Ousted Sri Lankan president quizzed over cash stash

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COLOMBO – Sri Lankan police told AFP on Wednesday that they are investigating ousted president Gotabaya Rajapaksa over a hidden cash stockpile uncovered when protesters stormed his former residence last year.

Mr Rajapaksa presided over an unprecedented economic crisis that saw the island nation’s 22 million people suffer through months of food, fuel and pharmaceutical shortages.

He fled the country last July after an angry mob besieged his compound – tendering his resignation from abroad days later – but has since returned and is living under armed guard.

Protesters occupied his presidential palace for several days, discovering 17.5 million rupees (S$63,500) hidden in Mr Rajapaksa’s private quarters that they later turned over to police.

Police investigators on Monday “recorded a three-hour long statement from the former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa on the cash found in the president’s house”, police spokesman Nihal Thalduwa told AFP.

A court in the capital Colombo had ordered police to take a statement on the cash stockpile last November.

Mr Thalduwa said the interrogation was part of an ongoing investigation, without giving further details.

Mr Rajapaksa is part of a powerful political clan that has dominated Sri Lankan politics for decades.

He won a landslide election in 2019 after promising “vistas of prosperity and splendour” but saw his popularity nosedive as the country’s crisis worsened.

Protesters set up camp in his residence after he fled the country, frolicking in his pool and strolling around the compound’s lush gardens until they were ordered to leave by police.

Several corruption cases lodged against Mr Rajapaksa stalled after he was elected president in 2019, giving him immunity from prosecution that he has since lost.

He also faces charges in a US court for his alleged role in the 2009 assassination of prominent newspaper editor Lasantha Wickrematunge, and the torture of Tamil prisoners at the end of the island’s traumatic civil war in 2009 while he was defence chief.

Mr Rajapaksa’s successor Ranil Wickremesinghe has hiked taxes and is renegotiating with Sri Lanka’s creditors to smooth the way for a sorely needed International Monetary Fund bailout.

Critics accuse Mr Wickremesinghe of being too close to his predecessor’s family, and images of the pair chatting at a Buddhist festival on Sunday triggered outrage on social media. AFP

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