|Saturday, 20 November 2004|
Colombo HC Judge Ambepitiya and police bodyguard shot dead
by Sarath Malalasekera and Asanga Warnakulasuriya
Colombo High Court Judge Sarath Ambepitiya, 58, was shot dead by two unidentified gunmen near his official residence at Sarana Road off Bauddhaloka Mawatha, Colombo 7 yesterday afternoon. Inspector R.A. Upali attached to the MSD, who was his driver and bodyguard also died in the shooting.
Ambepitiya, who was in his car, had been fired at by the gunmen as he reached home after work. Police said the gunmen had arrived in a van bearing No. 253-0882 hired from a Cab Service.
On receiving the tragic news, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga directed IGP Chandra Fernando to seal entry and exit points in Colombo temporarily in an attempt to apprehend the gunmen.
President Kumaratunga told the IGP to conduct immediate raids to apprehend the killers. She stressed that such killings cannot be tolerated and that all attempts must be made to capture the murderers.
On the IGP's instructions, DIG (Crimes) Jayantha Wickramaratne with Colombo Crimes Division Director Senior SP Sarath Lugoda is investigating the slayings with the assistance of all police stations in Colombo. Colombo DIG Sirisena Herath who rushed to the scene immediately cordoned off the area.
Ambepitiya had been appointed Chairman of the Trial-at-Bar which was to commence on Monday against several Army personnel accused in the Mirisuvil mass murder case.
He presided over some of the most sensational cases at the High Court. Ambepitiya sentenced LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and his intelligence chief Pottu Amman to 200 years imprisonment for masterminding the Central Bank bomb blast which killed 96 people on January 31, 1996.
Police are following a lead that Judge Ambepitiya had received several threats on his life over the telephone. Although her husband had received many death threats , his wife Vajira claimed that no Policemen were on duty for the last three days, except for Inspector Upali of the MSD who drove the car.
She also alleged that Police had removed the log book soon after her husband was shot dead. Preliminary Police investigations had revealed that three persons had hired a van from a cab service. The suspects had been picked up at 1.00pm near Elphinstone
Theatre ostensibly to take them to a location where they alleged they were shooting a film, SSP Lugoda said. When the gunmen arrived at the judge's residence, his driver was removing the luggage from the car.
After fatally shooting the High Court Judge and his bodyguard, the gunmen had pushed the driver of the hired vehicle and escaped towards Bauddhaloka Mawatha. Police found the abandoned van near Elvitigala Mawatha, Narahenpita. The cab driver is in Police custody and being questioned.
Colombo Chief Magistrate and Additional District Judge Sarojini Kusala Weerawardena yesterday commenced at the scene of the crime, the Magisterial Inquiry into the double murder and recorded several statements.
In his last case, Ambepitiya convicted and condemned a woman to life imprisonment for possession of heroin yesterday. Sandanam Pichche Marie Theresa of Wattala was earlier indicted on two counts for possession of 45.75 grams of heroin at Devos Place, Colombo on November and selling hard drugs.
Ambepitiya an old boy of Royal College, Colombo has one son. He entered the Judicial Service as a Magistrate and served in many parts of the island in similar capacity.
Ambepitiya was to be promoted as a Judge of the Court of Appeal shortly.
He later became Chief Magistrate, Colombo and Additional District Judge, Colombo. His first posting as a High Court Judge was in Galle. He was then appointed Colombo High Court Judge.
DIG (Crimes) Jayantha Wickremaratne told the Daily News last night that several teams had been deployed to apprehend the killers. Several aspects were being gone into by investigations.
Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva PC, Justice Minister John Seneviratne, Secretary to the Ministry Suhada Gamlath and other members of the judiciary called at the victim's residence soon after they heard of the killing.
The Chief Justice described Ambepitiya as "the most fearless judicial officer we had. His death is a great loss to the judiciary".
Produced by Lake House