Lalith Weeratunga and Anusha Palpita acquitted | Daily News
Sil Redi case appeal:

Lalith Weeratunga and Anusha Palpita acquitted

Innocence vindicated by Oral and Documentary evidence
Bona fide intentions proved
Govt policy decision on Sil Redi taken long before polls
Former Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga and TRC Director General Anusha Palpita walking out of the Appeal Court yesterday. Picture by Ranjith Asanka.
Former Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga and TRC Director General Anusha Palpita walking out of the Appeal Court yesterday. Picture by Ranjith Asanka.

The Court of Appeal yesterday acquitted former Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga and former Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) Director General Anusha Palpita in the controversial Sil Redi distribution case.

Accordingly, the Court of Appeal ordered to set aside the conviction and the sentences imposed against both accused-appellants by Colombo High Court Judge Gihan Kulatunga regarding all three charges in the indictment.

A Court of Appeal two-judge-bench comprising Justice Kumuduni Wickremasinghe and Justice Devika Abeyratne made this ruling taking into consideration the appeal petitions filed by Lalith Weeratunga and Anusha Palpita.

Pronouncing the judgement in open court, Presiding Judge Justice Kumuduni Wickremasinghe observed that she was delivering this judgment after careful consideration and scrutiny of all evidence led in this case. Justice Wickremasinghe announced that she cannot reach any other conclusion except that of innocence of the two accused-appellants which is fully vindicated on oral and documentary evidence.

Justice Kumuduni Wickremasinghe further observed that that the prosecution has failed to establish the ingredients of the offences laid in the indictment.

“On the whole, having carefully perused the evidence led in the case and the submissions made on behalf of both the Attorney General and the accused appellants, I take the view that the prosecution has failed to establish the ingredients of the offences laid in the indictment.

There is no dishonest intention with which both accused appellants have acted,” Justice Kumuduni Wickremasinghe observed.

The Court of Appeal further observed that two accused-appellants had acted with good intention (bona fide) when exercising their powers and duties.The Court of Appeal further held that there is no criminal act (physical element) or criminal intent (guilty mind) on the part of both accused-appellants.

“It is a travesty of justice that only two members of the TRC had to endure the traumatic experience of a selective prosecution at a prolonged trial, causing a senior public servant with long years of meritorious public service humiliation and anguish,” Justice Wickremasinghe announced.

The Court of Appeal brought to notice the fact that the High Court Judge had only heard the evidence of the last prosecution witnesses and had intervened on 11 occasions and had 91 interjections during the evidence of prosecution witness Mallika Jayantha. It was observed that even whilst the second accused Lalith Weeratunga was giving evidence, the High Court Judge intervened continuously on 66 occasions and had 287 interjections.

The submission was also made that the interjections by the High Court Judge exponentially increased when the second accused gave evidence. By such lengthy interrogations the submission was made that the second accused was denied a fair trial and he should be acquitted of all charges. It is not fair for a Judge to render the cross-examination of witnesses ineffective by himself/herself questioning them at length before the cross-examination is over.

Justice Wickremasinghe observed that there was an indiscriminate use of the powers of questioning a witness and thereby the second accused-appellant was denied a fair trial.

Another complaint as regards deprivation of a fair trial stemmed from the fact that the case suddenly surfaced in Court No 6 where a High Court Judge had begun to sit after his transfer. The Court of Appeal observed that the procedure followed was in violation of the practices followed in High Court and there is no minute or journal entry assigning this case from Court No 3 to Court No 6. The Court of Appeal further observed that there should not be room for such complaints to be made before Court of Appeal - a trial judge will bear in mind that circumspection in adhering to principles of fair trials would enhance the quality of justice and create confidence in litigants who seek the citadel of justice. The appeals of both the accused-appellants were allowed.

On September 7, 2017, former Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga and former TRC Director General Anusha Palpita were found guilty of misappropriating Rs. 600 million of funds belonging to TRC over the Sil Redi (fabrics used by devotees to observe sil) distribution case.

They had been sentenced to three-year Rigorous Imprisonment by the Colombo High Court.

In their petitions, the accused-appellants stated that neither a sum of Rs. 600 million nor a part of it were utilised by them for their personal gains.

They alleged that the conduct and the language used by the trial judge throughout the trial were questionable and unsupported by evidence. They stated that the trial judge had come to a conclusion that the accused had always acted in compliance with the political culture which prevailed in the country without evidence.

The accused-appellants further said the decision to distribute Sil Redi among the devotees who observe Sil was a Government policy decision, initiated long before the declaration of the 2015 Presidential Election to implement the Government’s social development policies.

President’s Counsel Faiz Musthapha with Shavindra Fernando PC and Faiszer Musthapha PC, Counsel Faisza Markar, Shantha Jayawardhana and Keerthi Thilakaratne appeared for Lalith Weeratunga.

Senior Counsel Kanchana Ratwatte with Counsel Janaka Ranatunga and Thushara Samanpali Amarasiri and Amani Pilapitiya appeared for Anusha Palpita.

Deputy Solicitor General Thusith Mudalige with State Counsel Chathuri Wijesuriya appeared for the Attorney General.