Magistrate impounds passport of former defense secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and three others
Sri Lanka’s then Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa gestures while attending a ceremony commemorating fallen soldiers in the eastern region of Thoppigala on April 18, 2013 (AFP Photo/Ishara S. Kodikara)
A Sri Lankan court on Monday banned the former president's brother, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, from leaving the country as police probe private arsenals set up during the previous regime's decade in power.
A magistrate in the southern port city of Galle impounded former powerful defense secretary Rajapaksa's passport along with those of three others, police said in a statement.
"Police investigating the Avant-Garde Security Service floating armoury case sought and secured a ban on their travel abroad," the statement said, naming the four individuals involved.
Shortly after former president Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated at January 8 elections, partly on corruption and cronyism claims, police in Galle found a ship carrying more than 3,000 automatic weapons, including machine guns.
Investigators have been trying to locate thousands of weapons they say have disappeared from the inventories of the island's security forces and are thought to have been transferred to individuals.
Avant-Garde Security Service has said its legally obtained armory had been authorized by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to enable the private company to carry out armed escorts of commercial ships.
The new government of President Maithripala Sirisena insists Rajapaksa did not have the legal authority to approve such private hauls.
A police source said the former defense secretary has been questioned in Colombo as part of the ongoing investigation and the travel ban was sought because they need to interview him further.
Rights monitors responded positively to the announcement of the ban.
“The reports on travel bans imposed on the former defense secretary and some former senior members of the armed forces regarding a criminal investigation that is taking place will be welcomed by all those who wish [for] rule of law to prevail in Sri Lanka,” said Basil Fernando, director of the Asian Human Rights Commission.
For years it has been “suspected that the former defense secretary is linked to some of the more serious human rights violations in the country”, said Fernando, adding that it is commendable that authorities are taking action against such a “highly protected personality”.
It is a “happy sign that the government will take the necessary action irrespective of the status of the person concerned”, he concluded.
The former president's brothers and other family members held key positions in the previous government. Mahinda Rajapaksa's younger brother Basil, who had been economic development minister, left the island soon after the president's defeat.
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