No leniency for PNB officers - DIG Ajith Rohana | Sunday Observer
Drug smuggling ring

No leniency for PNB officers - DIG Ajith Rohana

The Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) was set up in 1973 to combat the rising drug trade in the country. Its vision ‘Towards freeing society from the scourge of drugs’ meant business for the body mandated to root out the menace from the land.

PNB officers being escorted

However, after almost five decades and many successful drug busts its reputation has been ruined following the discovery of an alleged drug smuggling ring run by its own officers who were vested with the task of eradicating the illicit trade.

Sixteen of the PNB’s officers, perhaps the largest number of cops to be arrested in connection with a case are now in Police custody. They have been accused of selling drugs seized by various government agencies including their own unit back to drug smugglers. The group which includes an Inspector and a Sub-Inspector has been slapped with charges of drug trafficking. Close to Rs. 31.2 million belonging to the suspects which were buried in a land in Daladagama, 20 sovereigns of gold, a jeep, two vans, a T56 firearm and some other items have been confiscated by investigators.

The money made through the illegal trade, the Police believe was hidden to be divided among the group later. Three bank accounts of the suspects have been frozen. According to Police Spokesman SP Jaliya Senaratne on one occasion the group had extracted eight kilograms of ICE out of 500 kilograms seized.

The CID is closing in on another five PNB officers. The group's connections to many other underhand dealings including the alleged transportation and distribution of drugs have also been revealed in the course of the investigation.

When 12 of the suspects were presented before the Colombo Chief Magistrate Lanka Jayaratne on Thursday (July 2) the undoing of the PNB’s rogue officers was traced back to an arrest on June 12 in Minuwangoda.

A suspect had been arrested for possessing five grams of drugs. During questioning, he had revealed a large scale drug smuggling ring run by a group within the PNB which eventually led to their arrests.

On the day Deputy Solicitor General Dileepa Peiris told court that the group had mixed various other powders such as Ajinomoto and Salt into drugs at the evidence storage before presenting them to courts to make up for the shortfall. “These drugs amounting to over 500 kilograms had been nabbed in April and May,” he said adding that the group had extracted drugs similar to the weight of the ajinomoto and salt and resold it. The group had also extracted and repacked drugs at other locations such as at a hotel in Balapitiya, Galle.

For example, when the PNB ceased almost 200 kilograms of heroin in Mahabage recently, 43 packs out of 200 smuggled into the country by boat had already been extracted in Balapitiya and allegedly sold in Colombo by the rogue officers. The raid which led to the seizure of 200 kilograms of drugs had been a cover-up.

But how did the rot run so deep is a question that has been left in the minds of the public. To many, the actions of these men dedicated to rid the society of drugs remain shocking and perplexing. As it was revealed in courts, the alleged PNB drug ring had been formed by a drug trafficker identified by the Police as Kottawe Rajitha alias Kalu and Gihan Fernando, both with links to notorious drug kingpin Vidana Pathiranalage Samantha Kumara alias Wele Suda.

According to sources, the drug traffickers had picked out Policemen in the PNB they believed could be manipulated and attracted through hefty commissions. Through money, the drug traffickers had infiltrated the PNB.

But with its reputation on the line, the Police seem determined to bring wrongdoers to task. Wrongdoers will not be given any leniency the Police have assured. As three teams from the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) continue to investigate, and grill the rogue officers' for more information.

A Police dragnet has been thrown to search another Inspector of Police attached to the PNB believed to be one of the masterminds behind the ring.

A travel ban on the officer has also been obtained. But according to SP Senaratne, the Police have not yet found any clues as to his whereabouts.

Investigators are also poring over the bank and financial records of the suspects.

Details of land and jewellery purchased have also been uncovered. The evidence storage of the PNB now remains sealed as stocks are being checked by the CID. Functions of the PNB have been hampered due to the case and actions of a few.

Meanwhile, the scandal has also cost the jobs of the top officers leading the PNB. While DIG of the PBN Sajeewa Medawatta was transferred to the less illustrious Police Welfare Division, Director of the PNB SP Manjula Senarath was booted out and replaced by SSP Sujith Wedamulla.

Acting DIG G.K.J Aponsu has taken Medwatta’s place with the approval of the National Police Commission and the Elections Commission.

Four of the officers believed to be involved in the racket have also been interdicted. All this is to ensure impartial investigations, SP Senaratne said.

According to DIG Ajith Rohana while the PNB has rendered a great service in tackling the drug scourge in the country the entire Police service has come into disrepute due to the actions of a handful of corrupt officers. DIG Rohana stressed that the Sri Lanka Police will not be lenient towards corrupt Police officers. “They will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.

While the police have also launched an internal inquiry into the matter DIG Rohana conceded that there have been lapses in monitoring the backgrounds of officers within the PNB. Despite the situation, he also assured the public that all ongoing narcotics investigations are continuing.


Rs. 140m drug transaction comes to light

Even as the Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) remains in shambles following the recent scandal where its officers were found to be involved in a drug-smuggling ring, the Sri Lanka Police nevertheless this week proved it means business when it comes to combating the drug menace.

During a press briefing on Friday, Senior DIG Deshabandu Tennekoon revealed that in an investigation into the drug trade the Police found that Rs. 140 million in transactions had been made through the account of a man connected to a known drug smuggler.

The man, a 65-year-old had been living in a house owned by the drug smuggler. According to Tennekoon, the account was discovered during investigations carried out on the bank accounts of drug smugglers.

The Dehiwala Police had recovered 1kg and 28g of drugs and over Rs. 200,000 from a suspect who was arrested.

Later the Police had identified him as an agent of another drug kingpin known as Mervyn Jana, who is currently in custody. “When we investigated the bank accounts where they had deposited their money, we found that the money had been deposited into a bank account belonging to a 65-year-old man living in the residence of this drug racketeer.

We arrested him and upon checking his bank account we found that within less than a year from July 15, 2019 to June 26, 2020, Rs. 140 million had been deposited into this account” Tennekoon said.

Meanwhile, a former Bank executive was also arrested by the Police in the Werahera area this week. The man had maintained connections with ten illicit drug traffickers, Tennekoon said.

According to the Police the drug dealers had handed over their illegal earnings to the man who in turn transferred the money to the dealers through his personal bank accounts. DIG Tennekoon said the man had charged a commission of Rs. 9,000 for each Rs. 100,000 transferred by him to the dealers.

“According to evidence he had transferred almost to Rs. 6.5 million to the drug dealers within a month” he said.