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Cablegate: Police Detain Suspect in June White Powder

VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHLM #0754/01 2260915
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 130915Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8525
INFO RUEHKV/AMEMBASSY KYIV 0006
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 2215

UNCLAS COLOMBO 000754

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR DS/IP/SCA, DS/IP/WMD, DS/CC, M/MED, L AND SA/INS
NEW DELHI FOR LEGAL ATTACHE
KYIV FOR RSO (SEE PARA. 6 FOR DETAILS)

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ASEC CASC PTER AMED
SUBJECT: POLICE DETAIN SUSPECT IN JUNE WHITE POWDER
INCIDENT THAT CLOSED AMEMBASSY COLOMBO

REF: A. COLOMBO 631
B. COLOMBO 619
C. DS IMS CASE RS-2008-00122

This message contains an action request. See para. 7 for
action requested.

1. (SBU) Summary - The Sri Lanka Police Service (SLPS),
working at the behest of RSO Colombo, located and detained a
subject believed to have delivered the envelope containing
the white powder (ref B and C) that closed AmEmbassy Colombo
for normal business for a week in June. Subsequent to his
detention, the subject admitted that he had, in fact,
delivered the envelope. Subject stated that the powder was
sacred ash and that he hoped to win American converts to a
religious sect of which he is a devotee. End summary.

2. (SBU) As reported ref B, an unknown individual delivered
an envelope to the Chancery on June 25, 2008. Local guard
force (LGF) members assigned to the compound access control
(CAC) building received the envelope and made the individual
sign a delivery logbook. The subject signed his name "B.
SATHYOHAHTHAN," and listed an address in Colombo. LGF staff
were suspicious of the envelope and notified mail room
personnel, who took the envelope to a secondary mail
screening area. Upon opening the envelope, the mail room
clerk discovered that it contained a suspicious powdery
substance. After learning of the incident, the RSO, in
consultation with DS/IP/WMD, closed down the CAC. The CAC
remained closed for a week, during which a local laboratory
tested the powder for pathogens, including anthrax. Post
re-opened the CAC and resumed normal operations on July 1,
after the laboratory determined that the powder was benign
(ref A).

3. (SBU) RSO Colombo provided investigative leads (entries
from the delivery logbook and images from the digital video
recorders in the CAC) to the SLPS. On August 12, 2008, RSO's
Foreign Service National Investigator (FSNI) accompanied the
SLPS to the address that the suspect had listed in the
logbook. That address was 18/3/1, Ramakrishna Road, Colombo
6. The FSNI showed photographs of the suspect to individuals
living in the residence, who confirmed that the subject who
appeared in the photos did, in fact, live at the residence.
However, he was not at home at the time. FSNI and SLPS
investigators remained in the area, staking out the address
until the suspect returned home at approximately 15:00 hr.
Police investigators detained the subject and identified him
as Bavananthan ((SATHYOJAHTHAN)), DPOB: 12/09/1983; Jaffna,
Sri Lanka. SLPS transported SATHYOJAHTHAN to the Colpetty
police station (the station near the Embassy, with
jurisdiction for investigating the incident). Investigators
allowed the FSNI to assist in the interview. SATHYOJAHTHAN,
an ethic Tamil, did not speak Sinhalese nor could the police
speak Tamil. However he did speak English, so the FSNI was
able to translate for both the suspect as well as the police.

4. (SBU) SATHYOJAHTHAN admitted that he was the person who
had delivered the powder-laden envelope to the Embassy.
SATHYOJAHTHAN even described the method by which he packaged
the powder - one envelope contained within another envelope,
to prevent powder from leaking before the letter reached the
desk of the U.S. Ambassador (to whom he had addressed his
letter). SATHYOJAHTHAN averred that the powder was "Vibhuti"
(sacred ash derived from burned cow dung). (RSO note - this
fact may explain why initial tests of the suspect powder were
not immediately negative for anthrax, though subsequent tests
did rule out anthrax.) SATHYOJAHTHAN denied that there was a
criminal motive behind his delivery of the substance. Rather,
he claimed that the powder was intended as a blessing upon
Americans. SATHYOJAHTHAN claimed that he was a devotee of
"Sathya Sai Sri Baba," and that his letter had contained
emblems and drawings denoting his faith. He said he had hoped
that the letter, along with the sacred powder, would help
some Americans convert to Sai Baba devotees. SATHYOJAHTHAN
explained further that he chose the American Embassy because
he knew that few Americans were are devotees of his faith. He
later admitted to the FSNI that he was also perturbed because
some "high American officials" had made public statements
that denigrated Sri Sai Baba, and he had hoped that the
powder would work as a charm to win over converts among these
officials. SATHYOJAHTHAN denied that he had received
instructions from anyone else to deliver the powder-laden
letter and averred that he was solely responsible for his
actions.

5. (SBU) Police arrested and detained SATHYOJAHTHAN after
recording his statement. He will appear before a magistrate
on August 13, after which he may be released on bail. The
SLPS chief inspector advised that he would seek an opinion
from the Sri Lanka Attorney General's office regarding how to
charge the suspect. The chief inspector opined that
SATHYOJAHTHAN was subject to charge as a "public nuisance"
under Sri Lanka's Vagrant Act.

6. (SBU) Biographical data on the suspect:

Name: Bavananthan SATHYOPATHAN (English translation of
Sinhala spelling of surname) or SATHYOJAHTHAN (English
translation of Tamil spelling of surname)
DPOB: December 9, 1983; Jaffna, Sri Lanka
Current address: 18/3/1, Ramakrishna Road, Colombo 6, Sri
Lanka
Previous address: B1 3/3, Soyza Flats, Soyzapura, Moratuwa,
Sri Lanka
National Identity Card number: 83 344 5057 V
Marital status: Single

Subject claims to be a fourth year undergraduate student of
the Medical Faculty of Sumy National University,
Luganska,Ukraine.

7. (SBU) Action requested: As noted above, RSO Colombo
provided investigative leads from various Embassy documents
and security devices to the SLPS. In anticipation of a
possible prosecution, RSO Colombo requests that DS/IP
coordinate with the Office of Legal Adviser to obtain
authorization to release official U.S. Embassy records
pertaining to the case to local prosecutors. Such records may
include certified copies of the delivery logbook entries
recorded on June 25, 2008, as well as freeze-frame
photographs and digital recordings from digital video
recorders installed in the CAC. RSO Colombo also requests
authorization for FSNI Gamini Ekanayake to testify in future
court proceedings related to the case, when subpoenaed.

8. (U) RSO Colombo will continue to monitor the investigation
and report updates septel. Point of contact for this message
is RSO Michael V. Perkins, who may be contacted at
94.11.249.8756, 94.11.249.8888 (MSG Post 1 after regular
business hours), and via the Department of State unclassified
and classified email systems (perkinsmv@state.gov and
perkinsmv@state.sgov.gov, respectively).
BLAKE

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