By Walter Jayawardhana

Sri Lanka’s former Cricket Board Chairman, former Chairman of the island nations biggest Company ,Sri Lanka Telecom and well known king-maker Thilanga Sumathipala was sentenced to two years rigorous imprisonment on the charges of aiding and abetting a criminal implicated in 28 murders to obtain a forged passport to travel to London and watch a World Cricket Championship match .

Minutes after the conviction his lawyers said the verdict will be appealed against and he was out on bail. Once Sumathipala, whose family made a fortune on bookies, changed parties , from former President Chandrika Bandaranaike’s People’s Alliance to the Ranil Wickremesinghe led United National Party that resulted in Wickremesinghe becoming the Prime Minister.

Hong Kong’s Asiaweek magazine writing about his immense political power in Sri Lanka then said, “Thilanga is known as the backroom king-maker of Sri Lankan politics, and it was his switch from President Chandrika Kumaratunga's People's Alliance to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe's United National Party that delivered the PM-ship for Ranil, and the telecom gig for Thilanga.”
Thilanga’s political fortune’s actually did not work well during the last Presidential elections. At the beginning of the campaign he was supporting the Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party. But at the last moment he changed sides, to became a political electoral organizer for Ranil Wickremesinghe and betted on the wrong horse.

The magistrate Ajith Anavaratne fined him 50, 000 rupees in addition to the prison term. The magistrate said the case has been proved beyond reasonable doubt that Sumathipala who even once had strong ambitions of becoming the ICC Chairman, the boss of the World Cricket body , had committed the crime of obtaining the forged passport for Dhammika Amerasinghe , a notorious underworld figure.

The case which started in the year 2003 was revealing the dark side of Sri Lanka’s cricket during Sumathipala’s time and the intriguing connections between Sri Lanka’s moneyed and politically powerful class with the island nation’s lethal underworld.

He had been in remand prison for a long period , accused of abetting Dhammika Amarasinghe, described as the island’s most notorious standover man who's implicated in 28 murders. Thilanga was accused of helping Dhammika get a forged passport to travel to London for the 1999 World Cup.

At times the case reminded of the mafia killings of New York of witnesses being killed and the case for the prosecution had not been that easy because the star witness Dhammika Amerasinghe died, mysteriously gunned down in December 2003 a few days before he was to testify in the Thilanga case by a man who entered the courts masquerading and clad in lawyer’s suit hiding his pistol in his socks.

Before Dhammika Amerasinghe was shot dead quite an interesting thing happened. On December 8 2003, he was discharged by an acting magistrate.

It happened to be a Poya day, a Buddhist holy day, and the prosecution were not present. A group of lawyers objected and signed a petition to the chief justice charging Sumathipala's lawyers - one of them the president of the Sri Lanka Bar Association - with gross misconduct. On December 10, a magistrate's court overturned the discharge and issued Sumathipala with a summons. On January 1 2004, the Criminal Investigation Department obtained a warrant to search the cricket board's headquarters for evidence.

After the verdict was delivered the counsel informed court that an appeal would be lodged. Sumathipala was granted Rs. 10,000 cash bail and two surety bails each Rs. 100,000. Thilanga’s brother Jagath Sumathipala and brother-in-law Anura Gunadasa signed as the two sureties.
Gamini Marapana PC pleading in mitigation requested the magistrate for a lenient punishment. The counsel stated that Sumathipala was young enterprising and a prominent figure in society. The counsel mitigated the least possible sentence be granted to him considering his age and the social status .

But the magistrate said due to the seriousness of the sentence no suspended sentence was possible and imposed a sentence of two years rigorous imprisonment with the fine.
Deputy Solicitor General Yasantha Kodagoda with Senior State Counsels Damith Totawatte and Amendra Senevirante appeared for the prosecution.

A powerful team of Defense lawyers consisting of Gamini Marapana PC, Rienzie Arsekularatne PC, Dr. Harsha Cabral PC with Attorneys-at-law Sri Kantha, Naveen Marapana and Wasantha Batagoda appeared for Thilanga Sumathipala.



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