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DateLine Sunday, 30 September 2007

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Drama on Keyzer street

Detectives on the trail of gang leader:

Sunday crime by Jayampathy jayasinghe During the past two years extortion rackets came to a peak in the Colombo city with several underworld men demanding ransom money from wealthy businessmen after threatening to kill them and their families. Through fear many businessmen voluntarily disappeared from their homes sparkling a crisis situation in the city and its suburbs.

The blame squarely fell on the government and the police for their failure to prevent such occurrences and for the deteriorating situation of law and order in the city. Businessmen in terrifying whispers began talking to their friends about their riches being plundered by rapacious underworld gangs.

It became a dilemma for the police to rope in the culprits responsible for the extortion rackets in the city. However things took a different turn when detectives from Colombo Crime Division (CCD) were able to crack some of the unsolved extortion cases following the arrest of hardened criminals. They did this after much painstaking detective work.

By then the detectives had a fair picture of the underworld gangs that were responsible for extorting millions of rupees from wealthy businessmen in the Colombo city. Their modus operandi were to abduct businessmen and later demand millions of rupees as ransom money from their kith and kin for their release.

Despite the success of the CCD, in arresting several suspects, a few daring underworld men continued to extort money from businessmen cashing on the war situation.

They found it a lucrative business. While things were beginning to settle down in Colombo, a daring extortion case was reported to the Colombo Crime Division (CCD) last week. A wealthy businessman from Pettah dealing in the wholesale textile business complained that an unknown person had demanded a staggering sum of Rs. 50 million from him.

The mysterious caller had threatened him, and told him that failure to comply with his request would entail death to him and his children. The businessman who owned two wholesale shops at 1st Cross Street and at Keyzer Street was in mortal fear that something would happen to his children.

This was the first time such a thing had happened to him. He sought advice from his coterie of friends who directed him to the Colombo Crime Division (CCD). The man visited the CCD headquarters on September 21 and lodged a complaint after meeting its Director, SSP Sarath Lugoda.

He questioned the man regarding the veracity of his complaint and learnt that it was a genuine case. The businessman told him that someone who repeatedly telephoned him had demanded Rs. 50 million.

The caller had even threatened to kill him and his children if he failed to deliver the money. He told him that the first telephone call was made on September 14 followed by several other calls. SSP Lugoda after giving a patient hearing to the man, detailed a team of plain clothes detectives on the job.

The businessman was told in detail to follow certain instructions that would help police to trace the suspect. The man willingly agreed to abide by the instructions.

Thereafter the businessman went back to the textile shop at Keyzer street and resumed work as if nothing had happened. He remained mum about his visit to the CCD.

He did not even discuss it with his fellow employees for security reasons. He feared that some one would leak the story jeopardising the investigation. On the following day the mysterious caller telephoned again and demanded Rs. 50 million.

What jostled the businessman was, that the caller seemed to know everything about him, his bank accounts, his properties, his family, etc. Only few persons had access to that kind of information, he thought silently. He promptly rang up the CCD and informed about the ransom.

Meanwhile detectives assigned on surveillance were able to spot a young man lurking about his shop at Keyser street. On further instructions, the businessman gave his cellular phone number to the caller and told him to make further contacts on that number.

By this time the detectives had a fair knowledge of the person who was making the ransom calls over the phone. A couple of days later when the mysterious caller rang up to remind him about the Rs. 50 million, he was invited to visit the Keyzer street shop to collect the money.

The caller then informed the businessman that a person attired in a blue shirt will visit his shop to collect the money. The man would then hand over a piece of paper regarding the money, the caller said. In the meantime the businessman again got in touch with the detectives and a plan was mapped out to apprehend the suspect.

September 22 was a warm day despite there having been rain in the morning. The detectives attired in civil clothes mingled with the shoppers that afternoon and took position near the wholesale textile shop at Keyzer street. They were patiently waiting for a man dressed in a blue shirt to visit the shop.

After waiting for a couple of hours they noticed a man in a blue shirt lingering near the textile shop. The man, instead of proceeding to the shop turned back and walked along the road to the dismay of the policemen. The man walked for some distance and stopped near a telephone booth to make a phone call.

Thereafter he turned back and once again walked towards the wholesale textile shop. Closely watched by detectives by the side of the road, the man walked right into the textile shop. After meeting its proprietor the man handed him a note regarding the Rs. 50 million ransom.

Within a matter of 10 minutes the detectives stormed into the shop and took the man in for questioning. He was a twenty two year old from Kirimandala Mawatha, Narahenpita.

The man was searched and the detectives found a piece of paper containing the numbers of bank accounts, and the immovable properties that the textile merchant owned. On being further questioned detectives learnt that the man had come to collect the cash on behalf of his leader.

The leader in the meantime managed to escape the police drag net. SSP Lugoda said that four police teams have been detailed to arrest the main suspect. The arrested man was served with a detention order and remanded for a further period.

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