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DateLine Sunday, 3 June 2007

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Gold heists on the rise

Sunday crime by Jayampathy Jayasinghe There was a spate of jewellery shop robberies reported from Dehiwela during the period 2005 to 2007 when robbers got away with huge haul of gold jewellery estimated to be worth around Rs. 100 million.

The modus operandi of the robbers was quite bold and chilling like that of the old Wild West where bandits storm grocery shops and robbed everything including cash. It looked as if the local robbers too had imitated the Wild West by storming into jewellery shops and robbing its merchandise.

Most of the robberies had taken place when jewellery shops were about to be closed. The robbers had threatened to kill it's shop keeper and its employees and had demanded the jewellery. That had been their modus operandi.

During the period 2005- 2007 robbers had robbed several jewellery shops in Dehiwela and got away with a large haul of gold jewellery after threatening the shop keepers. Initially Police were baffled as there were no clues about the robbers.

Even people who knew about them were too frightened to inform the police fearing reprisals from the robbers. On earlier occasions several such prosecution witnesses had been shot dead by armed robbers.

Jewellery business at Dehiwela- Wellawatte areas flourished during the past two decades due to several factors. People from conflict zone areas settled in these areas and the sale of gold jewellery rose by tenfold. Jewellery businessmen prospered to the envy of robbers.

Their prosperity often reflected in their ostentatious way of living. They often travelled about in limousines and became potential targets of underworld criminals who either abducted or robbed them. The underworld gangs knew that it was just a cake walk to rob jewellery shops . Rich businessmen became their potential targets.

It all began with the heist at the Ramal jewellery shop at Dehiwela in early part of 2006. The robbers armed with knives entered the jewellery shop just after dusk and demanded the gold and gems from its manager.

They even threatened to kill it's manager and other employees if they stood in their way. Thereafter they helped themselves to the jewellery and gems that were on display in the show cases.

The gold jewellery and gems worth Rs 50 lakhs were put into a bag and the robbers vanished into the darkness without leaving any trace. Police visited the scene of the crime, and did their usual observations, took copious notes on the modus operandi adopted by the robbers.

But to their amazement the robbers struck again at a jewellery shop at Dehiwela on 9.5 2005. Jewellery and gold worth Rs 10 lakhs were robbed.

Police later found their modus operandi had matched the earlier robberies staged a few months ago. The Policeman now had a vague idea of the robbers whom they thought were the culprits.

They relentlessly pursued a gang called the Makkara gang from Bodowita in the Athditiya Dehiwela area. By then the men had disappeared from their abode and could not be traced. However during the next two years Jewellery shop keepers in these areas breathed a sigh of relief. It was because there weren't marauding gangs that broke into their shops and robbed their precious gold and gems. But their happiness was short lived.

After a lapse of nearly two years the robber struck again. This time they stormed into Ruby Jewellers at Dehiwela one evening and got away with a haul of gold jewellery and gems worth more than Rs 30 lakhs. As before the robbers had threatened to kill the employees as in the previous heists.

The robbers having entered the shop demanded the gold jewellery from the shop keeper. They made a clean sweep of the place and vanished with the loot without leaving a trace behind. Police heard the harrowing story of its employees of the jewellery shop and learnt that one robber was armed with a revolver this time.

It was just a coincidence when police began to wonder whether the revolver robbed from the armoury at Kohuwela had fallen into the hands of the under world men. It happened some time back when a Sub - Inspector of police attached to the Kohuwela police had returned his service revolver along with 50 round of ammunition to armoury after finishing his duty.

Meanwhile a Home Guard Wasantha on duty at the Kohuwela police station who had access to the armoury had allegedly robbed the revolver and gave it a underworld character. He in turn handed over the revolver to his brother Priyantha Fern do who was the mastermind behind the jewellery shops robberies at Dehiwela.

On a tip off received by Police Sergeant Jayasinghe from the Mirihana Special Investigation Unit he was on the trail of Priyantha Fernando. Soon he learnt that the suspect had gone to Dubai for employment. But the suspect had returned to Sri Lanka in November 2006 after being in Dubai for nearly one year.

Whist in Dubai he had cultivated a relationship with a woman from Ehatugaswewa in Weli-Oya area. Soon after his return to Sri Lanka he had gone to live with the woman at Ehatugaswewa area.

A police team went to Ehatugaswewa in search of the suspect but he wasn't there. But soon they learned the mistress was making preparation to visit her paramour at Mawanaella on the following day. But police did not know the exact location where suspect Priyatha Fernando had taken refuge.

On the following day around 3.30.p.m. policemen in civil clothing followed the woman and her father who boarded a bus at Janakapura. The bus was bound to Anuradhapura.

At Anuradhapura both the father and the daughter boarded another bus bound to Kandy. At the Kandy bus stand the father went to a near by shop and purchased a Cellular mobile card. Thereafter the father and the daughter boarded a bus bound to Mawanaella.

Policemen too followed them to Mawanella and arrested the suspect at the bus stand who had come to meet his beloved woman. The team of police officers who followed and arrested the Suspect are Police Sergeant 27869 Jayasinghe, PS 27856 Hematha, PS 28511 Lakmal, PS, 28415 Lakshaman and PS 20 553 Mendis under the supervision of Chief Inspector C. Tilekeratne of the Mirihana Special Investigating Unit.

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