UNP politician behind Negombo heist:
Balaclava clad robbers, the trend
Sri Lanka has experienced large scale heists and bank robberies which
have been committed in broad daylight by well-organised looters or
renown criminals. From the notorious armed robbery of four lakhs of
rupees of the Ceylon Turf Club in the early 1950's or popularly known as
"haralakse mankolle," up to Rs.70million robbery of the HSBC van in
Wanawasala in 2010 . A number of cases have taken place from time to
time and has sent shock waves to the people.
Since robberies are rated as the second highest in the crimes record
being reported annually to house break-ins, steps taken by law
enforcement authorities to control this figure is high. Although armed
men with balaclava clad youth robbing banks or financial institutes is
not uncommon. People were perturbed over two key features that were
reported in several recent robberies.
Most of the robberies that were committed were by individuals who had
a criminal record. This took a different twist with last week's robbery
at a leading jewellery shop in Negombo. It is learnt that it was
masterminded by a popular politician of the area. Controversy surrounds
this case as it was planned by a public servant, who should set an
example to society, claimed many. The second striking factor about these
robberies was that the looters wore full-face motorcycle helmets to
avoid identification. Wearing full-face helmets for armed hold- ups is
fast becoming the trend, according to police. Both these key features
came to light with the Negombo robbery where the looters got away with
Rs.15million in broad daylight.
Jewel Lanka was a popular jewellery shop cum foreign currency
exchange centre in Negombo Town that dealt with millions of rupees
everyday. Two persons armed with a revolver broke into the shop mid day
on February 17, threatening the cashiers at gun point by demanding cash.
While one person was holding the staff at gun point, the other swiftly
collected the stacks of cash into a carrier bag. The two suspects who
wore full-face helmets were clearly recorded through Close Circuit
Television cameras fixed to the walls of the jewellery shop. Within
seconds they left the scene, mounted on two motorcycles kept ready with
engines revved up outside the shop handled by two motorcyclists.
A scuffle with robbers
The scene was like out of a crime movie... but this was happening in
broad daylight! The roobbers fled towards Minuwangoda, but were pursued
by two policemen on a motorcycle who happened to be at the scene at the
time of the robbery. The looters fired several rounds at the pursuing
police motorcycle and made good their escape. The police who started
immediate investigations learnt that an individual had bought two full-
face helmets from a shop in Negombo on the same day in the morning which
had also been captured by the shop's CCTV cameras. He was heard speaking
to someone over the phone asking whether it was a full- face helmet that
was required. The detectives who monitored the CCTV recordings noticed
that the customer was wearing a t-shirt issued by a popular garment
factory for its staff.
The Negombo shop that was
The police showed the camera footage to the garment factory
management and learnt that the helmet buyer was an employee of that
company. He had however not reported to work on that particular day when
the robbery took place. Having obtained his personal details the police
arrested the man and questioned him at length. He spilled the beans on
intense interrogation.The suspect told the police that he delivered the
helmets to another person, who was later found to be the personal
chauffeur of former Negombo Municipal Council Opposition Leader Royce
Fernando. The police arrested him and learnt that the entire case was
masterminded by his employer.
Royce Fernando, who is also an UNP Western Province candidate, was
taken into custody by the Negombo Police shortly after and interrogated
at length and found that the case was masterminded by him deploying two
other men to commit the robbery. Within a few days the police arrested
the two suspects who committed the robbery at gun point. Sampath
Ruwansiri Silva alias "Apple Ruwan" of Dehimalwatta, Negombo was wanted
by the police for a series of organised crimes. He was a tailor by
profession prior to his involvement in grave crimes. He was the one who
had threatened the staff with a gun. The second suspect known as
"Kasina", a son of a fireworks manufacturer in Kimbulapitiya was the
person who had collected the money in the bag.
All three suspects are being further questioned under detention
orders sought for 72 hours.
Police investigations revealed that Royce Fernando was wanted for
several other grave robberies in the past. He had joined the Police
Special Task Force as a Sub Inspector in August 1986 but left the
service without notice in October 1986. In 1991, he was involved in a
Rs.440, 000 gold jewellery robbery in Peliyagoda, A Rs.38, 000 heist in
Wennappuwa and another organised crime in 2012, according to police
investigations. The police found cash amounting to Rs.183, 000 which was
in his possession. The detectives believe that Royce Fernando may have
conducted the heist to find money to settle off his debts of Rs.3
million borrowed to carry out his provincial council election campaign.
The case is being widely talked about at present following certain
remarks made by Police Spokesman SSP Ajith Rohana, according to the UNP,
unfavourable to Royce Fernando, who is still a suspect and not yet
convicted. The UNP warned legal action against the Police Spokesman who
denied such allegations.
Meanwhile, the two consecutive bank robberies reported from Kohuwela
and Matugama last week also symbolise the trend of wearing full face
helmets by the looters.
Two men faces fully covered with motorcycle helmets entered the
Nations Trust Bank in Kohuwela on February 24th and threatened the staff
at gunpoint. The robbers armed with a pistol and knife took
Rs.1.5million from the bank counters along with Rs.57, 000 cash
collected from the customers who came to deposit. They fled on a
motorcycle no arrests have been made to date.
Detectives of the Western Province South Organised Crimes Detection
Unit at Mirihana believe that they were the same suspects who carried
out the robbery of another bank in Matugama in the previous week who
fled with Rs.900, 000.
However with the helmets they have worn during the crime it has
become impossible for the detectives to identify them through the CCTV
footages. The investigations are continuing.
According to police department statistics 4, 739 armed robberies have
been reported through out the country in 2013. Although this figure is a
relieving factor compared to the rate of 6,729 robberies reported in
2010, stern methods should be put into practice by the law enforcement
authorities to control the growing trend in the future.