Written by Chandana Kariyawasam and Wijitha Nakkawita
Kolonnawa, a suburb of Colombo, is bizarre. It came to the limelight a few months ago when one of its prominent citizens, former Member of Parliament, was killed. Though the news headlines flashed the slaying of the former MP and Presidential Advisor Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra, there were other facets of the incident that showed involvement of criminal gangs.
Now what sort of place is Kolonnawa? In the past it was an electorate represented by leftists and left leaning politicians like T. B. Illangaratne, but later on the character of the suburb changed with criminal gangs holding sway in almost all sectors. The support of certain politicians for illicit hooch brewers, drug barons and prostitution promoters as well as strong arm interference even in civil transactions like land sales were the highlights of the recent development of organized crime here.
However, sometime back police started cracking down on the gangs and there was a decrease in criminal activity, but once again it is back in square one. Crime is the main industry today. Drugs are the main affair of the gangs. When The Nation in its survey of the place questioned a lot of residents, they were tight lipped for fear of reprisals of being identified. A budding political figure has taken over the protection racket of the drug business. With the political clout and the assistance of law enforcement officers, he has now become very rich and is said to brag that he came from the most underprivileged class of the town. Today his riches are visible though no one knows how much his assets are worth. Before he entered politics it is not known if he ever was employed gainfully.
He lives in a four storey mansion and a group of private body guards gives him protection day and night. Two girls work on Fridays as secretaries. When The Nation contacted him over the phone regarding his involvement to drugs circulating the place, he contradicts himself. E.g.: He denied any involvement in drugs and said he was a fish trader, at the fish market complex in Peliyagoda, innocent of any criminal activity. To the contrary, one cannot see any fish being sold when visited. It is difficult to fathom how a man who owns an empty fish stall earns so much of money.
Meanwhile, on investigating in the area many people said that the drug racket is handled by his two brothers. The younger of the two also works as the politician’s bodyguard. The older brother was ordained once as a Buddhist monk but had later disrobed. He was once convicted by courts for drug peddling and a life term in prison was imposed on him. Somehow he had managed to get a special pardon and be released.
The drug racket in Kolonnawa run by the Kolonnawa political brothers is fed by inputs from the drug barons of Kalpitiya, Negombo, Puttalam and Mannar. According to the latest information received by the National Drug Control Board, this area is the primary hub where Asia’s wholesale drug stocks are exchanged for distribution all over the region. It operates through lorries that transport fish from these four towns to Colombo. Hidden among boxes of fish are stocks of drugs and the lorry crews are given no less than Rupees 1 million to bribe police should any hindrances occur. Failing which, political pressures will be applied to get though.
There is yet another individual, a key player in this operation, who was once a mechanic famous for repairing three wheelers. Despite his low-income job, he too has accumulated much wealth and has the support of the powerful politico. Most the contracts of works in the town council (PS) of Kolonnawa are given to him and people of the town say that all such contracts are given to this man without following the due official procedure of calling for tenders.
After a recent incident, this individual whose name begins with the letter J has started playing ‘Hide-n-seek’ with the police, because he is supposed to be hiding from the police who are aware of his whereabouts. Why the police are not making an effort to nab him, when he has a sister living at Nuwara Eliya, to inquire his whereabouts, is still a mystery. Yet another person who is rarely seen, but through his involvement in the drug racket, is also an important player in the drug peddling game. He, too, is under the protection of the powerful politician, and is connected to another political family of the area. He owns two vans, two three-wheels and several luxury houses. The vehicles are used in the drug operation, yet are not detected by the police.
The locality Sinhapura in Kolonnawa has sunk so deep into the drug smuggling pit that it is unimaginable for it to come out of it now. Almost everyone living in, and around, it are aware that drugs are freely sold here under the protection of the powerful local politico. It is the well greased operation of a network of many primary distribution points, along with the cooperation of around thirty to forty underworld mafia dons.
He doesn’t seem to care what his political party is, or who comes into power, since he has contacts with an opposition party politician of the Gampaha District who is said to be paid well for assisting him to avoid make the police look aside while the notorious drug racket is going on. He is also said to be entertaining certain senior police officers and politicians at night clubs so that his position as a drug baron has no threat.
If the politico is innocent of any criminal activity, yet conducts a bankrupt fish stall, how, then, does he come in possession of a mountain of wealth? Then, this provincial politician must not be any ordinary human being, but extraordinary.
Yet another evil that plagues Kolonnawa, is the large scale illicit hooch racket. The hive of operations is located at Selalihini Mawatha, Kelanimulla. It is run with the blessings of two rival politicians who are related to each other. One racketeer, a.k.a Putha (Son), probably the king pin of the hooch racket, operates with the full support of one of the two rival politicians.
Large stocks of hooch are brought wholesale from illicit hooch breweries in other areas, and stored in bunkers under the premises of the distribution point. The place, which is surrounded by high walls, is guarded only by two gates, since the local residents all know what type of man this ‘Putha’ is. ‘Putha’ lives at Pansalhena in a large mansion, yet the business is not done in his mansion but at his licensed wine store nearby. Putha’s brother in law is the one that runs the practical side of the operation. He was a former politician and is employed in a local body. The in-Law runs a tight operation since he has control of all forces in the area, who were ensnared by lavish methods.
Though this story sounds like a fantasy, there is yet another large scale illicit hooch business in operation at Wadugodawatte, Kolonnawa. In a two storey house, the rooms are furnished like pubs for the ‘customers’ to come in through separate entrances, sit and enjoy the rotgut stuff leisurely, without the fear of being arrested by the police or the excise officers. The hooch is poured out of taps on the wall with pipes fixed for the free flow of the stuff. In the evening, ‘customers’ from Dematagoda, Orugodawatte and Maligawatte simply walk along the railway lines to sit in this pub and enjoy their drinks.
There is a good reason why hundreds of people patronize this joint. Police, if at all, rarely come to the place, and that is only when they are broke and in need of some kickbacks. The sales collection and management is done by the wife of the illicit hooch. She is a fearless woman who would face any challenger, male or female.
The entire illicit hooch business of Kolonnawa was run by a man called Ukkuna who lived in luxury owning many vehicles but he went broke after his protégé, ‘Putha,’ put him on the streets. However, the information we have is that he is trying to stage a comeback with the help of the latter of the rival politicians.
This rival politico runs his racket with the help of two of his brothers. One is an armed forces deserter, while the other is unemployed. Yet, these two are well to do now. Ukkuna is related to this politico through his sister. He had recently entertained a government minister at a party in his house. The talk of many is that, this 2nd politico’s intentions for getting involved with the underworld is to make his ascension along the leadership ladder without any bumps along the road, and the hooch racket continues its operations without a glitch.
The racket in Kolonnawa, operates in broad daylight, because the ones who are supposed to ‘protect’ the public from these have turned a blind eye. Our allegations are not against police officers of integrity, who don’t take bribes. Don’t these revelations identify that the hooch and drug racket rampant in Kolonnawa are due to political sheltering and support? The provincial politicians require the backing of the national-level politicos to operate, while the national politicos require these grassroots provincial politicians’ support to maintain power.