The Government led by the United National Party (UNP) which was in power before the Parliamentary election today, had obtained assistance from the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in the UK to investigate allegations of fraud by the former United People’s Freedom Alliance Government, Britain’s ‘The Telegraph’ reported.
Mangala Samaraweera, the foreign minister, revealed on Sunday that Sri Lanka requested the assistance of several states, including the UK, as it investigated alleged widespread financial abuse by relatives of ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The Telegraph has also learned that British experts from the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) have trained Sri Lankan investigators as the former colony beefs up its previously weak police financial crimes units.
Sri Lanka was ruled as a family business during 10 years under Mr Rajapaksa, the self-styled “warrior king” who packed key ministerial positions with his brothers and close relatives as he sought to establish a new political dynasty.
Samaraweera told The Telegraph that the net was already closing on the Rajapaksa clan during an interview at his constituency office in the southern coastal town of Matara.
“Since we took office in January and we have found widespread evidence that funds were siphoned off from major government projects,” said Mr Samaraweera, a senior Rajapaksa aide until they split in 2007.
“We have asked for help from the authorities in Britain, the US, India and several other countries, as well as the stolen assets recovery unit at the World Bank, as we try to identify assets stashed abroad in offshore accounts, property and business investments.
“We need the help of foreign governments and agencies and we are very pleased with the assistance we have been receiving. We are on the verge of some major breakthroughs and we are preparing criminal cases right now.”
The former president and his family deny the allegations and claim they are the target of an orchestrated political witch-hunt by the new government.
Particular attention has focused on the Colombo Port City harbour reclamation project off the city’s historic seafront Galle Face Green. The $1.3 billion (£830 million) scheme, funded by China as part of its drive to establish way points across the Indian Ocean, has been dogged by accusations of financial misdeeds and pay-offs.
British officials said they could not comment on current investigations. But Hugo Swire, the Foreign Office Minister for Asia, said that the assistance was provided by the SFO as part of the Government’s focus on anti-corruption programmes.
“We’re leading a real drive on this across the world and are supporting a number of governments, including Sri Lanka’s, on tackling corruption,” he said.
“The SFO have already provided training for the Sri Lankan authorities and we stand ready to provide further support, if requested.”
Krishantha Weliamuna, the head of the new government’s anti-corruption task force, told The Telegraph that several investigations were now finished and awaiting indictment from the attorney general. He said that Sri Lanka’s financial crimes unit has been bolstered by training from British SFO officials. (Colombo Gazette)