Sri Lanka’s top police sleuth suspended over phone calls

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA (AP) — Sri Lankan police have suspended a leading investigator who probed the killing of journalists and alleged abductions during the government 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 yesterday that the phone conversation between Senior Superintendent of Police Shani Abeysekara and a former minister and now an opposition lawmaker Ranjan Ramanayake 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 defence chief during his brother’s presidency.