Former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s son was arrested on Saturday for alleged financial crimes. Yoshitha Rajapaksa, the former president’s 27-year-old second son, was arrested under Sri Lanka’s money laundering act. According to Sri Lankan police, Rajapaksa will be remanded in custody until February 11 over “financial irregularities” at a popular sports network he owned.
The former president, his brothers, his wife, and his eldest son are all facing investigations under the new Sri Lankan government for alleged financial crimes committed during the last government’s decade in power. The current Sri Lankan president, Maithripala Sirisena, who defeated Mahinda Rajapaksa in a surprise election result a year ago, is responding to political pressure to act against the Rajapaksa family’s alleged corruption.
Yoshitha Rajapaksa was arrested with four other former officials and associates of former officials. According to Reuters, Rajapaksa was arrested along with “Rakapaksa’s spokesman and a brother of Ports and Shipping Minister Arjuna Ranatunga.” Yoshitha Rajapaksa is a former naval officer and captained Sri Lanka’s national rugby team during his father’s 10 years in power. He also owns Carlton Sports Network (CSN) along with his older brother Namal Rajapaksa.
Last week, a parliamentary investigation revealed that Yoshitha Rajapaksa’s naval career had progressed despite a lack of qualifications–he had bypassed mandatory educational qualifications, the report noted. Additionally, the investigation found that Sri Lankan government funds had been used to pay for “extensive training programs” for Yoshitha Rajapaksa in the United Kingdom and Ukraine.
Saturday’s arrest, it appears, was related to the outcome of the parliamentary investigation. On Wednesday, Chief Government Whip Gayantha Karunathillake said that Action will be taken in due course based on the recommendations received.” The investigation into Yoshitha Rajapaksa’s activities had been ongoing for over two months.
Yoshitha Rajapaksa’s arrest may intensify tensions between supporters of the Rajapaksa family, who hail primarily from the country’s Sinhalese ethnic group, and the government. President Sirisena was formerly part of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government, but, since coming to power last January, has sought to respond to international criticisms of the Sri Lankan government and to civil society groups. His government has also given more attention to reconciliation with the country’s Tamil ethnic minority.
Mahinda Rajapaksa has suggested that the current government is purposefully targeting his family for political reasons. His son’s arrest this Friday will add to that narrative. An independent report by Freedom House on corruption in Sri Lanka during Rajapaksa’s time in power found that Rajapaksa’s family members controlled “approximately 70 percent of the national budget through various government posts.”