A plot to kill the president, links to foreign intelligence, a rogue police officer and a missing sniper: The snippets of news emerging from Sri Lanka over the past few weeks seem plucked from the pages of paperback fiction.
Yet the allegations have had real enough consequences for the island nation, contributing to upending its politics, undermining its currency and credit ratings, and affecting relations with giant neighbor India.
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in October, just weeks after a little-known social advocate said that he had heard of a plot to assassinate the president from a police officer.
Reporters have learned that investigators have not found any substantial evidence to back up the claim, although Sirisena in a newspaper interview this month said that the refusal of Wickremesinghe to take the plot seriously was the final straw leading to his dismissal.
A spokesman for Sirisena did not respond to requests for comment.
In the interview with Ceylon Today, Sirisena said: “I was completely disappointed by the way things were moving.”
Referring to the assassination plot, he added: “They [the authorities] displayed utter lethargy.”
Wickremesinghe has said that he never interfered with the investigations and kept Sirisena informed of their progress.
Sri Lanka has a long history of political assassinations during decades of civil war, making Sirisena’s allegations all the more explosive.
“It is hard to know what the truth is and many people are skeptical [of the plot],” a senior Western diplomat in Colombo said. “It’s part of the politics.”
The drama paralyzed the island nation and left it without a functioning government for months, until Wickremesinghe reappointment in the function on Sunday.
The alleged plot first came to light on Sept. 12, when self-styled anti-corruption activist and police informant Namal Kumara gathered a few local journalists and made a series of accusations against a senior police officer.
The most alarming of those claims was that the officer had told him about a plot to assassinate Sirisena using agents of the criminal underworld.
Kumara said that he had deleted the recording of the conversation about the plot against Sirisena out of fear.
However, to back up his allegations, he released recordings of other conversations with then-Sri Lanka Police deputy inspector-general Nalaka de Silva.
Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said that there was evidence in those recordings of a plot to kill another senior officer, but in nearly three months of investigations, police had found “no substantial evidence” of an assassination threat to Sirisena beyond Kumara’s claims.
The comments, made to Reuters, have not been previously reported.
On Saturday, police sent Kumara’s phone to Hong Kong to see whether any deleted recordings could be recovered. De Silva remains in custody and could not be reached for comment.
Speaking via a video-call from a town in Eastern Province, a relaxed, bare-chested Kumara told reporters that the police were now showing little interest in his story.
“The way they [investigators] take action is very poor,” he said. “I’m ready to help them if they ask.”
He added that he had further information to reveal to authorities, but declined to elaborate.
From the outset, there were doubts over Kumara, who runs a private anti-corruption campaign group that he says is funded by himself and a few other activists.
“All what he said was nonsense,” said Rajitha Senarathne, the Cabinet spokesman in Wickremesinghe’s former government.
Even one of Sirisena’s closest aides acknowledged that Kumara might not be reliable.
“That informant may not be credible, but you can’t just brush it [the plot] away,” presidential Advisor and Coordinating Secretary Shiral Lakthilaka said.
In an interview with foreign correspondents late last month, Sirisena said that former Cabinet minister and army chief Sarath Fonseka might be involved in the plot.
He also said that a missing man described as a former Tamil militant sniper could be involved.
Gunasekara said that there was no investigation into Fonseka “at the moment” and that he “was not aware” of the incident involving the missing sniper.
Fonseka has denied the allegations and called for Sirisena to be prosecuted.
Police have said that they arrested an Indian national named Marsili Thomas in connection with the case on information provided by Kumara.
Rumors started to swirl on social media that Thomas was working for an Indian intelligence agency — which Sirisena later referred to in a Cabinet meeting, according to officials present, threatening diplomatic furor.
India, the regional superpower, is an ever-present bogeyman for Sri Lankans. Many blame India for supporting Tamil Tiger separatists during the civil war.
Asked whether Thomas was linked to India’s intelligence, the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka did not respond.
Thomas, who remains in custody in Sri Lanka, could not be reached for comment.
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs has said that Sirisena spoke to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the issue to ensure that it would not lead to a diplomatic crisis.
As the rumors and conspiracy theories continue to swirl around Colombo, the Sri Lankan government remained in political limbo for more than a month after Sirisena replaced Wickremesinghe with former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was then twice sacked by parliament.
Rajapaksa resigned on Saturday, a month-and-a-half after taking office and giving Sirisena political space to prevent an imminent government shutdown.
As a government shutdown loomed, Rajapaksa put in his papers and said in a statement that a change of government that “the people expected” had now been put off.
Sirisena has ordered the parliament dissolved and called for fresh elections, but the Sri Lankan Supreme Court on Thursday last week ruled that the move was unconstitutional.
Sirisena called the impasse “a storm in a teacup.”
Wickremesinghe’s office on Friday said that Sirisena had called the former prime minister by telephone to invite him to be sworn back into office on Sunday.
Sirisena had previously said that he would not appoint Wickremesinghe “even if he has the backing of all 225 lawmakers in parliament.”
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