Sri Lanka finds arms cache after Rajapakse downfall

COLOMBO (AFP) – Sri Lankan police on Tuesday seized weapons from a conference centre visited by the pope during his visit to the island after receiving a tip-off that the former president’s family allowed arms to be stored there.

Police said the family of Mahinda Rajapakse had allowed a private security firm to keep the weapons at the high-security complex in central Colombo where the pope met leaders of other faiths last week.

They received complaints that the weapons, which were imported by the government, had been used to intimidate political rivals in the run-up to elections earlier this month in which Rajapakse lost power.

"They were supposed to have 3,473 weapons, but today we found only 151," police spokesman Ajith Rohana said in a statement on the discovery at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall complex.

"We are investigating to whom these weapons had been issued, on what basis and for what purpose."

Police said the weapons belonged to a private security firm incorporated by Gotabhaya Rajapakse, who served as defence secretary when his brother was president.

Since Rajapakse’s downfall, police have discovered warehouses full of illegally imported merchandise intended to be given to voters as gifts — a practice that is strictly forbidden.

These include tens of thousands of wall clocks and crockery sets bearing Rajapakse’s image and logo.

Police have also found an abandoned Nissan GTR sports car once driven by Rajapakse’s youngest son Rohitha and a two-seater aircraft given to his second son Yoshitha.

The latest discovery came days after police in the island’s southern port city of Galle found a ship carrying over 3,000 automatic weapons including machine guns.

"We are trying to find out how weapons bought from other countries ended up in private hands," a police official said.

"There are serious national security implications and we are investigating several angles."