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LTTE’s Balasingham, Garnier and Western diplomatic missions

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Garnier Francis

Analysis of telephone data revealed that Swiss embassy employee Garnier Banister Francis had been in touch with Chief Inspector Nishantha Silva before the latter left for Switzerland. She had also been in touch with several others. Had she really desired to migrate to Switzerland with her family, the Swiss mission here could have arranged it. They could have left the country without making an issue. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka seems still blind to the machinations of Western powers. That is the undeniable truth. However, the government response to the Swiss accusation can be considered an exception. The then Foreign Secretary Ravinatha Aryasinha and Defence Secretary Kamal Gunaratne on Dec 01, 2019 briefed Swiss Ambassador Hanspeter Mock and the Deputy Chief of Mission. They set the record straight. CCTV footage, Uber taxi and telephone records as well as GSP data proved Mock wrong (Alleged abduction: Swiss Ambassador’s claim not true-gov., The Island, Dec 02, 2019) It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the Swiss Ambassador lied. The issue is whether the local employee misled the Ambassador or she was part of a wider conspiracy.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

There hadn’t been a previous instance of a local employee of a diplomatic mission, based in Colombo, receiving international media attention before Garnier Banister Francis ended up in the New York Times in late Nov., 2019. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), as well as the Indian media, reported the alleged incident, following the New York Times (NYT) exclusive headlined ‘Sri Lanka critics fear a crackdown is underway, and some flee.’

The alleged abduction of a female Swiss Embassy employee, just a week after the swearing in of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the seventh executive President, rattled the government. Even Anton Stanislaus Balasingham, 68, the late theoretician of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), hadn’t received such prominent media attention during the time he had served the British High Commission, in Colombo, as a translator. Balasingham captured media attention after he received the LTTE recognition as its spokesperson. That was years after he left the BHC, Colombo, and got married to Australian-born Adele, a nurse by profession, in 1978. British passport holder Balasingham passed away at his South London home on Dec. 14.

Francis received wide media coverage after she alleged being abducted by government agents on the evening of November 25, 2019, near St. Bridget’s Convent, sexually assaulted, and questioned regarding Sri Lankans who sought asylum in Switzerland. She claimed to have been abducted by five persons who arrived in a Toyota Corolla car soon after she left the Embassy at No 63, Gregory’s Avenue (Srimath R.G. Senanayake Mawatha), Colombo 07.

Both the UNP and the JVP immediately and blindly found fault with the government. They didn’t even bother to wait for a preliminary inquiry before accepting the Swiss Embassy employee’s claim. The NGO grouping, generally funded by the West, too, wholeheartedly backed her claim.

Maria Abi-Habib and Sameer Yasir reported the abduction in the NYT online edition on Nov. 27, the day the then Swiss Ambassador, in Colombo, complained to the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, at his Wijerama Mawatha residence, about the abduction. They updated the story on Nov. 29, 2019.

By the time the NYT reported the alleged abduction, now admitted in the Colombo High Court as a lie by the accuser, the local police hadn’t been at least aware of the ‘incident.’ But, the Embassy had briefed the New York Times journalists of the incident. They quoted diplomatic officials in Colombo as having said that the men held the Embassy employee for several hours and then, before releasing her, threatened to kill her if she told anyone. For a country like Switzerland that maintains a lily white image, despite getting super wealthy by secretly handling black money, from around the world, under convenient banking secrecy laws, is capable of committing any heinous crime. Remember the country’s banks also stole funds of Jews burnt in Hitler’s gas chambers.

They were further quoted as having claimed the men appeared to be focused on finding information about a Sri Lankan detective who had been investigating President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. NYT refrained from naming the detective.

NYT was referring to Chief Inspector Nishantha Silva of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) who left for Switzerland with the blessings of the then Swiss Ambassador in Colombo Hanspeter Mock. The investigator with obvious stained hands was accompanied by his wife and three children.

NYT quoted Swiss Foreign Ministry spokesperson Pierre-Alain Eltschinger as having declared: “We can confirm that a local employee of the Embassy was detained against her will on the street and threatened at length by unidentified men in order to force her to disclose Embassy-related information.”

“Switzerland regards this incident as a very serious and unacceptable attack,” he said, adding that the Swiss government was “demanding an immediate and complete investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident.”

Sri Lanka last week brought the high profile case to a conclusion. Colombo High Court Judge Namal Balalle on Friday (Nov. 14) sentenced Francis to two years RI suspended for five years. She was also ordered to pay Rs. 2 mn as compensation to the government and fined Rs. 5,000. She is now free to join her husband and two children in Switzerland.

Probably the person who should be compensated is former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa whose administration was the target of this wholly staged drama to malign it no sooner he became the President with an overwhelming mandate.

The judgement was delivered four years after the alleged incident. Francis pleaded guilty to charges in open court. Judge Balalle lifted the travel ban imposed on Francis. She was represented by former President of the Bar Association Kalinga Indatissa, PC.

The Bar Association, during Indatissa’s tenure as its President, took offence over the high handed statement issued by the Swiss government on Dec. 30, 2019, as regards the proceedings pending in the Magistrate’s Court of Colombo over the purported abduction of Garnier Francis. The Bar Association issued a strongly worded statement that condemned the Swiss position and their motives. At the Magistrate Court, Upul Kumarapperuma appeared with Sudharshana Gunawardena. Once the case was moved to High Court, Indatissa led the defence team.

Manohara de Silva, PC, strongly criticized the Swiss mission here over the incident. The Island carried two statements issued by the lawyer. The then Chairperson of the HRCSL, Dr. Deepika Udugama, too, in respons to The Island query issued a statement that dealt with the issue. She stressed the need for investigators to have access to the Swiss Embassy employee.

The Swiss Embassy employee’s canard was exposed by our intrepid investigators who wasted no time in perusing CCTV and other evidence before interested parties could have tampered with them.

Swiss salvo

A few days after the alleged incident, the Swiss mission, in Colombo, issued the following statement: “On 25 November 2019, a serious security incident, involving a local employee of the Embassy of Switzerland, in Colombo, occurred. The employee was detained against her will in the street, forced to get into a car, seriously threatened at length by unidentified men and forced in order to disclose Embassy-related information.

Several false pieces of information are circulating in the reporting of this incident. The Swiss Embassy in Colombo is issuing the following clarifications: (1) The Swiss Embassy immediately lodged a formal complaint and is fully cooperating with the Sri Lanka authorities in order to support police investigation and initiate an inquiry over the case, while duly considering the health condition of the victim and her relatives. (2) Due to a deteriorating health condition, the victim is currently not in a state to testify. (3) It has been alleged that the Swiss government rejected a request for the extradition of an employee of the Sri Lankan Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and his family. No such request has been submitted.

Having declared the Embassy was fully cooperating with authorities, Hanspeter Mock accommodated the local employee in the mission till Dec. 8, 2019. She reported to the CID on the afternoon of Dec. 08, 2019, but declined to undergo medical examination in the absence of a female doctor though two female nurses were present (Alleged abduction: Swiss embassy employee makes statement to CID, The Island of December 09, 2019 edition).

It would be pertinent to mention that Ambassador Mock handed over the local employee to the CID after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa rejected his proposal to evacuate the Embassy employee, along with her family, to Switzerland, in an air ambulance, they had managed to fly into BIA well in advance. No less a person than President Rajapaksa told the writer on the night of Nov. 29, 2019, about the Swiss bid (Swiss mystery takes a new turn: Air ambulance to move embassy employee, govt. insists on immigration formalities, The Sunday Island, Dec. 01, 2019 edition). Until then Hanspeter Mock hindered the investigation. While demanding a thorough inquiry, the Swiss Embassy initially declined to reveal the identity of the alleged victim. In hindsight, the Swiss planned to take her out of the country without she being subjected to any form of investigation (Alleged abduction: Swiss embassy denies SL access to employee, with strapline FM asks embassy to follow established procedure to allow smooth probeThe Island, Nov. 29, 2019, edition)

The attempt to evacuate the group (Garnier Francis and her family) was made during President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s two-day visit to New Delhi. At the behest of the President, those who dealt with the Swiss authorities insisted that evacuation could be permitted only if the Embassy employee and her family underwent immigration formalities. Had the government gave in to diplomatic pressure and allowed her to go, the unsubstantiated allegations wouldn’t have been proved false. And the malicious claim against our country would have stuck for good across the world.

Interestingly, the Swiss Embassy statement conveniently failed to name the detective, though the local media identified the officer concerned. In fact, Sri Lanka never sought a clarification from the Swiss Embassy as regards the detective. Actually, it wouldn’t be fair to blame the Swiss Embassy for Sri Lanka’s inept response. Regardless of who held political power, Sri Lanka lacked the political will to face challenges, and external powers enjoyed manipulating the country to their hearts’ content. It would be a grave mistake on our part to blame external elements working through their agents here without taking remedial measures.

Those who planned the propaganda blitz over the Swiss Embassy employee ‘abduction’ case certainly took into consideration a spate of still unsolved cases – the disappearance of 11 youth at the hands of the Navy, mostly in 2007/2008, torturing of Deputy Editor of The Nation, Keith Noyahr, on May 22, 2008, assassination of the founding Editor of The Sunday Leader, Attorney-at-Law, Lasantha Wickrematunga, in the morning of January 08, 2009, on Attidiya Road, near Bakery Junction, attempt on the life of Rivira editor, Upali Tennakoon, on January 23, 2009, at Imbulgoda, Gampaha, abduction and assault on well-known journalist and civil society activist, Poddala Jayantha, on June 1, 2009, near Embuldeniya Junction, in Nugegoda, and disappearance of media personality, Prageeth Ekneligoda, on the eve of the January 26, 2010, presidential poll. Keith Noyahr and Upali Tennakoon secured political asylum overseas.

We are not saying the Rajapaksas were behind all of the above, but they and the succeeding UNP-led Yahapalana administration failed to get to the bottom of any of them.

Need for a wider inquiry

The incumbent Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, was the first parliamentarian to raise a CID officer taking refuge in Switzerland. In conversation with the writer, the then UNP MP Wijeyadasa Rajapakse explained the responsibility on the part of the Foreign Ministry to seek the extradition of CI de Silva as the relatively junior officer and his family receiving political asylum in Switzerland should be examined against the backdrop of many senior military officers being denied visas. The MP also disclosed how the then senior officer in charge of the CID, DIG Ravi Seneviratne, defended the conduct of CI de Silva when Yahapalana President Maithripala Sirisena summoned the top man for a discussion in late 2018 following a complaint made by him. Lawmaker Wijeyadasa Rajapakse said that he felt the urgent need for President Sirisena’s intervention as the CID was making moves to arrest Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda and Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Admiral Ravi Wijegunaratne over the abduction of 11 persons and giving protection to Lieutenant Commander Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi falsely implicated in the abduction cases, respectively (Wijeyadasa reveals powwow between CID Chief and President MS: Govt. urged to seek Nishantha’s extradition, The Island, Nov. 27, 2019)

Police headquarters went to the extent of deliberately calling Lt. Commander Hettiarachchi ‘Navy Sampath’ in a bid to manipulate the case. The Swiss got involved when Lt. Commander G.G. Laksiri, who gave evidence against Admiral Wijegunaratne, was granted political asylum to the Volunteer Naval Force officer. Therefore, Laksiri had secured Swiss protection much before CI Silva and attempts to depict the detective as the first man from the security sector to do so are not fair.

Then there was the case of Lt. Commander Welagedara who secured political asylum in Australia claiming his life was at risk here. Welagedara migrated to Australia during the Yahapalana administration in spite of Admiral Karannagoda complaining to the then Defence Secretary over accusations made by the officer. The then President’s Office intervened on behalf of Welagedara who skipped a Tri-Services Board of Inquiry scheduled to begin hearings on January 07, 2017.

Other cases

Sri Lanka lacked political will to counter those who propagated lies in a deliberate attempt to tarnish the country’s image.

One-time Northern Province Chief Minister and ex-SC judge C.V. Wigneswaran (member of the current Parliament) couldn’t stomach the LTTE’s defeat. In August 2016, Wigneswaran accused the military of killing over 100 LTTE combatants, in custody, by poisoning them. The PTI and NDTV were among international media which reported unsubstantiated allegations.

Wigneswaran placed the number of such deaths at 104. Accusations were made while the U.S. Pacific Command’s ‘Pacific Angel’ exercise was underway in the Jaffna peninsula. Obviously, the politician took advantage of the US exercise to propagate war crimes accusations.

Wigneswaran boldly declared that the U.S. Air Force medical team, in Jaffna, could examine the former rehabilitated LTTE cadres, who, he alleged, had fallen sick because they were injected with poisonous substances at government detention centres. The government never bothered to seek an explanation from Wigneswaran.

The then State Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene and Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne dismissed the vicious accusations. Wijewardene offered the international community access to rehabilitation facilities. What the Ministers didn’t realize was that by Aug. 2018, the vast majority of ex-LTTE combatants had been released.

The US conveniently refrained from making its position clear on Wigneswaran’s claim when the writer raised the issue with the US Embassy in Colombo. There had never been such a claim before TNA’s Wigneswaran sought to humiliate Sri Lanka. It would be pertinent to mention that one-time LTTE subordinate, the TNA, backed common candidate Maithripala Sirisena at the 2015 presidential poll, having earlier supported Gen. Sarath Fonseka at the previous presidential poll.

On both occasions, the TNA delivered all northern and eastern electoral districts to Fonseka and Sirisena, who contested on the New Democratic Front (NDF) ticket with the ‘Swan’ as its symbol. The TNA did the same for Sajith Premadasa in the North and the East at the last presidential election, though the South overwhelmingly defeated the UNPer as was the case with Fonseka previously at the 2010 presidential poll.

Unfortunately Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who had been elected with a staggering 6.9 mn votes could not overcome the overwhelming economic-political-social crisis that was created by his predecessors while he, too, took some short-sighted disastrous decisions possibly on wrong advice.

The Swiss project against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa should be examined taking into consideration accusations made at a media briefing chaired by Dr. Rajitha Senaratne a week before the Nov. 16, 2019 presidential election. The briefing was held in support of UNP presidential candidate Sajith Premadasa.

The SLPP presidential candidate was accused of ordering the killing of people and throwing their bodies into a crocodile-infested tank in the Moneragala district during his tenure as the Defence Secretary. At the same media briefing, the Mahinda Rajapaksa government was also accused of secretly moving 700 tonnes of gold from the North during and after the conclusion of the war.

When the lie backfired, the UNP called a media briefing at Sirikotha on Dec. 26, 2019. in support of Dr. Senaratne who was in hiding. Guess who was there to defend Dr. Senaratne? TNA heavyweight M.A. Sumanthiran, whose party, in 2001, declared the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil-speaking people. A few hours after the briefing, Dr. Senaratne, who arrived at Lanka Hospital, Narahenpita, got himself admitted. That case is pending in the Colombo High Court.

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