Sri Lanka’s High Court jailed a top civil servant for three years Thursday in the first corruption sanction against a member of former president Mahinda Rajapakse’s government
Lalith Weeratunga was also fined two million rupees and ordered to pay 50 million in damages for spending 600 million rupees ($4 million) of state cash on Rajapakse’s failed re-election bid in 2015.
Weeratunga, then head of the civil service and Rajapakse’s most senior aide, was found guilty of misappropriating money belongining to the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC), which he chaired.
The TRC director-general of the time Anusha Palpita was also jailed for three years for allowing its cash to be diverted to promote Rajapakse’s election bid.
The court was told that 600 million rupees in gifts of textiles was given to Buddhist devotees along with Rajapakse’s election propoganda material.
Election officials told the court they were aware of the distribution of parcels of cloth to voters and ruled it a violation of election laws.
“The charges against the two accused have been proved beyond reasonable doubt,” High Court judge Gihan Kulatunga said.
The ex-president and his relatives controlled nearly 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s national budget during his rule that ended in January 2015, when he was defeated at the polls by former ally Maithripala Sirisena.
The new president has vowed to investigate allegations that members of Rajapakse’s family and officials siphoned off billions of dollars from the country during his nearly 10-year rule.
Two of Rajapakse’s three sons, including legislator Namal, have been charged with money laundering. Those cases are still pending.
The former president himself is not under investigation.
But Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera announced recently that five billion rupees ($33 million) in bank deposits belonging to members of the last government have been frozen pending money laundering investigations.
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