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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.


The suspect

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 robbed

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.

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