Questions remain over runaway CID officerat ’s fate Swiss affair:

(Courtesy of The Island)

United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Representative, Una McCauley, 54, died on her way to the Bandaranaike International Airport, on Feb 24th, 2018. Cancer patient McCauley passed away in an ambulance taking her to the BIA where an air ambulance, hired by the UN, was waiting to move her to Europe.

The Foreign Ministry acted swiftly to clear the way for the UN to move McCauley, who had served here for six years – two years as UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative and as the UNICEF Representative in Sri Lanka.

The UN hired an air ambulance after her health deteriorated rapidly following regular treatment she received in Singapore in January 2018. At the time the UN-hired aircraft touched down at BIA, McCauley was receiving treatment at the Navaloka hospital.

There had never been a previous instance of the UN, or any other mission, hiring an air ambulance, to move a diplomat out of Colombo. A diplomatic mission hiring an air ambulance to evacuate a local employee is unthinkable.

An abortive bid made by Swiss Ambassador Hanspeter Mock to surreptitiously evacuate Garnier Banister Francis (allegedly abducted, threatened and molested by an unidentified gang on Nov 25, 2019) should be carefully reexamined. If not for the tough stand taken by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the Swiss would have pulled it off. Had the newly installed government succumbed to Western pressure, the Swiss project would never have been exposed.

Although the government was accused of abducting Garnier, to secure information regarding Inspector Nishantha Silva, who left Colombo for Switzerland on Nov 24, 2019, Bern conveniently refrained from referring to the CID officer. The Swiss diplomatic note dated Dec 30, 2019, handed over to Sri Lanka, following a series of consultations, conveniently left out the CID officer taking refuge there, though the first Swiss Embassy statement, dated Nov 29, 2019, referred to the policeman, who was whisked off at lightning speed.

Both Switzerland and Sri Lanka owed an explanation as to why Nishantha Silva was dropped from the diplomatic note. Sri Lanka cannot be mum on this matter as the Swiss diplomatic note was also released through the Ministry of Foreign Relations.

Lanka never sought extradition of Nishantha Silva

Let me reproduce the statement, dated Nov 25, 2019: “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 their 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 (emphasis mine)

An examination of Swiss statement dated Nov 25, 2019 and diplomatic note on Dec 30, 2019 is necessary. But, it would be foolish, on our part, to expect politicians and officials to address these matters seriously.

Swiss diplomatic note conveniently leaves out fugitive cop

Switzerland, on Dec 30, 2019, said it hoped for a swift return to an environment conducive to resuming the positive co-operation between the two countries, after relations were marred over an alleged incident involving a local Embassy employee.

In a Diplomatic Note communicated to the Ministry of Foreign Relations by the Embassy of Switzerland in Sri Lanka, the Embassy said it regretted that these developments have led to the Sri Lankan authorities’ commitment to due process being called into question and reaffirmed that Switzerland, like Sri Lanka, is committed to upholding good governance and the rule of law.

“Switzerland and Sri Lanka have maintained excellent relations for decades and have engaged in substantial cooperation in a variety of fields, to the benefit of both countries and their populations. Both countries value these relations greatly,” the Note said.

It added that in the last few weeks, this relationship was marred by misunderstandings surrounding an incident involving a local staff member of the Embassy, who was subsequently taken into custody by the Lankan authorities. “In this context, uncorroborated facts made it into the public domain, putting an unnecessary strain on the otherwise cordial relationship between the two countries. At no point during this time did Switzerland have the intention of tarnishing the image of the Government of Sri Lanka,” it added.

“Recognizing that local staff is subject to local laws, the Embassy is convinced that both sides will remain attentive to the working conditions and the wellbeing of all staff of diplomatic missions. Switzerland recalls that it is the responsibility of any government to protect the diplomatic missions of other states on its territory,” the Note added.

The Diplomatic Note added, “Attaching great importance to its relationship with Sri Lanka, committed to maintaining and to further strengthening these relations in a constructive manner, and convinced that both countries will together continue to build relations which are based on mutual respect, the Embassy of Switzerland in Colombo avails itself of this opportunity to renew to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka the assurances of its highest consideration.”

This Note was simultaneously released by the Embassy of Switzerland in Sri Lanka and the Ministry of Foreign Relations in Colombo.

Have they agreed not to take up the contentious matter of the fugitive CID official taking refuge in Switzerland any further?

In spite of strong condemnation of Swiss questioning Sri Lanka’s commitment to due process by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), various interested parties, including sections of the media, commended the way two countries handled the unprecedented diplomatic row.

The government went to the extent of alleging that some interested parties tried to undermine Sri Lanka – Switzerland relations. Having badly exposed its bias towards a friendly country, Switzerland certainly appeared to have safeguarded its interests.

Civil society group Yuthukama Sunday, January 05, 2019 urged both the UNP and the JVP to disclose their stand on the Swiss Embassy affair as both parties, without hesitation, accepted the Swiss accusations. Yuthukama Chief political analyst Gevindu Cumaratunga explained that the UNP and the JVP couldn’t remain silent in the wake of the Swiss allegations being proved baseless. The Swiss never really cooperated with the ongoing investigation, Cumaratunga pointed out.

Having requested permission to move Garnier and her family out of the country on the basis the former was in a really bad health condition, the Swiss denied the police access to her till Dec 08, 2019. The Swiss never explained as to how a person in such a bad medical condition survived without proper medical attention. Perhaps unknown to the government, the Swiss Embassy had an intensive care unit, within its premises.

A Norwegian denial

One-time Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Teheran, M.M. Zuhair responded to The Island reportage of Dec 17, 2019, arrest and the immediate releasing of a 31-year-old foreigner who carried a Norwegian passport in spite of claiming Iranian nationality. Zuhair, who had represented the UPFA in parliament during President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s tenure, asserted that the detection of the foreigner off Silavathurai, should have been thoroughly investigated.

Norway declined to comment on the arrest

Asked by The Island whether Norway inquired into the arresting of a Norwegian passport holder, as to why he identified himself as an Iranian and whether Sri Lanka got in touch with Norway in that regard, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Communications Advisor Guri Solberg sent us the following response: “Due to the Norwegian legislation of secrecy, the Foreign Service cannot comment on information it receives concerning Norwegian citizens abroad.”

Ramin Nazery carrying a Norwegian passport bearing No 31268128 was apprehended off the once Sea Tigers dominated Silavathurai sea, under suspicious circumstances.

Zuhair said the foreigner owed an explanation as to why he lied as regards his nationality. Zuhair, while emphasizing the pivotal importance of strict border controls especially in the wake of Easter Sunday attacks, recalled a somewhat similar incident at the onset of the yahapalana administration in 2015. At a felicitation ceremony for the then State Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene on August 05, 2016, organized by the Forum for National Unity (FFNU), Zuhair discussed the detection of a foreigner trying to enter Sri Lanka on a forged passport.

Israeli on a forged Iranian passport

Zuhair said: “In December, 2015 a 40-year-old Israeli arrived, at the BIA, on a fake Iranian passport. Why an Israeli on a fake Iranian, passport? That would be the relevant question anyone will raise! He also had an Israeli passport with his correct picture but with a different name, kept concealed in his baggage. Why did he come prepared to masquerade as an Iranian while in Sri Lanka unless he had some dangerous mission here and perhaps to leave on a different identity! He had arrived from Mumbai and was detected by the Immigration, at Katunayake, while attempting to enter Sri Lanka on the forged Iranian passport.

“The man had committed offences, falling under several limbs of Section 45 of the Immigrants and Emigrants Act. He should have been produced before a Magistrate as the Immigration officials do in such cases. The offences carry a minimum sentence of one year to five years in prison and to fines in addition! The foreigner should have been questioned by the intelligence authorities and the CID unit of the police which works on a 24-hour 365 days a year operation at the airport. They ought to have elicited valuable information. The man was allowed to go back to Mumbai in the very next flight, without being dealt with for violating our laws!

“The troubling question that I wish to raise is, assuming the Israeli man had been cleared on arrival and if he had either himself or contracted for dollars a narcotic addict, to leave some explosive packages near some Temples here and left the Iranian passport close to the site of the planned explosions, similar to the 21 bombs planted by someone in Ahmedabad and similar to the explosives planted on 7 th July 2013, at the world renowned Mahabodhi Temple, in Buddha Gaya, in Bihar, North India, would that not be the beginning of anti-Muslim riots here? It is a serious possibility. It has happened elsewhere. It is happening around the world. It is not such a difficult task to those with access to dollars and to explosives. That is why we urge the authorities, all citizens, and particularly the Muslims, to be vigilant. Incidentally, the Explosives Act comes under the purview of the Defence Ministry. We need to be alert to all possibilities. We cannot afford to go home and forget our obligations by our country.

“I have taken a lot of your valuable time but do allow me to summarize the more essential points. Firstly the armed forces and the Police, to the extent the law permits, should comprehensively investigate all reports relating to allegations of terrorism, including those published in the media, quoting unidentified sources.

“Secondly, intelligence gathering must encompass not only possible ISIS or other terror infiltration but also cover foreign agents who may venture into the country for operations similar to the David Headleys and Ken Haywoods. Thirdly, identify dubious intelligence reports planted by vested interests, possibly the agents of the arms industry. Fourthly, enhance the need for the country, in general and the Muslims in particular to be vigilant for terror related activities, without needlessly exciting fears. Fifthly, Muslims to explore possible areas of cooperation with the authorities to strengthen terror-related intelligence gathering and investigations.”

Zuhair said that he dealt with foreign agents, on Sri Lanka soil, years before the near simultaneous Easter Sunday bombings that caused devastating losses in terms of human lives, stability and economy.

Zuhair, in his August 2016, speech discussed how intelligence failures could result in catastrophes. The President’s Counsel stressed the responsibility of the State and the importance of the Muslim community exercising vigilance.

Easter Sunday attacks revealed as to how the previous UNP government ignored specific intelligence, made available by New Delhi, well in advance. The then State Defence Minister Wijewardene was among those summoned by Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) which inquired into the suicide bombings. PSC member Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka rapped Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe for Wijewardene’s appointment as the State Defence Minister. The war-winning Army Chief questioned Wijewardene’s suitability as the State Minister for Defence.

Zuhair dealt with several cases to highlight the need for prudent thinking in intelligence matters. Among them were utterly wrong British intelligence assessment regarding Iraq having weapons of mass destruction, false reports pertaining to the Lashker e Taiba also known as LeT, having a “facilitation centere” in Sri Lanka, Jaffna-based LeT planning an attack in South India, and the need to be alert to threats posed by ISIS as well as foreign agents,

Zuhair, in his August 2016 speech discussed two cases reported from India to emphasize the need to be eternally vigilant. The President’s Counsel: “One is the deadly 2008 terror attack in Mumbai, centered around the Taj Hotel, also known as 26/11, India’s 9/11. The three day massacre left 160 dead, paralyzed for months business in India’s largest city, and rightfully earned world-wide condemnation. The man who confessed to the US authorities of planning the terror attack and scouting around the location was from Philadelphia, in the US. His name is David Coleman Headley, who grew up under his American mother, who had been married for a short time to and later divorced by the Pakistani father, said to be a poet and diplomat. David Coleman Headley is the man who planned the Taj Hotel terrorist assault, having made seven undetected visits to India for the purpose! He was prosecuted in the US Courts and convicted for his role in India’s three-day massacre and is now serving a 35-year prison sentence in the US.

“The only point that I wish to urge, by referring to the Mumbai massacre, is that we need to alert our border control for possible external deadly agents of terror, if we are to avoid possible mayhem within our country. Vigilance, irrespective of nationalities, ethnicities and faith, must be enhanced. The cooperation of all sections of our people must be sought. I am not saying, nor am I knowledgeable enough to say, that something is about to happen here. All I am saying is, it had happened in our region and can happen here. The compass for detection must be universal and not merely ethnic or religious oriented. We the Muslims of Sri Lanka must cooperate with the authorities by playing a more pro-active role.

The mechanism that needs to be established for such a role is a matter that the community should go into first and discuss with the authorities thereafter. The next case I wish to refer to is India’s 2008 Ahmedabad bombings, in which bombs had been planted in 21 locations in Ahmedabad in Gujarat. Several local TV channels said that they had received an email from a terror outfit called the “Indian Mujahideen” claiming responsibility for the blasts. What is relevant to us tonight is an Associated Press or AP report filed on 29 th July 2008, according to which, the email in which the “Indian Mujahideen” had claimed responsibility for the explosions, which were to occur shortly, had been sent from the computer of an American national named Ken Haywood operating from Bombay. As far as I know there was total silence, thereafter on Ken Haywood’s role in dispatching the advance terror threat. His email predicting terror in Ahmedabad that night turned out to be frighteningly true, with 56 dead and over 200 injured! We are left wondering who is speaking for whom and whether the US guy is the global voice for the Indian Mujahideen! Ken Haywood is reportedly living a free man somewhere in the USA! A very important case from the intelligence point of view but appears to have been mishandled!

We have seen similar claims purportedly from Al Qaeda, ISIS and other globally branded terror outfits appearing in the media, claiming responsibility for almost every act of terror, occurring in all corners of the globe! Co-incidentally we also hear reports predicting terror attacks, mostly quoting unnamed intelligence sources, as if some of them are acting hand in glove with terror outfits.”

In spite of eradication of the LTTE, over a decade ago, Sri Lanka is certainly not out of the woods. Security threats persist as post-war Sri Lanka struggles to maintain strict neutrality in foreign relations.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

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