Rajapaksa family tightens grip on crisis-hit Sri Lanka

Mr Basil Rajapaksa, 70, took over the finance portfolio from another brother. PHOTO: BASILRAJAPAKSA/FACEBOOK

COLOMBO (AFP) - A brother of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Thursday (July 8) became finance minister, tightening the family's grip on power in the South Asian nation as it confronts growing economic troubles.

Mr Basil Rajapaksa, 70, took over the finance portfolio from another brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The 72-year-old President has put Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa in charge of a newly created but lower level economic policies and planning ministry.

Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa, 75, was the country's president for a decade up to 2015, and Mr Basil Rajapaksa, who is known as the family's political strategist, managed the economy then.

Mr Basil Rajapaksa takes charge now after the economy recorded a coronavirus-inflicted 3.6 per cent contraction for 2020, the worst since independence from Britain in 1948.

With his entry, the cabinet headed by Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa now has five members of the Rajapaksa family.

Eldest brother Chamal Rajapaksa, 78, is minister of irrigation while the prime minister's eldest son Namal, 35, is the youth and sports minister.

Several Rajapaksa family members hold junior minister positions and other key positions in the administration.

Mr Basil Rajapaksa was described as "Mr Ten Per cent" in a 2007 United States Embassy cable published by the WikiLeaks organisation because of commissions he allegedly took from government contracts.

He has denied any wrongdoing and inquiries failed to find any evidence to back charges he syphoned off millions of dollars from state coffers.

As a dual US-Sri Lankan citizen, Mr Basil Rajapaksa was prohibited from standing in the 2020 election, but Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa removed constitutional provisions that prevented his entry to the legislature.

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