By Sonali Samarasinghe Wickrematunge
WASHINGTON: Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapakse who has consistently avoided the service of summons, yesterday (December 16) filed motion in the war crimes suit against him in the District Court of Washington DC, Lawyers said.
Mr. Rajapakse’s motion filed through Patton Boggs preempted an outstanding motion filed by the Plaintiffs in the case calling on the court to decree service had been effectuated as the government’s suppression and intimidation of the media has frustrated the ability of the Plaintiffs to serve summons on Mr. Rajapakse. The President has been hitherto rejecting the service of summons on the grounds of immunity.
Earlier on October 13 the United States District Court granted the Plaintiffs Manoharan et al their motion filed October 1, to serve summons on Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapakse by publication or alternative means.
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said the Plaintiffs were authorised to complete service upon defendant Rajapakse in his personal capacity by publishing in two Sri Lankan newspapers with the largest circulation and on the main page of the Tamilnet website.
Meanwhile Mr Rajapakse’s motion dated December 16 was filed by the Patton Boggs public policy lobbying and international law firm located on M street in the US Capital to which the Rajapakse government pays a massive retainer.
Lawyer for the Plaintiffs Mr. Bruce Fein told Lanka Standard today the very fact that Rajapakse’s lawyers have now accepted they have read the Plaint and has filed motion on his behalf is sufficient to hold that summons have been effectively served.
Mr. Rajapakse’s December 16 motion requests the court to defer the usual 20 day period to file answer until the US State Department has had a chance to express its views to court on the question of immunity.
Legal experts here say that while the courts are not legally bound by the opinion of the State Department it will be viewed with great seriousness.
Mr. Rajapakse’s game plan would be to now vigorously lobby the State Department to obtain a favourable response.
Mr. Vinoda Basnayake of the Patton Boggs is the lobbyist for Sri Lanka’s envoy in Washington Ambassador Jaliya Wickremasuriya who is a cousin of President Rajapakse. Sri Lankans in Washington have been grumbling that despite the huge fees paid to Patton Boggs, Mr. Basnayake is often seen busily driving his new Porsche and running the bar he own in the US capital. Nonetheless Patton Boggs boasts that it works closely with Congress and regulatory agencies in Washington and that their partners have extensive backgrounds in government service with strong ties to both major political parties.
Congressional sources however told Lanka Standard that while Congress grants access to anyone across the board there has been a growing reluctance among its members to engage with Sri Lanka or present themselves at embassy functions as constant disingenuous posturing has led the members not to believe what the embassy says.
The Plaintiffs in the DC civil suit are seeking damages in excess of $30 million against President Rajapakse for actions allegedly occurring under his command responsibility as Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
The complaint alleges that President Rajapakse held command responsibility for the extrajudicial killings of Ragihar Manoharan, the son of Plaintiff Dr. Kasippillai Manoharan, Premas Anandarajah, a humanitarian aid worker for Action Against Hunger, and first husband of Plaintiff Kalaiselvi Lavan, and four members of the Tevarajah family, all relatives of Plaintiff Jeyakumar Aiyathurai.