Sri Lanka secures foreign help to recover Rajapaksa loot

COLOMBO(EconomyNext) – Sri Lanka secured support from four countries to track and bring back an estimated $18 billion in assets stolen by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera said today.

The minister did not name the four countries, but said the government secured technical expertise to trace the money said to be stashed abroad "by Rajapaksa and his immediate family."

"We have already tracked about $2 billion at a Dubai bank and others are being investigated," minister Samaraweera said raising the estimate of stolen assets to $18 billion from an earlier estimate of $5 billion.

The former president told the AFP news agency last month that he did not steal a cent of public money and challenged the government of Maithripala Sirisena to produce evidence and prosecute him or any of his family.

Shortly after Rajapaksa’s comments, his brother Basil was arrested and locked by in remand custody by the Financial Crimes Investigations Department (FCID) of the police.

During his first face-to-face talks with President Sirisena since the January 8 elections, Rajapaksa called for the scrapping of the FCID, a demand rejected by the new government.

Minister Samaraweera said the new government has had more successful than others in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia in tracking money stolen by their toppled dictators.

Samaraweera said a new study found that the amount stolen by the Rajapaksa family was twice the value of the Employees; Provident Fund and about a quarter of the country’s GDP.

"We will do everything possible to get this money back," he said. "It is going to be a time consuming process because they have put this money in dummy companies as well as in the name of other people."

The US and India had previously announced  helping Sri Lanka’s new government track down stolen wealth stashed abroad while US Secretary of State John Kerry also pledged help when he visited Colombo last weekend.

Kerry promised that the US will ensure that any assets robbed from Sri Lanka and hidden in the US will be returned to the people of Sri Lanka.