ILLEGAL AUSTRALIAN DRUG REHAB-by Piyumi Fonseka
Charles, an engineer by profession, was battling addiction for many years
- The illegal drug rehab located in Kalutara was shut down days after the death of charles
- A key witness, former employee at Seasons Lanka gives the game away in an exclusive interview with Daily Mirror
- Certis Lanka Security Solutions says they only rented the property to Seasons Lanka and had no other involvement. But, they owned 75% shares
To have received her son’s death certificate on the day she brought him to the world — exactly 37 years
ago — was the hardest experience for British national Maryanne India Beare. Her son Charles Jeevan Beare, who wanted to cure his addiction to Ketamine, chose Seasons Lanka – the Sri Lankan branch of an Australian resort-type drug rehabilitation centre – that was relatively cheaper. Less than five weeks after him joining the rehab programme, Maryanne received news of her son’s death in their ancestral country, Sri Lanka, which she and her son
With excessive advertising over Sri Lankan media, calling themselves the country’s first internationally recognised drug and alcohol treatment centre, Seasons Lanka with their local partner the renowned security firm Certis Lanka, managed to bring several foreign nationals including the young Brit Charles. Little did they know that this live-in rehab was illegal as it had no license to operate in the country.
The illegal drug rehab located in Waskaduwa, Kalutara, ran its operations for almost five months with absolutely no regulation by the government. They even had the then Chairman of the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board (NDDCB) Prof. Ravindra Fernando, as the Chief Guest at their opening ceremony. However, days after the death of their patient Charles, the rehab was abruptly shut down. All the other addicts were repatriated to their respective countries. The Australian staff fled Sri Lanka, while the personnel files of the Sri Lankans employed at the rehab went missing.
A months-long investigation by Daily Mirror Eye has uncovered how the rehab centre managed to open its doors in Sri Lanka with no license, how it ran operations illegally during the five months of its existence, who wanted this case to be covered up and who are at fault for the loss of the precious life of Charles.
How did Charles die?
At the opening ceremony in August 2017, Australian Seasons Hader Group Founder Richard Smith said: “We believe that our expertise combined with Certis Lanka’s knowledge, is the perfect combination. We are really going to make a difference to addicts, alcoholics and their families, in Sri Lanka.”
Charles’ mother Maryanne, too, bought this, she said: “I thought, all is well. My son goes to the rehab. He will be cured and that is the end of the demons he battled with.”
Charles, an engineer by profession, was battling addiction for many years. His friends and family helped him to raise GBP 5200 (LKR 1,300,000) for a much-awaited, three-month long addiction treatment programme at Seasons Lanka.
However, on January 1, 2018, Charles was terminated by the rehab’s management citing breach of rules and regulations. The Seasons management said that during an excursion, Charles had allegedly bought and taken Valium (Diazepam) which was a blatant violation of the rehab’s policy. On the same day, a flight to the UK was booked for Charles and he was dropped at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA).
But, he did not board the plane. A day later, his body was found in a park in Colombo, under suspicious circumstances. The post-mortem report stated Charles was found with his trousers down to his thighs. The report also said there were blood stains on his face and on his shoulder area. An investigation by Maligawatte Police, led to the arrest of a few three-wheeler drivers over the death, which was treated as a murder.
Although the suspects have told the court that Charles died due to an overdose of drugs which, they alleged he bought from them, the autopsy revealed that he died due to assault on the head and behind the neck. Charles’ toxicology report from the Government Analyst’s Department stated there was no drug found in Charles’s blood or urine sample, apart from Valium. The investigation is ongoing. There’s no evidence that anyone from Seasons Sri Lanka was involved in Charles’s death.
Maryanne hoped the treatments at Seasons would take care of her son’s addiction problems for good. But, now she is confident about whom she blames over her son’s death: the short-lived joint Australian-Sri Lankan drug rehab facility.
She charges that Seasons Lanka’s lack of duty of care in sending Charles to the airport and abandoning him in a vulnerable state, plus not giving her the choice to fly over to collect him ultimately led Charles to make a choice that led to his demise.
“The people who gathered at the funeral in suits and dresses should have been dressing up for his wedding instead. Charles improved, but was struggling on and off with his addictions, for years. He was looking forward to building his life. He was looking forward to his new life with his girlfriend Alanna,” Maryanne said.
Maryanne said the death of her son would not have happened if the Seasons staff had paid more attention to its inpatients and gave them the care they deserved. Maryanne alleged that Seasons violated their contract, and therefore, the mother company the Harder Group and its Sri Lankan liable partner Certis Lanka, need to take responsibility for selling her conditions that they did not adhere to.
How did they open with no license?
Sri Lanka Tourist Police filed a case in the Panadura Magistrate’s Court against Seasons Lanka and Certis Lanka over charges of misleading the public with deceptive advertising as a licensed drug rehab, and bringing foreign nationals to the country for
During the Daily Mirror Eye investigation, informed sources who declined to divulge their identities revealed that several retired police officers working in the security firm are exerting pressure on police officers, working on Charles’s case.
Another ironic incident is that the representatives of the security firm have informed court that Charles’s mother Maryanne agreed with them to settle the case, when she has even recently written to the Attorney General Dappula de Livera requesting him to expedite the case and transfer it to the High Court.
Our investigation also found that before the opening of the rehab, the Seasons management had met Prof. Ravindra Fernando, the former Chairman of the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board (NDDCB) which is the designated government authority for regulation of private drug rehabilitation centres. A worker attached to the NDDCB, whom the Daily Mirror Eye decided not to name, said the management of the rehab, pending approval for their license application, managed to get a ‘verbal approval’ to open the rehab.
Our investigation also found a key witness, one of the few Sri Lankans, who had worked in the Seasons Lanka from the beginning to its abrupt shutdown. He claimed that after the shutdown of the rehab, Certis Lanka made him job offers which he saw as an attempt to persuade him not to disclose any information related to the rehab.
During an exclusive and candid interview with the Daily Mirror Eye, the witness Andrew Michael who worked as a psychiatric nurse, divulged alarming details of the operations at this illicit rehab programme. He said when he joined the rehab, he was told that they had applied for the license from the NDDCB. In fact, the documents which the Daily Mirror Eye checked with NDDCB indicated that the Seasons had indeed applied for the license. But, the question is, whether they could open the clinic pending approval.
When we enquired about the license application, the Executive Director of Certis Lanka Jeevaka Wijesinghe told us that obtaining license was a long process which required reviews, site visits even after the opening and more and more reviews. However, what he said proved to be false as the current Chairman of the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board (NDDCB) Dr. Laknath Welagedara said otherwise.
According to him, as stipulated in the Drug Dependent Persons (Treatment and Rehabilitation) Act, No. 54 of 2007, it is illegal to open a rehab before the license is officially issued. He said applying for the license never grants any sort of approval to start operations as a drug rehab.
Who helped them run operations for 5 months with no license?
Meanwhile, the former employee Andrew Michael recounted an experience when one day all of a sudden, he was ordered to escort all the patients to a nearby hotel to make the rehab vacant. “All of a sudden, the management asked me to escort all the patients to a nearby hotel in Kalutara and spend the entire day there. I asked why. I learned that officials of the Drug Control Board were on the way to visit the rehab and the management wanted to show the place was empty. I did what they asked me to do. I also know the Sri Lankan security firm had close
affiliations with the Drug Control Board heads,” Michael said.
During the investigation, the Daily Mirror Eye also discovered that on a routine basis, the addicts at the rehab were brought to a nearby non-government hospital in Kalutara for consultation. The next question was as to how the rehab, having had no license to introduce themselves as a permitted rehab, managed to bring drug addicts mostly foreign nationals, into a Sri Lankan hospital.
The Daily Mirror Eye then contacted the management of the private hospital which was the official medical partner of Seasons Lanka. “The officials of the security firm first reached the hospital management inviting us to be the official medical partner of their rehab. We agreed to it because we had the impression that the rehab was a well approved place as it was a joint venture of the renowned security firm. We didn’t know they had no license. Their patients were brought to the hospital multiple times for consultation. It is only through the media that we got to know about the abrupt shutdown of the rehab,” the management said.
The psychiatric nurse Michael was the one who was responsible for escorting the patients to the hospital as well. He said; “The doctor in that hospital always enquired from me about an identity card issued by Seasons. Even though I made several requests, Seasons did not give me an identification card.”
Problematic terminations of addicts
Patients who are undergoing withdrawal and trying to stay clean are particularly vulnerable to medical emergencies. Therefore, the responsibility towards the rehabs and those who work at rehabs is very big. The former employee claimed that before the problematic termination of Charles, there were similar incidents where patients were terminated for allegations of breaching the rehab centre’s policy.
“There was a foreign couple who were asked to go back to their respective motherlands over a relationship issue. There was Sri Lankan boy who was brought to the rehab by his parents. He was not willing to undergo the rehab programme. One day during a lunch break, he jumped over the wall and escaped. Later, he was located by his parents and he had gone back home. His parents came and asked for a refund as they had paid for the full programme. But, the company didn’t heed to their request. They asked me also for help. But, I couldn’t do anything because I was not in the management,” he said. But, they had also already paid for the entire programme. Then, there was another female Sri Lankan drug addict who was removed from the programme over the same issue – relationship. Another foreign female, a journalist by profession, was terminated and dropped at the airport. She had later left the airport and stayed in the country for several days,” he recounted the problematic incidents which happened inside the luxury rehab during the five months of its existence.
How did drugs come into the rehab?
Addiction is a chronic, relapsing condition. Similar to diabetes which cannot be treated by one stint at a hospital, addiction also requires long-term care. Michael, as the nurse who provided medicines to the inpatients, speaking about his experience with Charles, said in the first few weeks, he noticed an improvement in Charles. But later, he said he noticed Charles was feeling depressed.
“My shift was from 7.30 am to 4.30 pm. I was the one who gave medicines to Charles. He was a very kind and helpful individual. He was discharged for taking Valium. There have been many mornings when I noticed drugs and tablets such as Valium everywhere on the floor inside the rehab. These happened before Charles was discharged.”
Michael, who realised the danger of what he saw, had alerted the head of the Australian staff. “When I noticed drugs and tablets on the floor in the mornings, I asked the head of the Australian team about it. They said they also didn’t know how drugs came into the rehab. They said the drugs must have been brought by the patients. But, when the patients were first brought to the rehab, we thoroughly checked their bodies and their belongings. I suspect that someone on the staff brought the drugs into the rehab,” he charged.
Hiring former drug users to treat addicts, a fail?
The Seasons Hader Group established in 1997 is led by addict-turned-guru Richard Smith. The staff members who train drug addicts are reformed addicts whom the management believes have better capability to treat drug addicts. It is vital to examine the potential risks for relapse, associated with recovered addicts working in the addiction field. A counsellor’s relapse threatens the credibility of the treatment programme for which they work at. Those who worked at Seasons Lanka are also ex-addicts.
It was learned that on an earlier occasion, a Sri Lankan national, who worked at Seasons, had been fired for alleged use of drugs. The Daily Mirror Eye discovered that this person was still promoting himself as an addiction counsellor in the country. Michael who witnessed all these incidents first-hand recalled his experiences with fellow reformed addicts at the rehab.
“Most of the programmes at Seasons were run by ex-addicts. There was a Sri Lankan who worked with us. He was a heroin addict and he was recruited because of the company policy which states recovered addicts are better at treating current addicts. One day we noticed his behaviour had completely changed. I wondered why. On another day, he had a huge argument with the management and he acted in a bizarre manner. After that argument, he was fired.”
“I have worked with drug addicts for 24 years in Sri Lanka at the Colombo National Hospital, Mulleriyawa Mental Hospital and National Council for Mental Health. This job is very serious that only professionals can handle. We should not and cannot take any risks because we are dealing with lives,” he emphasised.
Who is the boss? Who is accountable?
The Daily Mirror Eye attempted to contact the Australian Hader Group for a comment. We received no response to our e-mail. In fact we contacted the local partner Certis Lanka. We presented the Executive Director of Certis Lanka Jeevaka Wijesinghe all our queries about the short-lived rehab programme. He responded that Certis Lanka only rented out their property for the Hader Group to launch their rehab facility.
“It was a joint venture between Australian Hader Group and Certis Lanka. They were only paying us rent. The management and operations were totally under the purview of their mother company. Our company has never been in the rehab business and we have no experience in that field. The rehabilitation programme and the structures were all handled by them. They had their own team here. Whatever they do in their rehabs in Australia, Indonesia and Thailand was what they did in Sri Lanka,” Wijesinghe said.
When inquired about the license, he had to this say; “there was a separate person in my team handling this project. I wasn’t coordinating with them. I am not quite sure about it. Therefore, I am not able to comment on it. As far as I know, they had applied for the license. However, the then Chairman of the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board Prof. Ravindra Fernando even came to the opening ceremony.”
Jeevaka Wijesinghe denied the security firm having had any involvement in the Seasons Lanka programme except the rental commitment. Nevertheless, the registration certificate of Seasons Lanka Retreat (Pvt) Ltd mentions Jeevaka Wijesinghe as one of the four shareholders and initial directors. He has also signed as the Director of Seasons Lanka in the contracts of employees.
The rehab registered as a limited liable company under Companies Act No. 7 of 2007 had 40 shares. The company certificate indicates that out of the four shareholders, three were from Certis Lanka and they had a total of 30 shares. The fourth shareholder was the head of Australian Hader Group, Richard Smith. In August 2017, a new director and three alternate directors had been appointed to the rehab. Even among them, the three alternate directors are in the current management of the security firm.
One mother’s quest for justice
Maryanne keeps a folder in her house, swollen with papers. Each document represents yet another letter she wrote to authorities in Sri Lanka to help bring justice for her son’s death. Maryanne’s house is full of Charles’s photos with his long wavy hair and wide smile. Relics from when he was alive — essays and published articles written by Charles — when he used to work as a journalist.
The Daily Mirror met Charles’ mother Maryanne and Charles’ girlfriend Alanna when they both came to Sri Lanka to attend a court case into the suspected murder. Maryanne didn’t hesitate to sing praises about her son’s charm, intelligence and talents.
Yes, he had his demons which he battled with for years, but was finally conquering them, freeing him to be with his girlfriend with hopes of starting life together. He was looking forward to starting a family with her. There is a huge vacuum left inside of me and around me since his life was taken,” she said. “My wonderful son Charles, from the time he was born brought joy into our home. He was intellectual, intelligent, witty most of all very loving. He lit up the room with his charisma. People wanted to be him, youngsters looked up to him. He loved subjects from politics, music, astronomy, the sciences, fauna, flora, children, teaching, journalism… and many more.
Charles’s girlfriend Alanna is hopeful that Sri Lankan authorities, who are working on the case, would bring justice to Charles. “Nothing can describe how I felt when I found out what had happened and the manner it happened. I always thought he would grow old and become an old man teaching the young ones, teaching them wisdom. I was very much looking forward to uniting with him and starting a family. That was always my plan, and his too.
I had not gotten to see his face for so long because I came from Australia. The first time I got to see him was when he was dead, his face was cold. I still have nightmares seeing him like that. Charles was a man who really loved life. He loved everything about it. He relished it. He made you excited about being in love. He never deserved to die in a wild manner. He deserved to die as an old man with his family around him,” said Alanna.
Largely unregulated drug rehab business
According to ADIC (Alcohol & Drug Information Centre), annually over 35,000 Sri Lankans die due to alcohol and tobacco use. Many people are being diagnosed with mental disorders due to the use of drugs such as cannabis and heroin. At present, the private rehab industry is growing in Sri Lanka although it is largely unregulated and ruinously expensive. As the demand for addiction treatment is high, tougher standards, better screening and greater oversight are needed to improve patient safety. The lack of oversight for the rehab industry has the consequences on its addicts, their families and the general public.
According to the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board (NDDCB), there are more than 12 private drug rehabilitation centres currently operating in the country without license. Those twelve unregulated rehabs are located in Colombo, Gampaha and Kalutara districts.
The Chairman of the NDDCB Dr. Laknath Welagedara in a candid interview with the Daily Mirror Eye revealed that treatment methodologies and other operations of these twelve or more private rehabs are not monitored by the government.
“Under the guidance of the Ministry of Defence, we at the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board are trying to regulate these private rehabs. We have even instructed these 12 identified private rehabs to register with us. Indeed, there should be a licensing procedure for maintaining a private drug rehabilitation centre,” Dr. Welagedara said.
Whether these twelve or more unregulated drug rehabs are peppered with breach of rules and human rights violations, whether they bleed untold millions from patients’ pockets and are finally failing to set addicts on a path of sobriety, are questions that need to be answered before another life is lost.
Eye is Dailymirror ’s segment to engage with the public through investigative journalism in order to spark action. If you have any issues which deserve to be told in the Eye and which would otherwise go unreported, write to us firstname.lastname@example.org or Deputy Editor – Investigations, Dailymirror, Wijeya Newspapers, No. 8, Hunupitiya Cross Road, Colombo 02, Sri Lanka.