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Thursday May 6th, 2021
Political News

Sri Lanka ex-president’s loyalists protest anti-graft probe

COLOMBO 2015 (AFP) – Former president Mahinda Rajapakse has been summoned to appear before Sri Lanka’s anti-graft body for the first time over bribery allegations, triggering uproar in parliament on Monday.

Rajapakse loyalists said the 69-year-old former leader and his younger brother Gotabhaya had been ordered to present themselves on Thursday and Friday before the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption.

Although the commission told AFP it would not comment on individual cases, supporters of the former president asked the Speaker of parliament — who is Rajapakse’s eldest brother — to intervene and stop the probe.

"If you are questioning a former president about his executive actions, then it is not something that we can accept," said Nimal Siripala de Silva, who leads Rajapakse’s People’s Alliance faction in parliament.

De Silva urged Speaker Chamal Rajapakse to pressure the anti-graft body to drop the investigation. Chamal Rajapakse replied that he could not give a ruling immediately.

President Maithripala Sirisena, who defeated Mahinda Rajapakse in a January election, has launched a series of investigations against the ex-leader’s inner circle into allegations of corruption. But this will be the first time the former strongman himself will face questioning.

Dozens of opposition lawmakers, including Rajapakse’s son Namal Rajapakse, staged a protest inside parliament against the move and threatened to withdraw support for the minority government’s planned reforms.

"Don’t push us to a situation where we will not be able to support your work in this parliament," said loyalist Dinesh Gunawardena.

Sirisena pledged during the election campaign to dissolve parliament on April 23 and call a snap general election to strengthen his numbers.

He also plans to roll back political changes made by his predecessor which increased the power of the presidency.

But any delay in passing these political reforms through parliament, where his government lacks a majority, may derail the election timeline.

Rajapakse had rewritten the constitution to remove the two-term limit on the presidency and give himself more powers over public servants and judges.

Official sources said the anti-graft commission was probing allegations that Rajapakse paid a senior member of the opposition to defect shortly before January’s election.

Monday’s session of parliament also heard that Rajapakse’s brother Gotabhaya is to be interviewed this week by commission investigators over unrelated corruption allegations, although local media reports have said he is seeking more time to prepare.

Gotabhaya served as defence secretary under his brother and was widely regarded as the main power behind the Rajapakse throne.

A court has already slapped a travel ban on Gotabhaya while an arrest warrant has been issued for another brother, former economic development minister Basil, who fled the island soon after the election defeat.

There was no immediate comment from the former president. But his office in a statement on Sunday denied government allegations that he and his family stashed billions of dollars abroad.

"I would like to categorically state for the information of the public that neither I, my wife nor my sons maintain any illegal or secret offshore accounts in any foreign bank," Rajapakse said.

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