COLOMBO: A law against money laundering brought in by Sri Lanka’s former president Mahinda Rajapaksa during his almost decade-long rule has boomeranged on his second son, Lieutenant Yoshitha Rajapaksa.
Yoshitha was arrested and remanded on January 30 for his alleged role in financial irregularities at the Carlton Sports Network (CSN) television channel, reportedly owned and operated by him, during his father’s rule.
Yoshitha, along with Rajapaksa’s press secretary Rohan Welivita, who was also the channel head, former secretary of the cricket governing body Nishantha Ranatunga, who was the channel’s chief executive officer, and two of its directors Ravinath Fernando and Kavishan Dissanayake were arrested by the Financial Crimes Investigations Division and remanded by the magistrate until February 11.
They were arrested under the Money Laundering Act in connection with financial irregularities at CSN, after their failure to give details on how they obtained Sri Lankan Rupees 234 million to fund the channel.
Speaking to reporters soon after his son was remanded, Rajapaksa said this was an act of political revenge by the current administration.
“The Money Laundering Act was brought in to stop terrorists from bringing in money to the country. But it’s ironical how they have arrested the son of the man who ended terrorism in this country,” Rajapaksa said.
He said his son was innocent. “We are hoping the court will give us a fair verdict. I am not worried because I know my son has done nothing wrong,” he said.
Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said that besides Sri Lankan Rupees 234 million not accounted for, $2.3 million was sent to CSN from a questionable foreign source.
“Some of the documents were forged, and we tried them for money laundering,” Gunasekera said.
During the interrogation, the accused did not appear innocent. “When they were questioned, their statements did not indicate their innocence, and hence they were arrested,” he said.
A police statement issued following the arrest said email communications showed that Yoshitha was the chairman and decision maker at the channel.
Reports say he also flouted the military law by holding office at a private company, and may face military charges.
Apart from charges of misappropriation of funds, the channel is also facing allegations of misuse of state resources during Rajapaksa’s tenure.
Several pro-Rajapaksa parliamentarians boycotted state functions including the country’s Independence Day celebrations which fell on Feb. 4 as a mark of protest against the recent arrests and what they claimed as the penalizing of the Rajapaksa family by the current administration led by incumbent President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Wimal Weerawansa, a parliamentarian and a Rajapaksa loyalist, said the current administration was trying to drive Rajapaksa out of politics, and hence targeting his children as that will hurt him most.
Meanwhile, in a statement issued to mark the country’s Independence Day, Rajapaksa said “even if my entire family, including myself, is imprisoned, I will not deviate from the path of reasserting our national independence, ensuring the territorial integrity of our motherland, restarting the stalled process of economic development and re-establishing our national self-respect.”
Former defense secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who is also Rajapaksa’s brother, said the time has come to end the current ‘tyrant’ regime.
Speaking to journalists, Gotabaya, who had a questionable record while holding office, said the current administration was “worse than that of even Hitler’s time.”
“They have been trying to take revenge ever since coming to power, so we must end this administration and restore peace that Mahinda Rajapaksa brought to this country,” he said.
Munza Mushtaq is a journalist based in Colombo, Sri Lanka. She is the former news editor of two leading Sri Lankan newspapers; The Nation and the Sunday Leader. She writes extensively on Sri Lankan current affairs with special focus on politics, human rights and business issues. She is currently the Colombo-based correspondent for International News Services, the Los Angeles Times and the Nikkei Asian Review.