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Lankan extortion kingpin is an ex-Squadron Leader

Former Sri Lankan Air Force Squadron Leader has been arrested in connection with a multi-million rupee abduction for extortion racket, reports PK Balachandran.

world Updated: Jun 22, 2007 22:32 IST

Former Sri Lankan Air Force Squadron Leader Nishantha Gajanayake has been arrested in connection with a multi-million rupee abduction for extortion racket.

A former ADC to an Air Chief, Gajanayake is suspected to be the kingpin of a gang which has been abducting Tamil and Muslim businessmen for ransoms running into millions of rupees, according to media reports.

About 70 Tamils, many of them businessmen, were abducted over the past year. Recently, about 50 Muslim businessmen were abducted for ransoms allegedly totalling LKR 600 million, media reports said.

The Sri Lankan government, which had been denying that there were any abductions, is now finding it hard to deny them given the fact that
they had become a political issue rocking parliament and invited international censure.

In the initial stage of denial, the Defence Spokesman, Keheliya Rambukwella, had described the abductions as "tourism". The abducted
had been "taken on a tour and brought back," he joked. President Mahinda Rajapaksa soft pedalled the phenomenon saying that many of the
"abducted" had actually gone abroad clandestinely or they were men who wanted to escape from their spouses!

Cabinet minister DM.Jayaratne went a step further and said that the "abducted" Muslim businessmen had actually "slipped out to meet their

When cabinet minister and Leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), Rauff Hakeem, told parliament that the Muslim business
community was highly stressed and that many businessmen were closing shop and leaving the country, the government asked other Muslim
ministers to tell the media that there were virtually no abductions, and that the charge was being made by the opposition only to tarnish
the image of the government.

However, the issue made a big splash in parliament when the opposition United National Party (UNP) MP, Lakshman Seneviratne, charged that Sqd Leader (Rtd) Nishantha Gajanayake; the Colombo DIG of Police, Rohan Abeygunawardene; and a brother of a non-cabinet minister, were involved.

With the issue gaining media attention and the international community refusing to buy the government's denials, investigations started, and
the first arrest, that of Squadron Leader Gajanayake, was made on Thursday.

First Published: Jun 22, 2007 22:26 IST