TV claims spy camera cost only Rs. 445,000

By Shamindra Ferdinando
Former head of Directorate of Internal Intelligence (DII) T. V. Sumanasekere last week told the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) probing the acquisition of a ladies’ handbag equipped with VH-09 video camera and subsequent handing it over to President Chandrika Kumaratunga, that this special piece of equipment cost approximately Rs 445,000 not Rs. 8.9 million as claimed by some.

Sumanasekere, one-time head of the CID, claimed that the British manufactured handbag was acquired to mount an intelligence operation in the Wanni following information that a certain person from the south was having clandestine meetings with key LTTE operatives, informed sources said.

The officer who quit the DII on December 31, 2001 subsequently joined President Kumaratunga’s security team, last Tuesday (30) gave a detailed statement to the CID with regard to the controversial handbag and the reason to acquire it. Contrary to reports that he was summoned to the fourth flour, his statement was recorded at the Presidential Secretariat.

He has claimed that the handbag was to be given to a female informant tasked with recording a meeting between the man from the south and LTTE operatives. However, the operation was abandoned after the last parliamentary elections in December, he told the investigators. He insisted that the handbag should be with the directorate. He also stressed that it was never handed over to President Kumaratunga.

He has explained that the handbag was just one among several pieces of special equipment used by the intelligence services and it was not the first such ladies’ handbag to be acquired. About 48 hours after Tuesday’s questioning, the CID had requested Sumanasekere to reveal the identity of the person from the south who was believed to be involved with the LTTE. He has refused to identify the person under surveillance for reasons of confidentiality. The DII was believed to be targeting a politician with LTTE contacts.

However, the CID was expected to press Sumanasekere to identify the target.

Minister Ravi Karunanayake revealed the acquisition of the handbag during a cabinet meeting on July 17 and alleged out that President Kumaratunga had a similar handbag. He questioned the possibility of President Kumaratunga using the equipment to record cabinet proceedings.

Sumanasekere also accused some officers of the directorate of fabricating evidence to justify the claim that the handbag was handed over to President Kumaratunga.

The funds for the acquisition of the handbag had been made from the government’s secret vote from which President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s government released money to the LTTE during peace talks and President Kuamaratunga’s government funded registered Tamil political parties on its side, the sources said.