Sri Lankaâ€™s Ashok Pathirage key witness in Gotaâ€™s prosecution
ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s top business magnate Ashok Pathirage was cited as a key witness in the prosecution of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa before the newly established special high court on Monday.
Ashok Kariyawasam Pathirage, 54, was listed among the witnesses to testify in the prosecution of Rajapaksa and six other officials of the Low- Lying Areas Reclamation and Development Board.
They are accused of siphoning off nearly 40 million rupees in state funds to build a museum and memorial for Rajapaksa’s late parents at Weeraketiya in the Hambantota district.
The prosecution hopes to establish that Pathirage, who controls Sri Lanka’s Softlogic group and several other companies, including Odel, gifted fish tanks and ornamental fish to Rajapaksa.
Pathirage’s connections to Rajapaksa were considered important by the prosecutors to cite him as a key witness.
Late last month, Pathirage raised eyebrows when he echoed the calls of the Asgiriya Anunayake, Venerable Wendaruwe Upali, who called for a dictator to develop the country.
The monk has asked Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to become a ‘Hitler’ to bring discipline and prosperity to the island.
Pathirage was critical of the current government during last month’s business forum.
“We need a strong leadership, what we need is a little bit of a dictator. There are two parties who are governing today, but nobody is making decisions,” Pathirage was quoted as saying in the Daily Mirror, a sister newspaper of Sri Lanka’s Daily FT which hosted the event.
It is not immediately clear when Pathirage would be asked to testify in the D. A. Rajapaksa museum and memorial case, but the next hearing of the case was put off for October 9.
Several top navy officers, including former commander Jayanath Colombage, are also listed as prosecution witnesses.
Rajapaksa and his six co-defenders pleaded not guilty when the seven charges were read out to them in open court Monday. Passports of all the accused were impounded preventing them from leaving the country.
"We have asked for time to study the indictment and also study the evidence presented," Rajapaksa’s lawyer Premnath Dolawatte told reporters outside the court.
Rajapaksa already faces charges of causing a loss of over 11,400 million rupees to the state by transferring government weapons to Avant Garde private company when he was defence secretary during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure between 2005 and 2015.
Last month, the Special High Court indicted former president Rajapaksa’s chief of staff of embezzling millions of dollars from a subsidiary of the state-owned Insurance Corporation. (COLOMBO, September 10, 2018)