COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lankan police have suspended a leading investigator who probed the killings of journalists and alleged abductions during the presidency of the current president’s brother for discussing a politically sensitive murder case in a phone call with a government minister.
The police spokesman’s office said in a statement Wednesday that the phone conversation between Senior Superintendent of Police Shani Abeysekara and Ranjan Ramanayake, a former minister and now an opposition lawmaker, had marred the police department’s image.
Police did not give details of the phone call, but government politicians have circulated recordings of a conversation purportedly between Abeysekara and Ramanayake in which the two discuss sending a politician loyal to current President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa to jail for the 2011 murder of a political rival.
The case did not make headway until a new government took over after Mahinda Rajapaksa lost the 2015 presidential election.
The recorded phone conversation was made public after police arrested Ramanayake last weekend for possessing an unlicensed pistol.
Opposition members said Ramanayake’s arrest was a political vendetta for his criticism of Gotabaya Rajapaksa during the campaign for the November 2019 presidential election that brought Gotabaya Rajapaksa to power. Ramanayake was a strong critic of alleged corruption and nepotism by the Rajapaksas.
Ramanayake was the third opposition politician to be arrested within weeks of Rajapaksa’s election. Previously, two former Cabinet ministers were arrested and released on bail.
Shortly after Rajapaksa’s election, Abeysekara was removed from his position as head of the police’s Criminal Investigation Department and transferred in what appeared to be a demotion. Abeysekara was heading police investigations into alleged abductions, torture, killings and enforced disappearances of journalists and activists while Rajapaksa was defense chief during his brother’s presidency.
The opposition said Abeysekara’s removal was intended to disrupt ongoing police investigations into alleged crimes and corruption by Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government while he was president.
Just after Gotabaya Rajapaksa assumed the presidency, another key police investigator, Nishantha Silva, fled to Switzerland. Silva was a junior officer to Abeysekara.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been accused as defense chief of overseeing what were known as “white van” abduction squads that whisked away critics. Some were returned after being tortured, while others were never seen again. He has denied the allegations.