Sri Lanka’s president yesterday accused top anti-corruption officials of launching politically motivated prosecutions against former military leaders, putting himself on a collision course with his own unity government.
Maithripala Sirisena took the unusual step of publicly condemning criminal charges brought last month against three retired admirals and the former defence secretary, the brother of his predecessor, Mahinda Rajapakse.
Military commanders who led the successful campaign to crush separatist Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009 should not be humiliated in such a way, said Sirisena, who ousted Rajapakse in a bitterly fought election in January 2015.
“I condemn the actions of FCID (Financial Crimes Investigations Division), the CID (Criminal Investigations Division) and the Bribery Commission,” he said at a meeting in Colombo.
“They should not work according to a political agenda. If they do, I will have to take stern action against them. I deplore their recent actions and I want to express my disgust.”
Analysts said the remarks signalled a rift between Sirisena and the national unity government led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, which oversees the FCID and the CID.
The two men are from rival parties, but made common cause to topple former strongman Rajapakse, whose entire family and closest associates face allegations of corruption as well as murder.
The three former admirals and ex-defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse stand accused of causing a loss of 11.4b rupees ($78mn) to the state through a private arms deal. They also face money laundering charges.
Anti-corruption activist Keerthi Tennakoon said Sirisena’s remarks signalled a widening rift within the uneasy
“Saying that ex-military men should not be prosecuted is something that is shocking,” Tennakoon said.
“What we are seeing is the differences between the president and the prime minister are
coming out into the open.”
Another activist, Kusal Perera, said the president had changed tact and was trying to build his own political base by appealing to the Sinhalese nationalists who made up Rajapakse’s power base.
“By saying that former military commanders and war heroes should not be prosecuted, the president wants to champion the cause of Sinhala
nationalists,” Perera said.
“Politically, we are heading for a big crisis.”
Sirisena won last year’s election on a promise to tackle corruption and restore rule of law and human rights after defecting from Rajapakse’s government and becoming the common
opposition candidate.
He and Wickremesinghe initially agreed to work together only for two years, although the prime minister said last year that he wanted the coalition to run its full term until 2020.
The new government is yet to deliver on promises to the UN that it will investigate allegations that troops under Rajapakse’s command killed at least 40,000 Tamil civilians while battling separatists in the final months of an ethnic war that ended in 2009.

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