Last week the remains of the late businessman Dinesh Schaffter were exhumed at the General Cemetery in Borella on a request made by the five-member special forensic expert committee from the Colombo Magistrate’s Court. Schaffter was found tied up in the driving seat of his car at the Borella Cemetery on 15 December 2022, and died later at the Colombo National Hospital. The Homicide and Organised Crimes Division of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) launched investigations in collaboration with the Borella police into Schaffter’s death but to date not a single individual has been arrested for the crime, nor even the cause of death established conclusively.
Despite the involvement of the CID and according to over 70 persons being interrogated as part of the investigations, there is not much progress with identifying the killers or the motive for this crime. On 27 February this year the Court appointed a five-member panel of medical experts to perform a fresh post-mortem inquiry into the death of businessman Dinesh Schaffter, to ascertain whether the death was a murder or suicide. The ability of the Police and the CID in particular to investigate and resolve this case is reflective of the deterioration of the capabilities of the CID which is a result of the intentional and targeted attacks on this institution.
When criminal elements are in governance it is but natural, they would wish to destroy the very institutions that would investigate and prosecute criminal activities. The best case in point is the dismantling of the Financial Crimes Investigations Division (FCID) of the Police which was established with the specific objective of investigating high profile financial crimes which often involve political players. The FCID was vilified by the then Joint Opposition and once the current political disposition came into power the institution was completely abolished. Many who were under investigation by the FCID are now reigning in their high political offices with immunity and utmost confidence.
Similarly, the CID was completely decimated by the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration and continues down the same path under the current regime. Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Shani Abeysekera, Sri Lanka’s most renowned and respected sleuth, was incarcerated for over 11 months on trumped up charges. Other CID officers who were involved in investigating crimes committed by Gotabaya Rajapaksa were also arrested. Inspector of Police (IP) Nishantha Silva who led some of the most emblematic investigations, was forced to flee the country and seek asylum in Europe. Over 700 personnel attached to the CID were immediately transferred and the leadership of the CID was replaced by political lackeys. In this reality it is obvious that the CID has lost some of the best investigators due to political interference.
The lack of investment in training, equipment and personnel have deteriorated the competence of the whole police in carrying out effective investigations. This has affected every sphere of police activity from investigations into petty crime to high profile crimes. In addition, the excessive use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act which allows for long-term detention without proper judicial oversight have nullified the need for expeditious and thorough investigations. The PTA also has a notorious reputation of exerting “confessions” under torture. These have rendered the skills of investigation and old school detective work redundant and as the Schaffter case proves, created a police force without the basic skills to solve crimes.