Rajapaksa’s top aide jailed over graft

A Sri Lankan court on Thursday jailed Lalith Weeratunga, a top aide of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, for misusing state money.

The development comes amid mounting pressure on President Maithriala Sirisena’s government on account of its perceived delay in probing corruption cases allegedly involving the former first family. Mr. Sirisena, ahead of his election victory in 2015, had promised to investigate reported financial irregularities during his predecessor’s decade in power.

On Thursday, the High Court sentenced Weeratunga and Anusha Palpita, former Director General of Sri Lanka’s Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC), to three years’ imprisonment, after it found them guilty of using state funds amounting to LKR 600 million (approximately ₹251 million). They reportedly used the money to distribute fabric to Buddhist devotees as part of Mr. Rajapaksa’s 2015 campaign.

The court charged Weeratunga a fine of LKR 2 million (approximately ₹8,38,000) and damages amounting to LKR 50 million (approximately ₹21 million) for misusing state money for poll propaganda, and misappropriating funds of the TRC, which he then chaired.

While election officials told the court that they were aware of the distribution of parcels to voters, news agency AFP quoted High Court judge Gihan Kulatunga as saying: “The charges against the two accused have been proved beyond reasonable doubt.”

As Mr. Rajapaksa’s secretary, Weeratunga was involved in key decision-making processes. He was, along with former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and Minister Basil Rajapaksa, part of an informal “troika” that closely engaged with India in the final phases of the civil war.

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