COLOMBO • The Sri Lankan authorities have arrested a son of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa on money-laundering charges, 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 Lankan navy, had been questioned for six hours by investigators from the financial crimes investigations division about allegations of misappropriation of funds at a private 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 (CSN), including its chairman Rohan Welivita, who serves as the former president's spokesman.
After the questioning, a magistrate rejected Yoshitha Rajapaksa's bail application on Saturday and ordered that he be detained for 14 days.
Last week, a government minister told lawmakers that a navy investigation had revealed that Yoshitha Rajapaksa had been inappropriately promoted and allowed to attend training programmes in Britain and Ukraine at the government's expense.
A court official said that four other suspects were also held along with the former president's son.
These are all acts of revenge against me. I defeated the terrorists. Today, they are using the same laws to arrest my son.
FORMER PRESIDENT MAHINDA RAJAPAKSA, on how the government is conducting a witch-hunt against his family
Among them was Nishantha Ranatunga, a younger brother of Sri Lanka's World Cup-winning cricket captain Arjuna Ranatunga.
Nishantha had been the chief executive of the CSN channel that secured broadcasting rights for all cricket matches.
Yoshitha Rajapaksa is the second member of his family to be arrested since the current government took over in January last year.
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, Mr Namal Rajapaksa, and his youngest brother, Mr Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who served as the country's defence secretary from 2005 to last year, are also the subjects of corruption investigations.
But despite the many investigations of members of the former government, few people have been formally charged, 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 said that Yoshitha Rajapaksa and two other relatives are under investigation in connection with the death of star Sri Lankan rugby player Wasim Thajudeen.
Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa has repeatedly asserted that his son is innocent, and on Saturday he was defiant. "Arrest my sons, my wife, my brothers," he 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, he 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."
The law on money-laundering was introduced to track terrorists' funds, he said.
"I defeated the terrorists. Today, they are using the same laws to arrest my son."
Mr Rajapaksa, now an opposition legislator, is himself being investigated for misappropriation of money in a state-run television channel during last year's presidential polls.
NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS