AND LITTLE SYMPATHY
Last week’s killings in
Colombo have exposed the brewing criminalisation of the tea trade
By Chris Kamalendran
A container carrying a load of tea from Bandarawela was on its way
to unload the stock at a warehouse in Kerwalapitiya, Wattala recently.
Two men flagged it down on a lonely stretch and asked for a lift
to their homes.
than 24 hours later, the empty 20 ft container was found abandoned
in Padukka, close to Horana. More than Rs. 500,000 worth of tea
had been stolen. The driver and cleaner had been forced into a van
and later pushed out of the vehicle a few kilometres away from the
place of abduction.
incident was just one of the many “tea crimes” being
investigated by the Police and the Colombo Crime Division (CCD).
Many of the incidents go unreported as the owners of tea factories,
transporters and brokering firms are well aware that reporting such
incidents would be a futile exercise.
The ‘disappearance’ of manufactured tea leaves and green
tea is part of a larger racket in the tea industry connected with
exporting substandard tea to countries such as Iraq, Libya, Russia,
Kenya Sudan, Somalia, and Ethiopia.
The tea, not suitable for human consumption or popularly known as
substandard tea entering the export market is merely not confined
to the stolen tea.
methods including purchasing of low quality tea or refuse tea from
factories and adulterating them are among the common practices.
“Last year we detected 1.8 million kilograms of substandard
tea by raiding warehouses in Colombo and its suburbs,” Director
Colombo Crime Division, SSP Sarath Lugoda told The Sunday Times.
stock of substandard tea was estimated to be around Rs. 4 million.
The production of substandard tea is dominated by a few “businessmen”
who invariably escape detection.
Provincial Council Minister, Mohamed Thaha Mohamed Ameen, whose
bullet riddled body was found at Malalasekara Mawatha, Colombo 07
last Saturday, had allegedly been implicated in exporting substandard
tea, The Sunday Times learns.
suspected contract killer known as Faji now in remand custody has
claimed that the ex-provincial council minister was responsible
for arranging contracts for the killing of two private sector tea
executives, say detectives probing the multi million tea racket.
to police, Faji had subcontracted the killings to two of his colleagues,
one of whom is already in custody. Their mission had allegedly been
to kill Rajiv Bodhidasa at Nawala, Rajagiriya in November 2003 ,
and three weeks later an attempt had been made on the life of the
Managing Director of Imperial Tea exporters Jagath Karunaratne who
was injured in the attack,” says SSP Lugoda.
police were in the process of gathering information, regarding the
killing of Mr. Bodhidasa, SSP Lugoda had received a call from a
close associate of Mr. Ameen’s brother who offered to produce
the ex-provincial council minister to make a statement to the police.
offer was turned down by the CCD as they were collecting more evidence
about Mr. Ameen’s alleged involvement in the killing of Mr.
Bodhidasa, the son of a former Chairman of the Tea Board and the
attempted killing of Mr. Karunaratne.
Mr. Ameen obtained anticipatory bail from the Maligakanda Magistrate
Courts believing the police were on the verge of arresting him.
The pistol believed to have been used in both shootings had been
found and sent to the Government Analyst.
of the men who had allegedly undertaken the contract from Faji,
and who had been arrested by the Maradana police in connection with
another case had reportedly confessed to police about his involvement
in both shootings.
Police believe Mr. Bodhidasa, a Tea Manager at Akbar Brothers was
killed solely because he had refused to bid for tea offered by those
involved in the “tea crimes’.
to investigations, Mr. Bodhidasa had been first offered money and
when the offer had been turned down, threats followed. Eventually
the contract killer got him at the Cycle Bazar shop at Nawala, Rajagiriya
where he had gone to purchase a cycle for his two-year-old son.
were on the trail of Mr. Ameen for his involvement in the production
of substandard tea. At least two of his factories were ordered to
suspend production as they had failed to meet the minimum required
standards set by the Tea Board.
Ameen, a strong SLFP member and a close associate of former Deputy
Defence Minister, Anuruddha Ratwatte went on to purchase the Blue
Field estate, Ramboda, formerly owned by a close relative of CWC
leader Arumugam Thondaman.
factory was bought two years ago, and was later modernized with
a shopping complex, internet café, and a tea museum to attract
foreign and local tourists. Mr. Ameen had even bigger plans of turning
it into a tourist destination by introducing cable cars at the time
he was brutally gunned down. Last Friday Mr. Ameen had arrived for
Jumma prayers at the Katukithula mosque from his estate. He was
“abducted” soon after prayers.
Mystery still surrounds the abductors who were wearing police uniforms.
(See separate story)
Ameen’s brother M.T.M. Rauf, a Colombo based businessman told
The Sunday Times they had been persuading the police to hunt for
the vehicle in which the abductors had arrived, but little had come
out of it. However, police maintain they are still looking for the
van bearing number 58- 2178 which was reportedly involved in the
claim the registered owner of the vehicle Adikari Mudiyanselage
Ariyapala, in Welipillewa in the Gampaha district was not contactable
at the address and they were still on the look-out for him.
have appointed two teams to investigate these killings,” SSP
But, Mr. Ameen’s brother Rauf is not convinced and has expressed
surprise over the inability of the police to still track down the
abductors. “We got the assistance of the Western Province
Governor Alavi Moulana who is a close friend of our family to tell
the police to act fast. But they have still not even traced the
vehicle,” he said.
When substandard tea samples are rejected at the auctions, the supplier
sends them back to the manufacturer for reprocessing to meet the
many manufacturers sell the substandard samples in the open market
because the reprocessing is a costly exercise. Racketeer businessmen
who buy substandard tea mix it with refuse tea and packet the adulterated
product in unprinted paper bags. The garden mark, giving details
of the estate, brand and quantity, is then imprinted on these bags,
which are similar to 50 kg cement bags.
of these stocks are introduced back to the auction through illegal
means or find their way into containers ready for shipment (Several
containers with substandard tea ready for shipment have been detected
in recent times).
In some instances substandard tea is mixed with a small quantity
of good quality tea.
of a killing
12.15 P.M. - Mohamed Ameen leaves the Blue Field estate at Ramboda
to attend Jumma prayers. 12.45 P.M. – He reaches the Mosque
at Katukithula, in Pussellawa.
p.m. – Mr. Ameen leaves the mosque in his land cruiser bearing
No. 65-3636. He is accompanied by his driver, nephew and accountant
. He is heading back to the estate.
p.m. – Half a kilometre away from the mosque a white Dolphin
van with tinted glass bearing 58-2178 obstructs the vehicle of Mr.
Ameen. The scene is witnessed by B.M. Marzook Deen, a superintendent
of Blue Field Estate, Ramboda who is travelling in a vehicle behind
person dressed in Police uniform gets off the van and orders other
vehicles to pass. Accordingly Mr. Deen’s vehicle passes Mr.
Ameen’s assuming that a Police officer known to Mr. Ameen
had stopped him.
p.m. Mr. Deen looks back and realises that Mr. Ameen’s vehicle
is not following. He directs the driver to turn round and proceeds
to the place where the vehicle was stopped. When he gets there both
vehicles are missing.
He calls Mr. Ameen’s brother and friends to alert them about
the incident. One of his friends, Mohamed Fazy who was alerted informs
him that the Mr. Ameen’s vehicle and the van had been seen
at Gampola town.
Fazi gives chase to the vehicle, but loses track at Warakapola.
2.40 p.m. Mr. Ameen’s brother, Mohamed Rauf alerts Western
province Governor Alavi Moulana who is a family friend.
3.00 p.m Mr. Moulana informs the Colombo Crime Division about the
3.15 p.m. Mr. Rauf visits the Police Headquarters.
p.m. Mr. Rauf visits Mr. Moulana’s office at Bambalapitiya.
He stays there for six hours making calls to the CCD trying to obtain
information about the disappearance about his brother Ameen.
9.30 p.m. Mr. Rauf leaves Mr. Moulana’s office.
p.m. A complaint is lodged by Mr. Marzook at the Gampola police
2.45 a.m. Police detect the abandoned vehicle of Mr. Ameen with
four bodies. Later they are identified as Mr. Ameen, his nephew,
the driver and the accountant.
a.m. Mrs. Ameen receives a call at her Bagatale road Colombo 3 residence,
from the Cinnamon Gardens police station. She is told to call over
at the police station. Around the same time Mr. Rauf also receives
telephone calls about the incident.
a.m. The victims are identified by their family members
fine for tea crime
The Sri Lanka Tea Board has proposed to the Plantations Ministry
to increase the fine imposed on tea related crimes to Rs. One million,
from the existing Rs. 100,000.
move follows the increasing number of cases related to theft of
tea leaves, transport of illegal tea and the production of substandard
tea, Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tea Board Niraj De Mel told The Sunday
He said laws pertaining to tea related crimes were not stringent
and needed to be amended.
de Mel said substandard tea was reaching the export market and this
was a blow to the country’s long standing reputation for quality
tea. He said malpractices were occuring at the pre-auction and shipment
Mr. de Mel said that in 1993 regulations on the quality and control
on tea trade had been relaxed causing a set back to the industry.
said earlier there was a limit on the number of kilograms which
could be transported, and the relaxation of this regulation had
led to malpractices.