Director-General, Legal Affairs at the Presidential Secretariat, Attorney-at-Law Harigupta Rohanadeera Monday night (30) revealed that former Director of the State Intelligence Service (SIS) Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena would be a key witness in the State’s 2019 Easter Sunday case against former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando as well as then IGP Pujith Jayasundera.
Rohanadeera also made reference to another case also in the High Court, in which Jayawardena would be a major witness. The top Presidential Secretariat official said so appearing on Salakuna TV programme.
Rohanadeera explained how a person against whom accusations had been made become a State witness.
The explanation was provided when the panel of journalists pointed out the failure on the part of the then government to thwart the suicide bombings in spite of specific intelligence received from India, regarding impending attacks.
Eight separate blasts, including three targeting churches at Katuwapitiya, Colombo Kochchikade and Batticaloa claimed the lives of 270 and wounded over 400.
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) Final Report, Vol. 1-p 287-288 handed over to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Feb 2021 recommended to the Attorney General criminal proceedings against SDIG Jayawardena “under any suitable provision in the Penal Code”
At the onset of the interview, Rohanadeera acknowledged that he was the first DG, Legal Affairs, at the Presidential Secretariat and his responsibilities included examination of international agreements.
Responding to growing criticism that the incumbent government had reneged on repeated assurances of punitive action against all responsible regardless of their status, Rohanadeera emphasised that action couldn’t be taken only on the basis of PCoI recommendations. The panel of journalists asked why the government justified the inordinate delay in taking tangible action against former President Maithripala Sirisena, who also held the Defence portfolio as well as the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. The panel of journalists pointed out that the PCoI had clearly commented that then Premier Wickremesinghe’s soft approach towards extremism facilitated the Easter attacks.
The panel of journalists also sought Rohanadeera’s response to Church’s accusation that the government sought to protect Sirisena, now a member of the ruling SLPP representing the Polonnaruwa district.
Pointing out that lawmaker Sirisena in terms of 35.1 of the Constitution enjoyed immunity to a certain extent, Rohanadeera stressed that it would be the prerogative of the Attorney General to move court against those who had been named by the P CoI. Rohanadeera repeatedly explained how findings made by the P CoI may not be sufficient in a criminal case.
Commenting on the continuing controversy over the fate of Pulasthini Rajendran alias Sarah Jesmine, the wife of Katuwapitiya bomber Hastun, Rohanadeera insisted the government wasn’t aware of what really happened to her though aware of her presence at Sainthamaruthu at the time the military surrounded their hideout about a week after the April 21, 2019 blasts. The panel of journalists pressed Rohanadeera over claims by Opposition lawmakers based on statements made by law enforcement officers regarding Sarah Jasmine managing to secure refuge in India having fled the country in a boat.
Responding to former Attorney General Dappula de Livera’s claim that the Easter Sunday carnage was a grand conspiracy, Rohanadeera questioned the rationale in that particular statement as he could have dealt with the so-called grand conspiracy during his tenure as the AG. Rohanadeera pointed out that the former AG made the claim just two days before his retirement in May this year. Rohanadeera asserted that the former AG could give a statement to the CID in that regard and, the police too could seek clarification from the former Chief Legal Officer of the government.
Rohanadeera dealt with the deterioration of national security in the wake of Maithripala Sirisena’s triumph at the 2015 presidential election. Having described the yahapalana administration an abnormality, Rohanadeera asserted that handing over the government to the UNP with just 40 odd members of parliament was constitutionally flawed. Rohanadeera recalled how the then CJ was unceremoniously sent home by PM Wickremesinghe who just commanded 40 odd lawmakers. Reference was also made to the power struggle between the yahapalana President and the Prime Minister, Treasury bond scams perpetrated in 2015 and 2016 and the failure on the part of the AG’s Department to advice the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) as regards Zahran Hashim in the run-up to the Easter blasts. Rohanadeera declined to comment on the conduct of the officers of the AG’s Department.
The panel of journalists raised the negligence on the part of State Counsel Malik Azeez and Deputy Solicitor General Azad Navavi on the basis of the recommendations made by the PCoI. The P CoI recommended the Public Service Commission (PSC) consider disciplinary action against both.
The journalists reminded how the then government arrested DIG Nalaka Silva who sought the AG’s advice regarding Zahran Hashim over unsubstantiated accusations made by Namal Kumara regarding an alleged plot to assassinate President Sirisena and wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Rohanadeera also explained how the government addressed contentious issues on the basis of the P CoI recommendations that largely dealt with two areas and the Sectoral Oversight Committee chaired by MP Malith Jayatilleke during the previous administration. Responding to a spate of questions regarding the suspicious conduct of the SIS and Directorate of Military Intelligence and direct links between Zahran Hashim and some of his followers with the intelligence services before the change of government in 2015, Rohanadeera emphasised those who propagated various theories and gave credence to unsubstantiated accusations were not aware of the whole picture. Rohanadeera explained intelligence services followed various strategies therefore it wouldn’t be fair to judge them on wrongful assumptions and misinterpretations of events.
Asked whether the Easter Sunday carnage was meant to facilitate SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s victory at the 2019 presidential poll, Rohanadeera dismissed such claims declaring that it was a blatant lie. Referring to the SLPP’s unprecedented victory at the Feb 2018 Local Government polls, Rohanadeera declared that the then administration was so unpopular as a result of Treasury bond scams and political turmoil the presidential poll victory was already a foregone conclusion.