Sri Lanka police investigate Rajapakse coup allegation
COLOMBO (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s police opened an investigation Wednesday into allegations that former president Mahinda Rajapakse tried to use military force to remain in power after losing last week’s election.
The Criminal Investigations Department (CID) said it was responding to a complaint from new Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera.
"We have recorded a statement from the minister and investigations have begun," a police spokesman said.
Samaraweera said he wanted police to investigate allegations made by top aides to new President Maithripala Sirisena that Rajapakse tried to use the military to disrupt the vote count, arrest top election officials and declare a state of emergency to remain in power.
Rajapakse on Tuesday tweeted a denial of the allegations, which came after Sirisena and other world leaders thanked him for a smooth transition of power.
The investigation is a fresh blow to Rajapakse’s chances of a political come-back after an opposition party filed a complaint against the toppled leader and 11 relatives and associates, alleging massive bribery and corruption.
The JVP, or People’s Liberation Front, has lodged complaints against Rajapakse, his legislator son Namal and two brothers — Basil and Gotabhaya.
"The main objective of our complaint is to ensure that the Rajapakse family is brought to justice," JVP lawmaker Sunil Handunetti told AFP.
"We want to prevent them from fleeing the country and escaping justice."
The election was partly fought on claims of misuse of public funds and nepotism, with the Rajapakse family accused of amassing huge wealth during the ex-president’s 10-year rule.
Handunetti said the 12 people targeted in the complaint had been accused of foreign exchange fraud, land grabs and misusing state property.
The anti-corruption unit, a statutory body, has been ineffective since its inception due to political interference, but Sirisena has pledged to make it more independent and give it more power.
Rajapakse’s family controlled nearly two thirds of the country’s national budget and stands accused of huge corruption.
The new government is investigating the disappearance of a fleet of luxury cars from the president’s office as Rajapakse vacated his official residence.
During the election campaign, allegations emerged that the family had padded the price of a new highway to $16 million per kilometre — allegedly more than double the actual cost.
They were also accused of inflating the cost of a new Chinese-built railway to more than 12 times the actual price.
In another blow to the family, the ex-president’s nephew, Sashindra Rajapakse, was toppled as head of a southern provincial council after his Sri Lanka Freedom Party lost a majority when lawmakers defected to the opposition.
"I have sworn in (local opposition leader) Harin Fernando as the new chief minister because he now has the support of 18 out of the 34 members (of the council)," Uva provincial governor Nanda Mathew said.