Frustrated after over a decade of delays and obstructions in her quest to obtain justice for her murdered father, Ahimsa Wickrematunge has filed a civil suit against US citizen and former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa in a United States District Court, alleging that he was responsible for ordering and covering up what she termed the “extrajudicial killing” of her father, Lasantha Wickrematunge.
The CID has frequently complained to the Mount Lavinia Magistrates Court that telecom providers, the army and other government institutions were not providing the evidence requested by the CID required for their investigations. In addition, the senior CID case officer was transferred out of CID on 18 November 2018 against the written objections of the Director and Senior DIG of the CID. The transfer order was only cancelled after a public uproar including a scathing letter written by Ahimsa Wickrematunge herself in defence of Inspector Silva.
Ahimsa Wickrematunge brought her case under the Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of the United States which reads that any individual who, under actual or apparent authority, or colour of law, of any foreign nation subjects an individual to extrajudicial killing shall, in a civil action, be liable for damages to the individual’s legal representative or to any person who may be a claimant in an action for wrongful death.
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- Gota tells court he gave up US citizenship on 17 April
The Act defines extra-judicial killing as ‘a deliberated killing not authorized by a previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized people’.
Ahimsa Wickrematunge’s plaint was filed on her behalf by attorneys from the San Francisco-based Centre for Justice and Accountability (CJA), an organisation dedicated to deterring torture, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other severe human rights abuses around the world through innovative litigation, policy and transitional justice strategies that strengthen the global net of accountability.
CJA has successfully brought cases against a former Minister of Defence of Somalia’s Siad Barre regime, the military officer responsible for the assassination of Chilean activist and singer Victor Jara, and Syria’s Assad regime for its targeted killing of war correspondent Marie Colvin, according to a media release issued by the rights group. CJA has also been at the forefront of litigation and advocacy against allegations of torture by US military personnel and government officials at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba.
Wickrematunge’s legal team is led by CJA Senior Staff Attorney Nushin Sarkarati. “Violence against journalists in Sri Lanka was a tool used by the Rajapaksa administration to suppress a free and independent press, and the impunity for these abuses persists to this day. We now seek the truth in a US court with the hope of seeing such cases move forward in Sri Lanka,” Sarkarati said in a statement.
The Daily Mirror obtained a certified copy of the Plaint (Case No:19-2577-R(RAOx) filed by Ahimsa Wickrematunge against Gotabaya Rajapaksa with United States District Court for the Central District of California on Thursday, April 4, 2019, the day before what would have been Lasantha Wickrematunge’s 61st birthday.
The Complaint sets out the sequence of events that Ahimsa Wickrematunge alleges led to her father’s murder and outlines the evidence she seeks to put before a jury in California to obtain a guilty plea against Rajapaksa in a US Court. As this is a civil, not a criminal case, Rajapaksa will not risk jail time if convicted, however, the burden of proof to secure a conviction in a civil case is lower than in a criminal one. A criminal conviction requires a judge or jury to be convinced of the Defendant’s guilt ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’. A civil trial only requires the judge or jury to find that it is ‘more likely than not’ that the Defendant is at fault and liable to pay damages.
Asoka de Silva, Former Chief Justice and counsel representing Gotabaya
Sri Lankan courts have recently demonstrated these qualities by permitting criminal cases against former high-ranking public officials to proceed. Indeed, Mr Rajapaksa is currently facing criminal charges in Sri Lanka’s High Court based on allegations that he aided and abetted board members of the Land Reclamation and Development Authority in misappropriating public funds to build a memorial. Although Mr Rajapaksa vigorously disputes these charges, they demonstrate that Sri Lanka is capable of holding high-level government officials accountable for wrongful conduct undertaken while in office.
Page 8 of the complaint states that in order to ‘ensure a cohesive political and military leadership’, President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed his brother, Defendant Gotabaya Rajapaksa, as his Secretary of Defence. Wickrematunge further says that Rajapaksas’ further consolidated power by appointing Basil Rajapaksa as a Presidential Advisor and later a Cabinet Minister, and appointing Chamal Rajapaksa as Speaker of Parliament.
The complaint describes Rajapaksa’s role as Defence Secretary as ‘the most senior civil servant in the Ministry of Defence’, which houses all branches of the Sri Lankan security forces and intelligence services. As Secretary of Defence, Rajapaksa consolidated control over all of Sri Lanka’s military and civilian intelligence agencies by cementing the position of Chief of National Intelligence the complaint charges.
On Page 9, it further states how the Chief of National Intelligence served as a direct line of authority among the Secretary of Defence and all of the intelligence units within the Ministry of Defence, including the army Directorate of Military Intelligence, its charges and how Rajapaksa played a key role in coordinating operations among the different agencies including a particularly hands-on role with respect to working with the intelligence services.
The Plaint cites media interviews from April 2009 in which several senior officials described weekly meetings of the different intelligence services held by the Secretary of Defence as a way to share intelligence between the agencies, discuss incidents and investigations, and address security concerns outside the main conflict zone in northern Sri Lanka.
The Defendant, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, ‘reportedly’ went down to the nuts and bolts of security issues and made spot decisions on issues raised by the representatives of the various intelligence agencies, the complaint states.
Wickrematunge in her Plaint (Page 10) alleges that the then Defence Secretary expansively applied his power to direct investigations involving national security to investigate media workers, humanitarian aid workers, human rights activists, and individuals perceived to be ‘Tiger sympathizers’.
“The Rajapaksa regime was sensitive to criticism of its war effort and allegations of corruption. As a result, it also launched an assault on the free press, routinely harassing journalists, editors, and other individuals associated with the press. Although the Rajapaksa regime frequently denied playing any role in the attacks against journalists – which ranged from veiled threats to abductions, assaults, torture, and killings – many attacks were traced back to government security forces,” Wickrematunge charged.
Ahimsa Wickremetunge with a drawing of her slain father Lasantha
“The Directorate of Military Intelligence – which was part of the inter-agency intelligence group that met weekly with the Defendant – also operated a clandestine unit known as the ‘Tripoli Platoon,’ which was comprised of elite commandos and members of the Special Forces,” Wickrematunge states adding that the Tripoli Platoon was directly under the control of the Ministry of Defence and was tasked with surveillance of and attacks on journalists who engaged in independent (and sometimes negative) reporting on the Ministry of Defence, Defendant or the Rajapaksa regime.
She has further stated that according to court filings made by the CID, the Tripoli Platoon has been linked to at least three attacks on journalists, including Lasantha’s assassination, and the abduction and torture of newspaper editors Keith Noyahr and Upali Tennakoon.
The complaint recounts the May 2008 white van abduction of journalist Keith Noyahr from outside his home in Dehiwala. “He was taken to a military intelligence safe house, where he was stripped, suspended in mid-air, and beaten. In his search for Noyahr, The Nation’s CEO Krishantha Cooray called Cabinet Minister Karu Jayasuriya for assistance, who in turn called President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Jayasuriya threatened to publicly resign from the government along with several other cabinet colleagues if Noyahr was not released. Noyahr was finally released after a series of telephone calls down the chain of command from the Secretary of Defence to the Tripoli Platoon,” Wickrematunge charges.
The CID has since arrested seven members of the Tripoli Platoon and a former Director of Military Intelligence over Noyahr’s abduction. Sleuths produced to the court the white van in which they say he was abducted, as well as documents indicating the Tripoli Platoon had formally taken on lease the safe house in which Noyahr was tortured.
While in custody, however, this suspect was granted a promotion by the military and continued to receive his pay in violation of regulations governing military personnel in police custody.
The complaint characterises the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge as ‘one of the most prominent and visible attacks on independent journalism carried out by the Rajapaksa regime’ and further alleges that the killing was part of a larger pattern of intimidation, persecution, and violence.
A December 2006 episode is recounted in Page 16, wherein police made an abortive attempt to arrest Lasantha Wickrematunge. Ahimsa Wickrematunge accuses Rajapaksa of having ordered police officers in the CID to arrest her father, against their objections, overriding the legal advice of the Solicitor General of Sri Lanka claiming that the Secretary to the President revoked the order minutes before it was to be executed.
The Plaint recounts the articles in The Sunday Leader in July and September 2007 about the ‘MiG Deal’ that led to Gotabaya Rajapaksa filing a civil defamation suit against Wickrematunge in 2008. “The reporting exposed financial and procedural irregularities in the 2006 procurement of aviation equipment and services by the Sri Lanka Air Force from the Government of Ukraine, identifying the Defendant as overseeing the transaction and alleging potential corruption in the procurement process led by the Defendant,” she states.
In these articles, The Sunday Leader alleged that the Sri Lanka Air Force had made payments to a third-party shell company to the tune of US $14.7 million to purchase MiG aircraft and overhaul services from the Ukrainian government and that Rajapaksa and his cousin Udayanga Weeratunga were involved in the deal.
Since 2015, an FCID investigation into the “MiG Deal” has confirmed these allegations and reported to the Colombo Fort Magistrates Court that US $7 million was stolen from the government through shell company ‘Bellimissa Holdings Limited’ owned by Singaporean businessman Lee Thian Soo and his wife. Udayanga Weeratunga has been named an accomplice, and his extradition to Sri Lanka from Abu Dhabi is pending. Gotabaya Rajapaksa has publicly denied any wrongdoing in the “MiG deal”.
“Following the publication of these articles, the Defendant stated in an interview that the media had freedom in Sri Lanka because ‘you can tell lies and criticize the President, the Defence Secretary and Minister, and after writing these things, and you can get into your car and drive around by yourself’ while gesturing as if holding a steering wheel. It was well known that Lasantha (Wickrematunge) was the only prominent government critic who drove his own vehicle without chauffeurs or security personnel. In October 2007, the Defendant threatened to bring a defamation case against The Sunday Leader, the complaint recaps, in retaliation for the articles written about the ‘MiG Deal’. On November 21, 2007, black-clad commandos bearing automatic weapons stormed the printing press at The Sunday Leader, held staff at gunpoint, and set the printing press machinery on fire. This arson attack was never investigated by police, who at that time were under the direct control of Defendant Gotabaya Rajapaksa,” the complaint alleges.
On or before September 2008, a few months before Lasantha Wickrematunge’s assassination, the State Intelligence Service, which was overseen by the Defendant, began surveilling Lasantha Wickrematunge’s mobile phone for reasons of ‘national security’” Ahimsa Wickrematunge claims in Page 18 of the Plaint.
The slain editor’s daughter in her Plaint then quoted her father’s self-written obituary that was first published in The Sunday Leader on January 11, 2009, as a final editorial, and later reproduced widely around the world. ‘When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me,’ Lasantha Wickrematunge wrote. Addressing President Mahinda Rajapaksa, he said ‘we both know who will be behind my death but dare not call his name. Not just my life but yours too depends on it.
Ahimsa Wickrematunge then recounts events that she characterises by concluding there was no credible investigation into her father’s killing.
“First, a falsified autopsy report was issued by the Judicial Medical Officer indicating that Lasantha’s death was caused by a firearm, even though this was inconsistent with the evidence at the crime scene and the report of the surgeon who conducted the emergency operation. Second, Lasantha’s notebook, in which he had scrawled two licence plate numbers on the day of the attack, was collected by police officers at the scene of the crime. This notebook was later discovered to have been tampered with, and the pages with the licence plate numbers torn out and replaced with doctored entries’.
“In 2018, former Senior DIG Prasanna Nanayakkara and Mt Lavinia Police officer were arrested by the CID and charged with destruction of evidence in connection with this notebook and the police Information Book entries pertaining to it after several police officers confessed to the events. The CID has recovered photocopies of the original pages before they were doctored,” Ahimsa Wickrematunge recounted.
Defendant issued a letter to the Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, instructing that the commanding officer of the Tripoli Platoon be assigned to a non-vacant diplomatic position at the Sri Lankan Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, within thirteen days.
In an interview aired by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) with Gotabaya Rajapaksa in January 2009 a few weeks after her father was killed. At the time, the Defendant was in charge of civilian law enforcement in Sri Lanka, including the police force tasked with investigating homicides. During this interview, the Defendant stated that the killing of Lasantha was ‘just another murder, insisting that he was not concerned about that. He asked the interviewer ‘why are you so worried about one man’?
The complaint states that no further inquiries took place in Sri Lanka until attorneys for the Wickrematunge family successfully petitioned the Mt Lavinia Magistrate’s Court to order that investigations into the murder be conducted by the CID of the Sri Lanka Police, in December 2009.
“However, when CID investigators sought to question a member of the Tripoli Platoon, the CID was ordered to halt its investigation and hand the case over to the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID), a detachment of the Sri Lanka Police. At the same time, the Defendant issued a letter to the Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, instructing that the commanding officer of the Tripoli Platoon be assigned to a non-vacant diplomatic position at the Sri Lankan Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, within thirteen days. The letter instructed that the officer who was then present in Thailand be recalled. After the TID took over the investigation, it halted all inquiries into the involvement of the Tripoli Platoon. In February 2010, the TID arrested seventeen other Military Intelligence officers attached to a different platoon and detained them on suspicion of the murder of Lasantha and other abductions and assaults on journalists. However, all seventeen individuals were released from custody before being presented to witnesses for line-up identification. No charges were ever filed against any of the seventeen individuals,” the complainant has stated in the plaint.
This newspaper is in possession of a letter dated January 18, 2010, addressed to the Foreign Affairs Ministry by Gotabaya Rajapaksa ordering a Military Intelligence officer serving in Bangkok be recalled immediately and that Major Prabath Bulathwatte, the commanding officer of the Tripoli Platoon, be sent to replace him with immediate effect.
This was on the same day that the CID had questioned a Nuwara Eliya mechanic, Pitchai Jesudasan, in whose statement he had implicated a driver in the Tripoli Platoon, Kandegedera Piyawansa, in the acquisition of SIM cards believed to have been used in the murder of Wickrematunge.
The Plaint describes the TID’s actions towards Piyawansa:
“In February 2010, the TID took into custody the member of the Tripoli Platoon who had originally been sought for questioning by the CID. While in custody, however, this suspect was granted a promotion by the military and continued to receive his pay in violation of regulations governing military personnel in police custody. He was eventually released without being charged and without thorough questioning. In February 2017, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court ruled that Piyawansa was arrested and detained improperly by the TID in 2010, in violation of his fundamental rights, ordering that a TID officer pay him a compensation of Rs 100,000”.Despite progress in the investigation since its reactivation by the CID after President Sirisena took office in 2015, Ahimsa Wickrematunge states in Page 24 of her petition that ‘the Rajapaksa family has continued to assert influence over the new administration’.
The complaint states that no further inquiries took place in Sri Lanka until attorneys for the Wickrematunge family successfully petitioned the Mt Lavinia Magistrate’s Court to order that investigations into the murder be conducted by the CID of the Sri Lanka Police, in December 2009.
“This political situation has made it difficult for witnesses to come forward. Due to these political pressures, threats to witnesses, and continued state interference with the investigation, the criminal investigations into Lasantha’s killing and other attacks on journalists have stalled,” she has stated. The complaint then makes several sweeping allegations against former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
“The Defendant, in his capacity as Secretary of Defence, exercised command responsibility over, conspired with, aided and abetted, and/or incited individuals in the Tripoli Platoon, or groups acting in coordination with this unit, to perpetrate the extrajudicial killing of Decedent, whom the Defendant viewed as a threat because of his reporting.
“Cell phone records establish that members of the Directorate of Military Intelligence division known as the ‘Tripoli Platoon’ were involved in the direct perpetration of the attack against Decedent Lasantha Wickrematunge and that they benefited from the assistance of the Sri Lankan security forces to escape the scene of the crime. The Defendant and individuals under his command then worked to prevent an effective investigation into Decedent’s killing.
“The Defendant exercised command responsibility over the Tripoli Platoon, which carried out the murder of Decedent as well as attacks against journalists perceived as critical of the Rajapaksa government. The Tripoli Platoon operated under the command of the Chief of National Intelligence, who reported directly to the Defendant, the Secretary of Defence during the relevant time period.
“Defendant Gotabaya engaged in weekly meetings and closely coordinated with the Directorate of Military Intelligence. Due to this relationship, the Defendant knew or should have known about the attack on Lasantha. Furthermore, widespread media coverage of the attack, and of the allegations of security forces involvement, was enough to give the Defendant knowledge of the murder after the fact,” alleges Ahimsa Wickrematunge.
As the commander of both the armed forces and the police, the Defendant had a duty to ensure an effective investigation and to punish those responsible for Lasantha’s murder. Rather, the investigation during Defendant’s tenure as Secretary of Defence was marked by interference and cover-ups by the investigating authorities, including actions taken by Defendant to actively interfere with any attempt to conduct a credible investigation. Ahimsa Wickrematunge also alleges that Gotabaya Rajapaksa ‘conspired with individuals in the military and police to carry out the attack on Lasantha and prevent an effective investigation’.
“The Defendant conspired with one or more members of the Directorate of Military Intelligence pursuant to a common plan, design, or scheme to carry out attacks against journalists who were critical of the Rajapaksa government, including the attack against Lasantha. Additionally, the Defendant conspired with one or more members of the Sri Lanka Police to ensure that the military officers would not be implicated in Lasantha’s murder.
“In addition to the attack itself, overt acts were taken in furtherance of this conspiracy include tampering with Lasantha’s notebook, the order to transfer the investigation from the CID to the TID after a member of the Tripoli Platoon was implicated in the murder, and the order by the Defendant to transfer one of the Tripoli Platoon suspects in Lasantha’s case to a post at the Sri Lankan Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, preventing a thorough investigation of the crimes. In addition to being personally liable for his own actions,” Ahimsa Wickrematunge charges.
The defendant is jointly and severally liable for the actions of his co-conspirators, all of which were actions undertaken in furtherance of a common plan, design, or scheme to threaten and eliminate journalists and silence critics of the government. She says that Rajapaksa contributed to the commission of the unlawful acts alleged herein by a joint criminal enterprise comprised of Defendant and his subordinates in the Ministry of Defence, specifically the Directorate of Military Intelligence and the Sri Lanka Police.
“Defendant and the co-participants entered into a joint criminal enterprise with a common plan or purpose of waging a widespread and systematic campaign to silence and violently repress journalists who were critical of the Rajapaksa government. Defendant and his co-participants committed the wrongful acts alleged herein in furtherance of this common plan or purpose.
“Defendant provided substantial assistance to the common plan by publicly targeting journalists critical of the government with inflammatory labels and threats, ordering surveillance of journalists, using security forces under his direct command to attack journalists, including the Decedent, and facilitating impunity for these attacks.
“Defendant and his subordinates in the Ministry of Defence contributed to this joint criminal enterprise at each stage. Defendant also made a substantial contribution to the joint criminal enterprise by participating in the cover-up of the crimes alleged, ensuring that the perpetrators would not be held accountable. This contribution was intentional and made with knowledge of the shared purpose of the group to silence and repress critics,” alleges the Plaintiff.
The former Defence Secretary, Ahimsa Wickrematunge alleges, is also responsible by virtue of having aided and abetted, or otherwise substantially assisted in the commission of the crimes against Lasantha, including through his role in Lasantha’s killing by his subordinates and by then covering up the crimes and obstructing an effective investigation into the murder.
The defendant was in command of the law enforcement agencies investigating Lasantha’s murder and took actions to stall the investigation and ensure that Directorate of Military Intelligence officials was not implicated in the crimes. At all relevant times, Defendant knew and purposefully intended that his actions would aid, abet, or assist in the commission and cover-up of the murder. The defendant is therefore jointly and severally liable for the wrongful conduct of the persons whom he aided and abetted.
According to Ahimsa Wickrematunge’s complaint, Rajapaksa encoura ged the commission of the attack through veiled threats and public statements suggesting that perpetrators of crimes against journalists would not be held accountable.
“Defendant made numerous public comments denouncing journalists who criticized the Rajapaksa government as traitors,” the complaint says.
A statement issued by the Ministry of Defence on May 31, 2008, called on ‘all members of the armed forces to unite and guard against these treacherous media campaigns [sic] against them,’ naming The Sunday Leader as one of the ‘treacherous media.’Another statement released by the Ministry of Defence on June 4, 2008, referred to journalists as ‘enemies of the state’ who ‘are doing a job of the enemy.’ The Defendant personally authorized the release of these statements, and, given the pattern of attacks against journalists, was aware of the substantial likelihood of harm in transmitting these inflammatory messages.
“None of the perpetrators of the targeted attacks against journalists has been prosecuted or subject to military sanction to date,” Ahimsa Wickrematunge highlights.
“The domestic investigation of Lasantha’s death has been unduly prolonged and subject to government interference,” the complaint alleges.
“The investigation into Lasantha’s murder has been subject to significant interference and obstruction. While his murder occurred over ten years ago, no criminal prosecutions have proceeded against those responsible. Despite advances made after the 2015 presidential election, the investigation has once again stalled in the current political climate,” Wickrematunge laments.
Attorneys for former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa on June 27, 2019 have responded to a lawsuit filed by Ahimsa Wickrematunge in the United States that seeks to hold the former top official responsible for the murder of her father, Lasantha Wickrematunge, which took place in January 2009.
In his response, Rajapaksa sought to dismiss the case on grounds including that if the allegations were true, it would be possible for such a lawsuit to be heard in Sri Lanka’s courts, which he said have a proud history of independence. A declaration supporting Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s effort to dismiss the case was filed by former Chief Justice Asoka de Silva, who headed the Supreme Court from June 2009 until May 2011, the period covering most of the investigations into the Lasantha Wickrematunge murder that took place during the Rajapaksa regime.
“I submit this declaration at the request of counsel for Defendant Gotabaya Rajapaksa in support of his motion to dismiss this action,” the filing by the former Chief Justice Asoka de Silva stated.
In his submission, Counsel who served as the 42nd Chief Justice of Sri Lanka, has stated that he had fully reviewed the complaint filed by Ahimsa Wickrematunge against the Defendant and based on his review of the Complaint and his knowledge of Sri Lankan Law, a remedy would be available from the courts of Sri Lanka as the Sri Lankan Judiciary is an impartial and independent body.
It further states, “Assuming that all allegations contained in the Complaint are true and correct, Sri Lankan courts would have jurisdiction over the types of claims brought by the Plaintiff against the Defendant.
If properly pleaded, the allegations set out in the Complaint would constitute the basis for a cause of action as recognized under the laws of Sri Lanka and for which, subject to questions of proof, a remedy would be available from the courts of Sri Lanka.Plaintiff could invoke the fundamental rights jurisdiction of the Supreme Court by seeking a declaration of an infringement of a Fundamental Right coupled with a Prayer for compensation or damages. The Plaintiff could invoke the Epistolary Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court by simply sending a postcard addressed to the Chief Justice setting out a claimed infringement of a Fundamental Right.
“The Sri Lankan Judiciary is an impartial and independent body that is capable of fully and fairly vindicating the Plaintiff’s rights. The potential damages recoverable in the Sri Lankan courts for claims of this nature include compensatory damages and punitive or exemplary damages. Even if the Plaintiff did not wish to pursue her claims in Sri Lankan court, she could file a complaint with the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, or she could petition the Attorney-General or the Inspector General of Police.
‘There have been instances in which the courts have directed the Attorney- General to consider the filing of charges against public officials in respect of similar offences.
There have been instances in which the Attorney-General has filed indictments against high-ranking public officials, including in cases against a former Secretary to the President, a former Chief of Staff, and a former Minister. Some of these cases have resulted in convictions, while others are ongoing or currently on appeal.
‘For example, criminal charges are pending in Sri Lanka against Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the Defendant in this case. To the best of my knowledge, based on publicly available court filings, there is no evidence that Plaintiff has availed herself of any of the remedies described above’.
Aside from the 55-page document filed on his behalf Gotabaya Rajapaksa makes several other arguments as to why the case should be dismissed.
He states that he had filed papers at the US Embassy in Colombo to renounce his American citizenship on 17 April 2019 and that he will be contesting as a candidate in presidential elections in Sri Lanka later this year.
Rajapaksa also stated that since the actions alleged in the lawsuit were purportedly done in his official capacity as Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary, he can seek immunity from suit as a foreign official. He stated that the US District Court for the Central District of California has a very large caseload and that this case would add to that burden.
The motion to dismiss the case also claimed that Rajapaksa is no longe r a US citizen, as of 17 April 2019 and that therefore the matters in the case have no connection to the US.
He said that the documents and other evidence are all in Sri Lanka and that it would be very costly and difficult for that evidence to be gotten down to the US, especially due to national security considerations in Sri Lanka.
Counsel for Rajapaksa also state that having the trial in the United States would make it very difficult for the witnesses that Ahimsa Wickrematunge intends to call, and that it would be easier for them in Sri Lanka as how recent developments bolster the idea that the Sri Lankan Judiciary is capable of providing the Plaintiff with redress and new reports by international monitoring organizations commend the country’s fair and independent judiciary and that the US Department of Justice has noted that Sri Lankan “law provides for an independent Judiciary, and the government generally respect[s] judicial independence and impartiality.”‘Sri Lankan courts have recently demonstrated these qualities by permitting criminal cases against former high-ranking public officials to proceed. Indeed, Mr Rajapaksa is currently facing criminal charges in Sri Lanka’s High Court based on allegations that he aided and abetted board members of the Land Reclamation and Development Authority in misappropriating public funds to build a memorial. Although Mr Rajapaksa vigorously disputes these charges, they demonstrate that Sri Lanka is capable of holding high-level government officials accountable for wrongful conduct undertaken while in office.
Etc -: Daily Mirror