Lankan labyrinth – THE WEEK

AROUND THE TIME Sri Lankans gifted the Rajapaksa clan a landslide victory in the national elections in early August, the Tamil Nadu Police were hot on the trail of a crime story with roots in the island nation. Investigators suspect that a Sri Lankan history-sheeter, with links to the underworld and ambitions of being an actor, had been hiding in India for about three years. He was apparently running his drug network in Sri Lanka through WhatsApp.

It all started on July 3, when a Pradeep Singh died of cardiac arrest in Coimbatore. Curiously, even the police seemed to have been ignorant about the life and death of Angoda Lokka, originally Maddumage Lasantha Chandana Perera, until a journalist raised a question at a briefing, quoting a Sri Lankan newspaper. Lokka, aka Pradeep Singh, was reportedly living in a rented house at Cheran Ma Nagar on the outskirts of Coimbatore.

“He was here for the past one-and-a-half years,” Inspector General of Police (Crime Branch Criminal Investigation Department) K. Shankar told THE WEEK. “The investigation is going on. We have taken Amani Thanji and Sivakami Sundari, who were with him, into custody. We will have to ascertain the facts.”

He added that Sri Lankan officials had not sought any details about Lokka yet. “Once they request, we will definitely share it,” he said. Sources said that investigators have asked Sri Lankan law enforcement agencies for Lokka’s fingerprints and DNA samples.

Apart from the CB CID, which has formed seven special teams for the case, the Research and Analysis Wing is also involved, and has held marathon meetings with the police.

According to case details THE WEEK accessed from Angoda, Lokka’s hometown just outside Colombo, the 35-year-old was a drug peddler and an underworld operative with several murders to his name. His first arrest was on January 18, 2011, for a murder committed within Wellampitiya police station limits. Several other murder cases followed. Then, in 2017, after a bus shooting in Kalutara that he was suspected to have engineered, Lokka went missing.

Soon after Lokka went missing, the Interpol issued a Red Notice against him. “We could not trace his whereabouts,” said a source in the Sri Lankan police. The source said that he had fled the country on a fake passport. It is not clear if he came to India directly.

On September 25, 2019, history-sheeter Konda Tharaka was shot dead at Hanwella, about 30km from Colombo. The shooters were allegedly Lokka’s associates; police suspected that he stayed in touch with them through WhatsApp calls. “He is the prime suspect in the Tharaka murder case,” said Deshabandu Tennakoon, deputy inspector general of police, Western Province.

After arriving in India, Lokka stayed in Bengaluru for a few months and then in Madurai. His final stop was Coimbatore, where he first lived in Saravanampatti and then in Cheran Ma Nagar. He had been living in the last location for at least three months, police sources said.

“He landed first in Bengaluru with his fake passport and forged documents,” said a police source. “He took the help of T. Sivakami Sundari, a lawyer from Madurai. He was referred to her by a Sri Lankan friend living in Dubai.” He then moved to Tamil Nadu. Sivakami, who had friends in the Sri Lankan refugee camp near Madurai, reached out to a Thiyaneswaran for help; together, they got Lokka an Aadhaar card and other documents under the alias Pradeep Singh.

Lokka then moved to Saravanampatti. Thanji, 27, began flying in from Colombo to visit him here. Reportedly, she was married to one of Lokka’s rivals, whom he had allegedly bumped off years ago. When Thanji’s visits made neighbours suspicious, the duo moved to Cheran Ma Nagar.

Thiyaneswaran helped them rent a house owned by an NRI living in the US. They moved in in March 2020. Thiyaneswaran had apparently told the owner that the two were from Dubai and were stuck in Coimbatore because of the pandemic.

Sources said Lokka was earning a living in Coimbatore by supplying protein supplements to gyms in the city. And, unlike in Saravanampatti, no one noticed the couple in Cheran Ma Nagar, largely because of the lockdown. However, a few neighbours had seen Lokka smoking and talking on the phone in his balcony, and walking the quiet streets.

On July 3, however, Lokka reportedly had a cardiac arrest. Thanji and Thiyaneswaran took him to the Coimbatore Medical College Hospital (CMCH), where he died. His name was recorded as Pradeep Singh.

The following day, Sivakami rushed to the Peelamedu police station, identified herself as Singh’s relative and took the body for cremation in Madurai. By this time, the Sri Lankan police had been tipped off.

Meanwhile, the Coimbatore City Police found that the Aadhaar card was fake and they arrested Sivakami, Thiyaneswaran and Thanji. The local police seized all electronic devices used by them, and handed the case over to the CB CID. The police, however, said that Lokka’s phone and laptop had been wiped clean.

While Sivakami and Thiyaneswaran have been remanded to judicial custody, Thanji is in Puzhal prison near Chennai. In a twist, Thanji was first taken to the CMCH; she was two months pregnant, and the pills taken to terminate it had caused profuse bleeding.

While the Sri Lankan police said that Lokka had recently undergone rhinoplasty, ostensibly to get acting gigs, the Coimbatore police dismissed it as speculation. They also said it was difficult to establish whether he did go under the knife and even whether the man who died was indeed Lokka. The CB CID might isolate his DNA from blood samples collected during autopsy.

Meanwhile, Sri Lankan authorities said they have approached Indian authorities, seeking more details about Lokka and his aides. “Our state intelligence officials,” said Tennakoon, “have approached the Indian High Commission in connection with Lokka’s death.”

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