Sri Lanka police arrest brother of former president Rajapaksa over land deal

Former Sri Lankan President and incumbent Member of Parliament Mahinda Rajapaksa addressing the May Day rally in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on May 1, 2016.
Former Sri Lankan President and incumbent Member of Parliament Mahinda Rajapaksa addressing the May Day rally in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on May 1, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

COLOMBO (Reuters) - A brother of former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa was arrested on Thursday (May 12) by the police Financial Crimes Investigation Division over a land deal allegedly involving money laundering, his lawyer and police said.

Several members of the Rajapaksa family are facing police investigations for alleged financial crimes. They include Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was president for a decade until January 2015, his brothers Basil and Gotabaya, his wife Shiranthi and sons Namal and Yoshitha.

Mr Rajapaksa's younger brother Basil, a former economic development minister, is on bail for alleged misappropriation of state funds after serving several months in prison and the court hearing is still taking place.

Mr Basil Rajapaksa's lawyer, Mr Jayantha Weerasinghe, told Reuters his client had been arrested. "He has been arrested - they say it's regarding some private land. It's a totally false allegation," Mr Weerasinghe said.

Mr Weerasinghe later said his client had been produced in a court, freed on bail and told to appear in court again on July 20.

A senior police official who is involved in the case confirmed that Mr Basil Rajapaksa had been arrested on a money-laundering charge in connection with the purchase of some land.

Neither Mr Rajapaksa nor his family members were immediately available for comment.

Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa lost power in January 2015 after a campaign in which he faced allegations of misusing public funds and nepotism during his 10-year rule. The Rajapaksas have denied wrongdoing.

Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa, now an opposition legislator, is still popular among many ethnic majority Sinhala Buddhists who credit him with ending a 26-year-war against ethnic Tamil separatist rebels in 2009.

Mr Rajapaksa is trying to rally the opposition against the current government with the help of Basil.

Sri Lanka's current President Maithripala Sirisena faces pressure to act on allegations of corruption dating back to the Rajapaksa era, especially from civil society organisations who backed his successful bid to oust Mr Rajapaksa.