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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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SLAF on hazardous wall, Sri Lanka Air Force has sent us the following statement……

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Sri Lanka Air Force has sent us the following statement in response to an article (That hazardous Ratmalana Wall) published on 21 Jan.

It is with regret that I would like to inform you that the newspaper article titled “That Hazardous Ratmalana Wall” published in The “Island” newspaper of 21 January 2021 contains false information which has not been clarified from the Air Force Director Media nor any other official channel of the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF).

It should also be highlighted that the Sri Lanka Air Force does not wish to challenge the freedom of reporting information by journalists. However, news articles of this nature published with the use of unsubstantiated information tarnishes the image of Sri Lanka Air Force.

The newspaper article in concern has caught the attention of the Commander of the Sri Lanka Air Force. As alleged in the article, the Commander has not declared on behalf of the SLAF that there is no objection for the removal of the wall and replacing it with a fence. On the contrary he had in fact stated that a collapsible wall could be put in place of the permanent wall which should have a solid finish obstructing the view from outside due to security reasons.

In addition, to date there has been no incident/accident reported at the Ratmalana Airfield related to the wall along the Galle Road. Further, vehicles such as passenger coach/container etc; travelling on the main road would be taller than the wall in concern and according to the article, the main road would also have to be closed each and every time when an aircraft approaching of taking off from that end of the runway. International runway due to limitations which is also can be considered as hazardous to flight safety, SLAF consider Flight Safety is a paramount important factor as an organization which operates different types of aircraft over the years from this airfield.

It is pertinent to mention the wall in concern was erected by the SLAF before year 2009 with the consent of the Airport and Aviation Sri Lanka (AASL) to address the security concerns at that time and maintained to date. The outer perimeter security of the Colombo International Airport at Ratmalana is being provided by the SLAF free of charge over years. As a measure of gratitude, with the consent of AASL and the approval of the Ministry of Defence (MOD), SLAF authorized to erect hoardings along this wall and to utilize the funds generated for welfare measures of airmen.

Further, publishing of an article which has an author with a fictional name will have serious and adverse effects on the newspaper as well as the goodwill which prevails between SLAF and AASL. The goodwill which prevails between the SLAF and your esteemed Organization will also be adversely effected by articles of this nature. SLAF Directorate of Media always provide accurate and precise information to media institutions which has an impact on general public as well as to other organizations. Undersigned is contactable any time of the day through mobile (0772229270) to clarify ambiguities of SLAF related information.

In conclusion, I would like to express our displeasure regarding the newspaper article in concern and the damage which has been done to the good name of the Sri Lanka Air Force and in particular to the Commander of Air Force.

 

WADC WIJESINGHE

Group Captain

DIRECTOR MEDIA

for COMMANDER OF THE AIR FORCEs

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Dog-eat-dog culture

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By Rajitha Ratwatte

There is an old joke that goes around regularly about Sri Lankans’ in hell. How absolutely no guards are needed to keep Lankans in hell because they do a very good job of pulling each other down into hell when anyone even looks like they will escape. When you extrapolate that into real life in the Pearl, the examples are plenty. All of us have personal experiences of neighbours, peers, relations and even our bosses “cutting us” as the popular phrase goes. It is mostly those who either realise and watch out for these pitfalls or those who clearly identify a powerful figure to “bum suck” for want of a better word that display pure unadulterated sycophancy to, that “progress” to propagate these trends in the future. This I believe is something that is triggered by the basest of all human emotions, jealousy, and probably egged on by a sense of insecurity as well.

One would expect that in a nation of devout Buddhists such reprehensible behaviour would be addressed and controlled. Alas it is not to be and looks like it never will be.

It is rather disconcerting to observe that this behaviour is ‘going strong’ among the Lankan community in this the land of the “long White Cloud” as well. The more I live here and mix with the community, the more I hear about people who try to start new projects or give fruition to new and possibly brilliant schemes who have been stymied by fellow citizens born in the Pearl. They indulge in the anonymous letter method (that dates back from time immemorial) made even easier by using false identities, and “one-off” e mail addresses on the web. They inform all government authorities of what they believe are attempts to break the law of their adopted country. If there are bilateral trade agreements, they diligently contact the other parties and try to cast aspersions on the people concerned. They even inform the management of any company that these people with the new ideas may be working at, that their employee may be breaking a sub clause in his contract and thinking of doing some other business while working for them. All triggered by a wonderful sense of self-righteousness from people who don’t think twice about breaking the law when it concerns their own affairs!

As a result, those who have had a measure of success, guard their positions very carefully and a few who have tried to include other Lankans in their operations have learned hard lessons from those who stole their trade secrets and started rival businesses on their own. I daresay this happens in other communities too, but among the Chinese and Indian communities that form similar minorities in Aotearoa, there are official networks formed to help new immigrants. There are schemes and methods in place to help their people do business, especially in the field of imports, to try and reach some sort of equilibrium with regard to the balance of trade between Aotearoa and their home countries. Sri Lanka imports so much milk from New Zealand but almost nothing of our spices, gems and jewellery, tourism products or even our tea that used to have a much larger share of the market, are imported.

In these desperate economic times, shouldn’t the government be looking at ways to improve our export trade? There are so many pockets and communities of Lankans in so many different countries who are doing well enough to be able to afford some luxuries from their home countries but have to pay exorbitant prices or do without. A recent import of ‘sweet meats’ for Sinhala New Year saw such a massive offtake that great plans for expansion were disrupted by Covid-19, before the Lankan rivals could put paid to it. Although such plans were in place!

Something that is rather obvious to those observing the antics in the Pearl from outside is that there seems to be no plan. Innovative thinking, especially in the field of ‘non-traditional’ exports does not exist. We have all seen how fickle tourism is. Using our fertile soil and the artistic skills of our people to build a reputation for quality exports has been totally neglected in recent times. I daresay the relevant ministries and export bodies exist, but it is a well-known fact that they simply serve as JOBS for political catchers, who do nothing except enjoy a foreign junket or two every year on account of the taxpayer.

That brilliant marketing idea of the Ceylon Tea Centers was so far ahead of its time that no one really understood it. We had the best retail locations in some of the greatest cities in Europe and the UK and were building up a great reputation for serving quality tea and promoting our cuisine. It should have been expanded to handle handicraft products on the lines of Laksala and even spices. Of course, promoting our culture, hospitality and tourism would have followed. There are two ways to handle a crisis. We can either put up our shutters and slide deeper and deeper into the mire of debt and economic ruin, or take some bold steps, make innovative investments and take a gamble on products and ideas that are endemic to our country.

 

Even if the latter method fails the end result couldn’t be much worse! Go down fighting I say! Rather than ask expatriates to come back and try to work in a totally corrupt and politician dominated society, approach expatriates with ideas in other countries and back them to promote those ideas if they show real economic benefits to our land. Not everything will work but even a 5% success rate is better than nothing at all.

It is also acknowledged that RANIL has been reappointed as leader of the UNP. Now then, what does this mean? Is it that the Uncle-Nephew party has stuck to tradition or does it mean that at least some people have realized that an experienced politician with world recognition and a certain amount of credibility in the first world, is useful to have around? Search your minds all you critics who blamed absolutely everything on Ranil. Have a dispassionate look at the Muppets in parliament and think for yourself what sort of account they would give of themselves on the world stage. After you do this, place Ranil on the world stage next to those morons and realize for yourself the DIFFERENCE!

 

fromoutsidethepearl@gmail.com

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Lenin comes to town (again)

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By Gwynne Dyer

When Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny returned to Moscow on Sunday after convalescing in Germany from an attempted poisoning by the FSB domestic spy agency, the regime-friendly media loyally failed to mention his arrival. With one striking exception: Vremya, the flagship news show of Russian state television.

Presumably, somebody there was hoping to win favour with the Kremlin, because they briefly mentioned Navalny three-quarters of the way through Sunday’s two-hour programme. In fact, they compared Navalny’s trip home to Vladimir Lenin’s famous return to Russia in 1917, and suggested that he was as great a danger to Russia as Lenin had been.

As every Russian knows, the Germans plucked Lenin from exile in Switzerland in the middle of the First World War. He was sent across Germany in a ‘sealed train’ (so he wouldn’t spread the infection of Communism there) to St. Petersburg, then in the throes of Russia’s first democratic revolution – and he did just what the Germans had hoped he would.

Lenin overthrew the fumbling democratic ‘Provisional Government’ in a military coup, took Russia out of the First World War – and launched a 73-year totalitarian Communist regime that cost at least 20 million Russian lives in purges, famines and lesser acts of repression. Is Navalny really that great a danger?

The ambitious presenter at Vremya probably won’t get the job he wanted, because President Vladimir Putin really won’t have liked seeing his noisiest critic compared in stature to Lenin, a genuine world-historical figure. Putin himself never mentions Navalny’s name at all.

Russians cannot even put a name to the system they live under, as the poor Vremya presenter’s confusion illustrates. It’s certainly not a democracy, although there are regular elections. It’s definitely not Communist, although most of the regime’s senior figures were Communists before they discovered a better route to power and wealth.

It’s not a monarchy, although Putin has been in power for twenty years and is surrounded by a court of extremely rich allies and cronies. And ‘kleptocracy’ is just a pejorative term used mostly by foreigners, although Navalny does habitually refer to Putin and his cronies as “crooks and thieves”.

In fact, Putin’s regime is not a system at all. Its only ideology is a traditional Russian nationalism that is lightweight compared to blood-and-soil religious and racist movements like Trump’s in the United States and Modi’s in India. It’s a purely personal regime, and it is very unlikely to survive his dethronement or demise.

Putin has been in power for twenty years, and he has just changed the constitution with a referendum that lets him stay in power until 2036. But that seems unlikely, partly because he is already 68 and partly because the younger generation of Russians is getting restless and bored.

Navalny is a brave man who has gone home voluntarily to face a spell in Putin’s jails. (He missed two parole appointments for a suspended sentence on trumped-up embezzlement charges because he was in Germany recovering from the FSB assassination attempt.) But his role in Russian politics so far had been more gadfly than revolutionary.

His supporters do their homework and make clever, witty videos detailing the scandalous financial abuses of the regime (the latest is a virtual tour of Putin’s new $1 billion seaside palace on the Black Sea near Novorossiysk), but he is probably not the man who will finally take Putin down. What he is doing to great effect is mobilising the tech-savvy young.

Since 2018 the average age of protesters at anti-Putin demos, mostly linked to Navalny one way or another, has dropped by a decade, and their boldness has risen in proportion. Moreover, their attitude to the regime now verges on contempt. Rightly so: consider, for example, the last two assassination attempts by regime operatives.

In 2018, the GRU, the Russian military intelligence agency, sent two agents to England to kill defector Sergei Skripov and his daughter Yulia. The agents made two trips to Salisbury because they couldn’t find the right house, they were tracked by CCTV every step of the way, and in the end, they left too little novichok (nerve poison) on the doorknob to kill the targets.

Equally crude and bumbling was the FSB’s attack on Navalny in Tomsk, where the novichok was put on his underpants. Once again, the target survived, and afterwards the investigative site Bellingcat was able to trace FSB agents tracking Navalny on forty flights over several years before the murder was attempted.

Neither agency is fit for 21st-century service, nor is the regime they both serve. Russians have put up with it for a long time because they were exhausted and shamed by the wild political banditry of the 1990s, but Putin’s credit for having put an end to that has been exhausted. He may still be in power for years, but this is a regime on the skids.

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