Police probe against Rajapakse stayed

V.S. Sambandan

COLOMBO: The Sri Lankan Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered an interim stay on a police probe into an allegation that Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse transferred funds marked for tsunami relief to a private fund set up by him.

A three-member Bench of the Supreme Court gave the interim stay on a Fundamental Rights application by Mr. Rajapakse's counsel, which said the police probe was made without any legal basis and was based on a false complaint with an ulterior motive to "tarnish the image and political campaign" of the Prime Minister, who was contesting the presidential election scheduled for November 17, the Daily Mirror reported.

Newspaper report

The "Helping Hambantota case," as it is popularly known, refers to accounts in a private bank said to have been maintained by the Prime Minister to expedite tsunami relief and rebuilding.

A total of Rs. 82.9 million was said to have been credited to these accounts, earmarked to help the victims in the southern Hambantota district, Mr. Rajapakse's constituency.

After the case was first published in a newspaper a couple of months ago, the Prime Minister's Office said the money was transferred to state accounts. Two weeks ago, the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) started probing the case. Mr. Rajapakse's office has maintained that there has been no irregularity.

"Breach of trust"

The police case dates back to July 19, when Kabir Hashim, an MP from the Opposition United National Party (UNP) made a complaint to the CID that "Mr. Rajapakse had committed offences of criminal breach of trust/misappropriation" by crediting Rs. 82,958,247 to the Helping Hambantota account.

The Prime Minister maintained that there is no material to establish that the transfer of funds was done with any dishonest intention. The three-member Bench, headed by Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva observed that the CID had done "severe damage to the petitioner," "by starting investigation against him without proper material evidence," the newspaper said.

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