SRI LANKA: Disappearance of land titles among other frauds 

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) wishes to bring to the attention of the Sri Lankan public that we have learned about the massive frauds relating to tampering with land titles and also other frauds by the misusing the criminal justice process by way of fabrication of charges.

The incidents narrated hereunder would explain the nature of fraud that is taking place on land titles, by the removal of District Land Registry documents from the land registrar’s offices. The cases will also reveal, how by unscrupulous manipulation of false charges on innocent people, some massive frauds are taking place.

For reasons of security, the AHRC has withheld the names of the persons who were directly victims in these stories. However the incidents are real and have taken place recently.

Story 1
Upali (1)
 is a businessman who owns land in a reasonably important area in Galle. He has owned about 40 perches of land, which is his family property for over 80 years. As is becoming more common these days some unscrupulous persons made a false deed and registered it in the District Land Registry for this same land. Upali (1) is unaware of this registration. The newly registered owner sold the land to a company dealing in real estate. This company was requested by a politically powerful family who is trying to develop a big project in the area to find land for them. The company sold several pieces of land including that belonging to Upali (1) to the family.

When the project tried to take possession of the land they discovered that Upali (1) is the legitimate owner of the land but claimed that they were the lawful owners. The company who sold the land to the project was questioned about this issue. It was only at that point that the company found out that the deeds of the person who sold the land was falsely registered and that the lawful owner is Upali (1). The politically powerful family who are the owners of the project placed the matter before the Ministry of Defence who questioned the company about the complications of the transaction.

The company, on the one hand, tried to negotiate with Upali (1) offering a certain amount of money for him to vacate the land and hand it over to the company so that it could in turn, hand it over to the project. On the other hand the company explained to the Ministry of Defence about the complications involved and Upali (1)’s resistance to hand over the land.

While the company was involved in this difficult process tried to correct the mistake they had made in buying the land from the person who had the falsely registered deed and at the same time please the politically powerful family by trying to obtain vacant possession of the land, they explained the complications to the investigators from the Ministry of Defence.

While the negotiations were ongoing between Upali (1) and the company one day he went to a public event and there, two uniformed officers who arrived in a white van arrested him. They told a family member of Upali (1) who was present that they were taking him to a particular police station. Later, members of Upali (1)’s family went to that police station only to be told that there had been no such arrest. The police further stated that they had no information on Upali (1)’s whereabouts. They then contacted the employee of the company who had led the negotiations and learned that the Ministry of Defence was making enquiries about the land and the complications. He also said that he was unable to do anything about this matter and that it was being handled by big people. He was a small man, he told them and it was out of his hands.

Two years have passed since the disappearance of Upali (1) and to date, no one knows his whereabouts. He is considered to be a disappeared person. The family members who are still trying to find Upali (1) are harassed and threatened to give up their enquiries. Eventually they had to flee the country for their own security.

Whatever the claims or land titles that Upali (1) once had are lost and the politically important family has now become the owners of the land as well as other lands which are being used for the project.

Story 2
Upali (2) 
is the owner of a tea estate, which is fairly large and a well-known person in the area. Between 1987 and 1991, which was when, the JVP was in conflict with the government, one night he was abducted and brutally killed by unknown persons. The family was not sure whether it was a JVP team or one from the UNP who also considered him to be an opponent.

Twenty years later we are now telling his story.

Some persons had allegedly written false deeds for his land, which was registered, and they were trying to claim ownership. The surviving family members had to find their own solutions to their lives and are distanced from this affair. The persons who registered the false deeds are aware of the possible complications and it was to profit from these complications that they registered the false deed and tried to claim the land of the owner who was extrajudicially killed during those days of terror.

Story 3
Upali (3)
 was a Deputy Inspector General of Police who rose to that position after working for several decades. One day, an amount of gold worth millions of Rupees was stolen from his house. Despite of all possible enquiries the police were unable to arrest anyone. Some months later the suspect was apprehended in another theft. The Head Quarters Inspector of Police (IP) in another area had arrested the suspect. This IP was a powerful person with connections to local and national politicians. He had been accused of many human rights violations including the extrajudicial killing of a person who had complained of police torture by the OIC and other officers under his command. However, he had been able to avoid any kind of enquiry or any disciplinary action. Even the extrajudicial killing of the complainant of torture was never investigated.

After the arrest of the suspect, the IP discovered that the man had been involved in the robbery from the DIGP and was able to recover the gold. He released the thief but kept the gold and gems for himself. Sometime later the thief was arrested again in another area and there, among other things he revealed his arrest by the HQ IP and how the officer took the gold and gems. The IP was later arrested on charges of robbery from the DIGP.

Story 4
Upali (4) 
is a young businessman is also a qualified accountant who learned in the recent years to invest some money in the shares market. He discovered that by careful watching to invest his money properly and make a profit. Realising that he had learned his trade well he put most of his savings into the market, which amounted to around Rupees Ten Million.

Suddenly within a few days he lost around Rupees Nine Million. He then learned that due to a massive fraud that had taken place within the share market he had been thoroughly cheated. There was nothing he could think of by way of legal action to take action on the cheating that had gone on in the shares market.

Story 5
Upali (5) 
is a young man who had taught himself a few languages and found a job as a tourist guide. He was in the job for some years and as a result he had a big advantage over the other guides and got to know a lot of people. Knowing so many people he became engaged in small transactions where he would do jobs for traders and make a commission for himself. He was previously from a fishing community and because of this he knew people who made and sold boats.

One day two persons approached him and asked where they could find a company that would sell them a boat. They told him the boat would be used for fishing. He introduced them to a company which sold them a boat for Rs. Three Million and gained a commission of Rupees 50,000.

Sometime later, as often happened, some tourists asked him to find them a hotel and he took them to a particular hotel for the night. That night the police raided the hotel and arrested the tourists and charged them with illegal migration to Australia by a private boat. The police questioned the owner of the hotel as to who had brought the tourists there and he identified Upali (5).

Upali (5) was then arrested by a number of police officers. He was assaulted and threatened with death. He was blindfolded and overheard the officers saying, “Let’s kill him now.” Another replied, “No, let’s get the information and we can kill him afterwards”.

When they took a statement from him he told them of how he had introduced people to buy the boat and gave the police their names. Later these people were also arrested. They paid a large bribe to the arresting CID officer and these people who were in fact, the organisers of the illegal migration and who had taken money from people promising employment, were released.

Upali (5) was charged with organising the trip and recruiting people for illegal migration and he then spent a period of almost two years without bail. There was no evidence of any sort against him except for the fact that he had brought the tourists to the hotel. While the actual culprits escaped by payment of a heavy bribe Upali (5) was charged for their offense. The making of fabricated charges by the police and CID is quite usual

Story 6
Upali (6) 
is a retired officer from one of the three main forces of Sri Lanka and held a senior rank. Some 40 years ago while he was still serving he bought a house in a prestigious area of Colombo and lived there with his family. While in retirement when he was trying to do some alterations to accommodate another family member another person claimed the land on the basis of a false deed. When making enquiries in the Land Registry he found that all the registration books entries relating to his land were missing. Now he is facing a challenge in court where the man who falsely registered the deed claiming the title on the basis of prior registration. In order to prove the falsehood in the registration Upali (6) is unable to get the necessary documents from the Land Registry as these books are missing.

Under these circumstances it is advisable for everyone to have a proper check in the respective District Land Registries about the documents relating to their properties. Where there is any reason to suspect fraud, the people should take appropriate action through the criminal as well as civil processes, and where these fail to resort to publicity to get assistance from the media. The others who face serious threats to their life and liberty through manipulation of criminal processes by way of fabrication of charges should also take precautions for their protection.