. I’ll get the others on board too.”

Priyanga told Nihal, the operator of his trawler, about the pastor’s proposal. Nihal also wanted to bring heroin to Sri Lanka. He demanded Rs. 7 million for that. Priyanga’s elder brother, Dixon, also worked with him. Dixon also agreed to join on the promise of Rs. 200,000.

“Pastor, before we go on this trip, we need to give an advance to those who will join us. Otherwise, they will not come. We also need to refuel our boat at sea for another month,”

Accordingly, the pastor arranged for them to pay all the expenses.

After informing Sanju in Dubai, he paid the advance in the relevant accounts. He also paid Rs.8.5 lakhs for the boat fuel. “I do not have a bank account. Put my advance in my daughter-in-law’s account,” Priyanga told the pastor. The daughter-in-law also did not have a bank account. She gave the Priyanga the account number of the owner of the shop she worked in. Accordingly, Sanju had credited Rs. 1.5 million and Rs. 8 lakhs to the account on two separate occasions.

After completing these transactions, the ‘Rajina’ trawler left Talawila beach on October 26 saying that it is going for fishing. Nihal was the captain of this fishing expedition. In addition there were seven people on board, including Priyanga and Dixon. Priyanga also involved his son in the heroin operation. Priyanga’s son was tasked with coordinating communications between the boat and the mainland.

Seven days after trawler sailed into deep sea, on October 28, it was joined by an Iranian ship. The Iranians had brought 99 kilograms of heroin that had belonged to Sanju in Battaramulla. They handed over the consignment to the trawler. Priyanga and his group were hoping to receive 200 kilograms of heroin. But the Iranians had given them only 99 kilos.

Priyanga immediately told this his son who was in Sri Lanka. The son relayed that message to Pastor Dunstan. The pastor contacted Sanju in Dubai right away.

“Okay … okay … don’t be afraid Pastor. We could not send 200 kilos in the same boat. Tell them to stay at sea for another three or four days. Another ship is ready to give them the rest..” Sanju was calm..

It is common practice to give a pistol as a gift for every 20 kilograms of heroin sold in an international trade and the Iranian nationals who arrived on the Iranian ship were ready to hand over five pistols for the 99 kilograms of heroin. However, the group including Priyanga refused to accept the five pistols. The Iranian ship that brought the heroin sailed off.

On the morning of November 13, Priyanga received a call from his son who told him that a ship from Dubai would arrive that day carrying the remaining stocks of heroin.

Another mission was secretly underway in the trawleri. Little did Priyanga know that Nihal and Dixon were exchanging messages with a group of excise officers. They had passed on all the information about what they were doing very secretly.

On the night of November 13, the Dubai ship approached the ‘Rajina’i and delivered 100 kilograms of ice. The trawler carrying 199 kilograms of heroin and ice was to set sail for Marawila beach after staying at sea for two more weeks. It due to reach Marawila on December 6..

Meanwhile, acting on information provided by Nihal and Dixon, a team of excise officers had launched an operation to seize the drugs. They arrested the four persons who had come to take delivery after cordoning off the entire Chilaw area. There was wides media coverage of the drug raid. Excise officials were keen on bringing the arrested drugs and suspects to justice as soon as possible.

It is common practice to hand over further investigations to the Police Narcotics Unit when such a large-scale drug raid is carried out. However, the Excise officials refused to hand over further investigations to the Narcotics Division. Their excuse was that the informants would be exposed. According to the Excise Ordinance, Excise officials do not have the power to detain and interrogate suspects.

Nihal,, Dixon and Priyanga, who were on the boat carrying the drugs, went missing. We do not know what happened. They are known only to the persons who brought the drugs and the excise officers.

Meanwhile, OIC of the Kelaniya Divisional Crime Investigation Unit, Inspector Linton Silva had received intelligence. It was said that big money was being suspiciously credited to an account of a private bank in the Peliyagoda area.

Linton Silva and other officials found the businessman who held the Peliyagoda Bank account and inquired about suspicious cash transactions. “Sir, this money is not mine. It belongs to a girl working in my office. She lives in Chilaw. Money that her father-in-law obtained from selling his land for has been deposited in that account. That girl didn’t have a bank account, so she put the money into mine.”

The police officers found the girl who was working under the businessman and questioned her. She told them the same story. While the police were investigating, Inspector Linton Silva received a tip from another informant..

“Sir … a pastor from Chilaw is trying to go to India in my boat. Her was involved in one of these rackets.”

Inspector Silva briefed Senior DIG Deshabandu Tennakoon in charge of the Western Province and SSP Roshan Dias in charge of the Kelaniya Division about the information.

Linton Silva and other officers went to the Mannar area and launched an operation to arrest the pastor. With the help of the boatman, they were able to bring the pastor to Mannar. It was then that Pastor Dunstan was taken into custody by the Kelaniya Divisional Crime Investigation Unit. He had to divulge all information in the face of questioning by police.

With the given information, the police team arrested Priyanga’s son and his wife on the same day. The information that confused the police officers was revealed during this interrogation.

“Sir… our father and his brother Dixon were on the team that brought the heroin. He told me that after the ‘kudu’ was brought ashore, it was mixed with 60 kilograms of wood dust. Mahappa told me that this was with the knowledge of the Excise officials. Mahappa also said that 60 kilograms of heroin were taken away by some excise officers.”

The information provided by Priyanga’s son was very serious. Linton Silva briefed his seniors Deshabandu Tennakoon and Roshan Dias on this. Tennakoon has said that no investigation should be carried out against the Excise Officers until the analyst’s report of the seized drug was received.

The truth of these allegations, incidents, and accusations must be immediately revealed. Despite the capture and raid of tons of heroin, there is no shortage of heroin addicts in Sri Lanka. It appears that cocaine and heroin are still being marketed in bulk. We do not know if and when heroin enters the market through raiding officers. All we know is that no matter how much heroin is seized, there is plenty in the market. Why?, we must ask.



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Strong on vocals

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The group Mirage is very much alive, and kicking, as one would say!

Their lineup did undergo a few changes and now they have decided to present themselves as an all male group – operating without a female vocalist.

At the helm is Donald Pieries (drums and vocals), Trevin Joseph (percussion and vocals), Dilipa Deshan (bass and vocals), Toosha Rajarathna (keyboards and vocals), and Sudam Nanayakkara (lead guitar and vocals).

The plus factor, where the new lineup is concerned, is that all five members sing.

However, leader Donald did mention that if it’s a function, where a female vocalist is required, they would then feature a guest performer.

Mirage is a very experience outfit and they now do the Friday night scene at the Irish Pub, in Colombo, as well as private gigs.

 

 

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Dichotomy of an urban-suburban New Year

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Ushered in by the ‘coo-ee’ of the Koel and the swaying of Erabadu bunches, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year will dawn in the wee hours of April 14. With houses to clean, preparation of sweetmeats and last-minute shopping, times are hectic…. and the streets congested.

It is believed that New Year traditions predated the advent of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC. But Buddhism resulted in a re-interpretation of the existing New Year activities in a Buddhist light. Hinduism has co-existed with Buddhism over millennia and no serious contradiction in New Year rituals are observed among Buddhists and Hindus.

The local New Year is a complex mix of Indigenous, Astrological, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. Hindu literature provides the New Year with its mythological backdrop. The Prince of Peace called Indradeva is said to descend upon the earth to ensure peace and happiness, in a white carriage wearing on his head a white floral crown seven cubits high. He first plunges, into a sea of milk, breaking earth’s gravity.

The timing of the Sinhala New Year coincides with the New Year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and Southeast Asia. Astrologically, the New Year begins when the sun moves from the House of Pisces (Meena Rashiya) to the House of Aries (Mesha Rashiya) in the celestial sphere.

The New Year marks the end of the harvest season and spring. Consequently, for farming communities, the traditional New Year doubles as a harvest as well. It also coincides with one of two instances when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka. The month of Bak, which coincides with April, according to the Gregorian calendar, represents prosperity. Astrologers decide the modern day rituals based on auspicious times, which coincides with the transit of the Sun between ‘House of Pisces’ and ‘House of Aries’.

Consequently, the ending of the old year, and the beginning of the new year occur several hours apart, during the time of transit. This period is considered Nonegathe, which roughly translates to ‘neutral period’ or a period in which there are no auspicious times. During the Nonegathe, traditionally, people are encouraged to engage themselves in meritorious and religious activities, refraining from material pursuits. This year the Nonegathe begin at 8.09 pm on Tuesday, April 13, and continues till 8.57 am on 14. New Year dawns at the halfway point of the transit, ushered in bythe sound of fire crackers, to the woe of many a dog and cat of the neighbourhood. Cracker related accidents are a common occurrence during new year celebrations. Environmental and safety concerns aside, lighting crackers remain an integral part of the celebrations throughout Sri Lanka.

This year the Sinhala and Tamil New Year dawns on Wednesday, April 14, at 2.33 am. But ‘spring cleaning’ starts days before the dawn of the new year. Before the new year the floor of houses are washed clean, polished, walls are lime-washed or painted, drapes are washed, dried and rehang. The well of the house is drained either manually or using an electric water pump and would not be used until such time the water is drawn for first transaction. Sweetmeats are prepared, often at homes, although commercialization of the new year has encouraged most urbanites to buy such food items. Shopping is a big part of the new year. Crowds throng to clothing retailers by the thousands. Relatives, specially the kids, are bought clothes as presents.

Bathing for the old year takes place before the dawn of the new year. This year this particular auspicious time falls on April 12, to bathe in the essence of wood apple leaves. Abiding by the relevant auspicious times the hearth and an oil lamp are lit and pot of milk is set to boil upon the hearth. Milk rice, the first meal of the year, is prepared separate. Entering into the first business transaction and partaking of the first meal are also observed according to the given auspicious times. This year, the auspicious time for preparing of meals, milk rice and sweets using mung beans, falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 6.17 am, and is to be carried out dressed in light green, while facing east. Commencement of work, transactions and consumption of the first meal falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 7.41 am, to be observed while wearing light green and facing east.

The first transaction was traditionally done with the well. The woman of the house would draw water from the well and in exchange drop a few pieces of charcoal, flowers, coins, salt and dried chillies into the well, in certain regions a handful of paddy or rice is also thrown in for good measure. But this ritual is also dying out as few urban homes have wells within their premises. This is not a mere ritual and was traditionally carried out with the purification properties of charcoal in mind. The first water is preferably collected into an airtight container, and kept till the dawn of the next new year. It is believed that if the water in the container does not go down it would be a prosperous year. The rituals vary slightly based on the region. However, the essence of the celebrations remains the same.

Anointing of oil is another major ritual of the New Year celebrations. It falls on Saturday, April 17 at 7.16 am, and is done wearing blue, facing south, with nuga leaves placed on the head and Karada leaves at the feet. Oil is to be applied mixed with extracts of Nuga leaves. The auspicious time for setting out for professional occupations falls on Monday, April 19 at 6.39 am, while dressed in white, by consuming a meal of milk rice mixed with ghee, while facing South.

Traditionally, women played Raban during this time, but such practices are slowly being weaned out by urbanization and commercialisation of the New Year. Neighbours are visited with platters of sweetmeats, bananas, Kevum (oil cake) and Kokis (a crispy sweetmeat) usually delivered by children. The dichotomy of the urban and village life is obvious here too, where in the suburbs and the village outdoor celebrations are preferred and the city opts for more private parties.

 

 

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New Year games: Integral part of New Year Celebrations

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Food, games and rituals make a better part of New Year celebrations. One major perk of Avurudu is the festivals that are organised in each neighbourhood in its celebration. Observing all the rituals, like boiling milk, partaking of the first meal, anointing of oil, setting off to work, are, no doubt exciting, but much looked-forward-to is the local Avurudu Uthsawaya.

Avurudu Krida or New Year games are categorised as indoor and outdoor games. All indoor games are played on the floor and outdoor games played during the Avurudu Uthsava or New Year festival, with the whole neighbourhood taking part. Some of the indoor games are Pancha Dameema, Olinda Keliya and Cadju Dameema. Outdoor games include Kotta pora, Onchili pedeema, Raban geseema, Kana mutti bindeema, Placing the eye on the elephant, Coconut grating competition, Bun-eating competition, Lime-on-spoon race, Kamba adeema (Tug-o-War) and Lissana gaha nageema (climbing the greased pole). And what’s an Avurudhu Uthsava sans an Avurudu Kumari pageant, minus the usual drama that high profile beauty pageants of the day entail, of course.

A salient point of New Year games is that there are no age categories. Although there are games reserved for children such as blowing of balloons, races and soft drinks drinking contests, most other games are not age based.

Kotta pora aka pillow fights are not the kind the average teenagers fight out with their siblings, on plush beds. This is a serious game, wherein players have to balance themselves on a horizontal log in a seated position. With one hand tied behind their back and wielding the pillow with the other, players have to knock the opponent off balance. Whoever knocks the opponent off the log first, wins. The game is usually played over a muddy pit, so the loser goes home with a mud bath.

Climbing the greased pole is fun to watch, but cannot be fun to take part in. A flag is tied to the end of a timber pole-fixed to the ground and greased along the whole length. The objective of the players is to climb the pole, referred to as the ‘tree’, and bring down the flag. Retrieving the flag is never achieved on the first climb. It takes multiple climbers removing some of the grease at a time, so someone could finally retrieve the flag.

Who knew that scraping coconut could be made into an interesting game? During the Avurudu coconut scraping competition, women sit on coconut scraper stools and try to scrape a coconut as fast as possible. The one who finishes first wins. These maybe Avurudu games, but they are taken quite seriously. The grated coconut is inspected for clumps and those with ungrated clumps are disqualified.

Coconut palm weaving is another interesting contest that is exclusive to women. However men are by no means discouraged from entering such contests and, in fact, few men do. Participants are given equally measured coconut fronds and the one who finishes first wins.

Kana Mutti Bindima involves breaking one of many water filled clay pots hung overhead, using a long wooden beam. Placing the eye on the elephant is another game played while blindfolded. An elephant is drawn on a black or white board and the blindfolded person has to spot the eye of the elephant. Another competition involves feeding the partner yoghurt or curd while blindfolded.

The Banis-eating contest involves eating tea buns tied to a string. Contestants run to the buns with their hands tied behind their backs and have to eat buns hanging from a string, on their knees. The one who finishes his or her bun first, wins. Kamba adeema or Tug-o-War pits two teams against each other in a test of strength. Teams pull on opposite ends of a rope, with the goal being to bring the rope a certain distance in one direction against the force of the opposing team’s pull.

Participants of the lime-on-spoon race have to run a certain distance while balancing a lime on a spoon, with the handle in their mouths. The first person to cross the finish line without dropping the lime wins. The sack race and the three-legged race are equally fun to watch and to take part in. In the sack race, participants get into jute sacks and hop for the finish line. The first one over, wins. In the three-legged race one leg of each pair of participants are tied together and the duo must reach the finish line by synchronising their running, else they would trip over their own feet.

Pancha Dameema is an indoor game played in two groups, using five small shells, a coconut shell and a game board. Olinda is another indoor board game, normally played by two players. The board has nine holes, four beads each. The player who collects the most number of seeds win.

This is the verse sung while playing the game:

“Olinda thibenne koi koi dese,

Olinda thibenne bangali dese…

Genath hadanne koi koi dese,

Genath hadanne Sinhala dese…”

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