Sri Lankan authorities arrested a son of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa on money-laundering charges on Saturday, the government’s latest attempt to prosecute members of the previous administration, many of whom have been under investigation since Mr. Rajapaksa’s election defeat last year.
The police said Mr. Rajapaksa’s 27-year-old son, Yoshitha, a lieutenant in the Sri Lanka Navy, had been questioned for six hours by investigators from the Financial Crimes Investigations Division about allegations of misappropriation of funds at a television channel that is widely believed to be owned by the Rajapaksa family. The family has denied that it owns the channel.
The police said they had questioned Yoshitha Rajapaksa and four directors of the Carlton Sports Network, including its chairman, Rohan Welivita, who currently serves as the former president’s spokesman.
After the questioning, a magistrate rejected Lieutenant Rajapaksa’s bail application and ordered that he be detained for 14 days.
Last week, a government minister told lawmakers that a navy investigation had revealed that Lieutenant Rajapaksa had been inappropriately promoted and allowed to attend training programs in Britain and Ukraine, at the government’s expense.
Lieutenant Rajapaksa is the second member of his family to be arrested since the current government took over in January 2015. Basil Rajapaksa, a brother of the former president and a former economic development minister, was arrested last April on charges of misappropriating public funds, which he denies.
The former president’s eldest son, Namal Rajapaksa, and his youngest brother, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who served as the country’s defense secretary from 2005 to 2015, are also the subjects of corruption investigations.
But despite the many investigations of members of the former government, few people have been formally charged with crimes, leading critics to accuse the current government of dragging its feet. Saturday’s arrest could be a sign that the investigations are being wrapped up.
In addition to the money-laundering accusation, the police say that Lieutenant Rajapaksa and two other relatives are under investigation in connection with the death of a star Sri Lankan rugby player, Wasim Thajudeen. Mahinda Rajapaksa has repeatedly asserted that his son is innocent, and on Saturday he was defiant.
“Arrest my sons, my wife, my brothers,” Mr. Rajapaksa said at a political meeting in Matale, several hours’ drive from Colombo, the capital. “I will not be moved. All these things will only strengthen the Rajapaksa brand.”
Later, after his son was transferred to a Colombo prison, Mr. Rajapaksa accused the government of conducting a witch hunt against his family. Teary-eyed, he said the charges filed against his son were “flimsy.”
“These are all acts of revenge against me,” he said.
The law on money-laundering, under which his son was accused, was introduced to track terrorists’ funds, Mr. Rajapaksa said. “I defeated the terrorists,” he said. “Today they are using the same laws to arrest my son.”
In 2009, Mr. Rajapaksa’s government defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the rebel group that was fighting to create a separate state in the island’s north and east. But his administration stands accused of committing war crimes during a brutal final military campaign against the rebels and engaging in corruption to benefit his extended family.
Mr. Rajapaksa was defeated a year ago by Maithripala Sirisena, a defector from Mr. Rajapaksa’s party who promised to clean up the government and investigate allegations of war crimes.
The former president appears eager to return to power, threatening to break from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, which is now led by Mr. Sirisena.
Mr. Rajapaksa currently serves as a lawmaker in Sri Lanka’s national legislature and is believed to be behind a group that opposes Mr. Sirisena’s decision to lead the Freedom Party in a national coalition with the opposition United National Party. (New York Times)