Affaire Swiss
Posted on December 21st, 2019

Editorial Courtesy The Island

It is now abundantly clear that neither Switzerland nor Sri Lanka want to escalate what followed the alleged abduction of a local employee of the Swiss Embassy in Colombo. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa went on public record saying that Switzerland did its duty by standing up for its employee while Sri Lanka did its duty by thoroughly investigating the complaint. But he was clear that there was no abduction according to the physical and technical evidence examined. In effect he was saying that the alleged victim’s story is untrue. She has been arrested and remanded and due process in the court will now follow. The embassy employee, on a court order, has been produced before a panel of specialist psychiatrists. Its finding has not yet been made public. This would, no doubt, be conveyed to the court which directed the examination possibly in the course of this week.

Developments both in Bern and in Colombo and public statements from their respective capitals indicates that neither party wishes to endanger hitherto cordial relations between the two countries. Switzerland has beefed up its diplomatic presence in Colombo by sending an experienced ambassador who was previously posted here to explore the possibilities of “clarifying” the incident. This can be interpreted as a perception by Bern that the matter, from their end, may not have been properly handled. Clearly the embassy totally believed the version of the alleged ‘victim’ and acted accordingly with complaints lodged with the prime minister and elsewhere. That was why the woman concerned and her family were given refuge in the ambassador’s residence. Other actions on the Swiss side included broaching the possibility of using an air ambulance to take her out of the country and skyped consultations with Swiss doctors. These are understandable in terms of the severity of the complaint which includes poking a barrel of a firearm into her mouth, opening her mobile phone and sexual molestation. Our sister paper, The Island, last week pointedly asked the question why a skyped interview with a Swiss police officer was also not undertaken similar to the medical consultation.

The question in everybody’s mind is that if a false complaint had been lodged, what was the motive of the person making such a complaint? Most people believe that possible asylum in Switzerland may be the intent. Given that Switzerland had recently granted asylum (or is looking at the possibility of doing so) to Chief Inspector Nishantha Silva, Head of the Organized Crime Division of the CID, who recently left the country ballasts this view. Silva has been transferred out of the CID to the Negombo Police following the regime change. He had been handling several sensitive investigations described as “witch hunts” by former administration leaders and his sudden departure raised many hackles. There have been unconfirmed reports that Colombo would seek his extradition. Policemen handling politically sensitive investigations are placed in an unfortunate situation. They are often subject to influence by powers that be seeking a particular outcome. They may comply expecting to be rewarded with promotions or other perks. On the other hand, there’s a Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads in the event of a regime change.

This is where the Police Commission comes in. The various Independent Commissions were appointed under the constitution to ensure proper merit based appointments, promotions etc. and obviously prevent victimisation. They are appointed by the Constitutional Council. There has been criticism that the Constitutional Council, headed by the Speaker, is skewed in favour of politicians. In addition to the Speaker, the members of the 10-member Council includes the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and one member appointed by the President. These are all ex-officio members. Additionally, five members are appointed by the President on the nomination of both the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. The minor parties and independent groups represented in Parliament will by agreement select one nominee who will be appointed by the President. The majority of the Council would thus comprise politicians, admittedly from both the government and opposition sides and this has been subjected to criticism. The various Independent Commissions – the Public Service Commision, Elections, Police, Audit Service, Human Rights, Bribery, Finance, Delimitation, National Procurement, University Grants, Official Languages have been constituted to ensure independence.

Whether there has been delivery by all of them is a moot point. The recent transfers of SSP Shani Abeysekera, former CID Director as Personal Assistant to the DIG Galle is being challenged through a Human Rights petition filed on Friday. Abeysekera handled many sensitive investigations that earned him powerful enemies. The Police Commission is responsible for making such transfers and whether this move was initiated through political influence or not is an open question. A retired Senio DIG recently went public in a newspaper article headlined “The Shani Abeysekera Tragedy” describing Abeysekera as a “tenancious investigator.” He qualified this by saying that he does not know to what extent his conduct was ethical and correct. If there were doubts on this score, the other side of the story must also be heard, he said. In the same article he mentioned the usual pre-election transfers of OICs saying that it did not happen this time possibly due to a fiercely independent Election Commission.

Hopefully whatever differences there may be over the alleged abduction of the Swiss Embassy employee will be quickly sorted out in an absolutely transparent manner. President Rajapaksa says he’s the “victim” in this case due to the reference to a white van (actually a white car). But he has not compromised his independent stance on this matter with wild rhetoric.

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