By Rathindra Kuruwita
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) investigating the Easter Sunday attacks ordered SDIG Mahesh Welikanna, attached to the PCoI Police unit, to take into custody a mobile phone used by former State Intelligence Service (SIS) Director SDIG Nilantha Jayawardena to record some of his conversations with senior security officials after the Easter Sunday attacks.
Earlier Jayawardena presented the Commission with a recording of a conversation he had with former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando in late April about the role played by various senior officials regarding the Easter Sunday attacks.
The conversation took place after both men had testified before the Malalgoda Committee, appointed by former President Maithripala Sirisena on April 21, 2019 to investigate the attacks and to make recommendations to prevent recurrence.
SDIG Jayawardena told the Commission that the recording had been transferred to a CD and then to his laptop.
When questioned why he had recorded this conversation, SDIG Jayawardena said that there were many attempts to tarnish the image of SIS after the attacks and he was also aware of those who were behind the slandering.
“I recorded this conversation to defend our reputation, as evidence,” he said.
The Chairman of the PCoI asked the witness if he had edited or altered the recording. SDIG Jayawardena said he had not.
Chairman then instructed the Secretary of the PCoI to hand over the recording to the Government Analyst’s Department and to obtain a report on it within one week. The Government Analyst was instructed to identify whether the conversation was between Jayawardena and Fernando and whether the recording had been altered. Jayawardena and Fernando were asked to provide voice samples to the Government Analyst, if necessary.
The PCoI Chairman also observed that from the beginning Jayawardena had been using his laptop to present evidence and that on a previous occasion, Jayawardena had played a recording of a conversation with former CNI Sisira Mendis on his laptop.
“Under Article 7 (c) of the Presidential Commissions Act, I instruct you to hand over the laptop to the police unit attached to the PCoI. The Police unit will examine it to see if there are recordings that are important to this investigation, categorise and hand them over to AG’s Department officials. This should be done before Jayawardena and his lawyer. Then his laptop can be returned.”
Counsel Dilshan Jayasuriya and Anura Meddegoda, PC, who appeared for former Defence Secretary and former IGP Pujith Jayasundara, respectively, requested the Commission to send both the phone used by SDIG Jayawardena to record the conversation and his laptop to the Government Analyst. They also asked the PCoI to give a copy of the recording for their perusal.
The Chairman said that they couldn’t provide copies of the recording and lawyers could listen to it at the commission, if necessary.
The Attorney General’s Department official leading the evidence said that there was no need to send those devices to the Government Analyst. Such action could be taken if the Government Analyst said that those devices were needed for their investigation.
“The witness has a personal life,” she said.
In response, the two defence counsel said that there might be some vital documents which SDIG Jayawardena had not submitted to the Commission.
Counsel Jayasuriya said: “Throughout his evidence, the witness had been hinting that he had further information. In the recording played today there was insinuation that he was trying to save people. What if he has a recording with former President Maithripala Sirisena that is vital for this investigation. I believe this witness is providing information selectively.”
Considering all the arguments, the Commissioners directed the PCoI police unit to take into custody the phone used to record the conversation with Fernando. Jayawardena said that the conversation had been recorded on his private phone, one of his family member was now using.
Chairman instructed SDIG Mahesh Welikanna to send the Director of the police unit, SSP Liyanage to Jayawardena’s house and obtain the mobile phone.
Given below are selected excerpts of the conversation between Jayawardena and Fernando.
The recording starts with SDIG Jayawardena explaining to Fernando the kind of intelligence that the SIS would furnish a senior official like the Defence Secretary. The SIS would not provide him with all intelligence information that they would come across and only operational intelligence would be given to the Defence Secretary.
“You gave to the media after the attack where you say that you had received prior warnings of the attacks but that you didn’t take the matter seriously. This showed that the information had not been relayed to the superiors?’
“Yes, I didn’t tell my superiors. When they asked, I told them that I didn’t”.
“Don’t worry about it. People are attacking me and the SIS. They call me a henchman of President Maithripala Sirisena. They want to remove me but I have done what I could do as SIS head.”
I told Sisira (former CNI). He should have told IGP (Pujith Jayasundara).”
“When this matter was taken up on April 09, this wasn’t taken seriously. If they took it up seriously, this wouldn’t have happened. I informed everyone.
“When I sent the intelligence report to the CNI, I was expecting instructions and advice from him. I didn’t get any advice and I sent my officers and found out information. On April 09 all information I had was sent to the IGP.”
“You had sent? I didn’t know. I am not telling President Sirisena had become a problem. Pujith also said so.”
“People also ask me but it’s not up to me to tell the President. But there is no point telling the President or the Prime Minister. What can they do? They can’t put roadblocks. I have told people who can do things. On April 20 I said hotels were targeted and I told CNI to put some people and look at hotels. I can only advise but I can’t instruct.”
“Will it be a problem for me because I had not given him specific instructions?”
“What can you say? Do you know where to put road blocks? People with experience must do it. IGP knows what to do. So you have done your job. The rest is up to the IGP.”
“If you had given me instructions on what to tell the IGP, I could have given him more specific information.”
I don’t need to say. And neither do you. The IGP should know what to do.”