MATARA: Sri Lanka's leaders have appealed to Britain, the United States and the World Bank to help to trace the overseas
assets of the former ruling family as they investigate alleged corruption.
Mangala Samaraweera, the foreign minister, revealed yesterday (Sunday) that Sri Lanka requested this assistance as it looks into the finances of the relatives of ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The Daily Telegraph has also learned that experts from Britain's Serious Fraud Office have trained Sri Lankan investigators as the former colony beefs up its financial crimes units.
Sri Lanka was ruled as a family business during 10 years under Mr Rajapaksa, a self-styled "warrior king" who packed ministerial positions with his brothers and close family as he sought to establish a new political dynasty.
The ultra-nationalist Sinhalese Buddhist expected to secure another victory in January's presidential election. But he suffered a surprise defeat as Sinhalese, disillusioned with claims of nepotism and corruption, allied with Tamil and Muslim minorities to vote in Maithripala Sirisena as leader.
But Mr Rajapaksa hopes to stage a comeback in today's elections to choose a new parliament - a possible stepping stone to returning as prime minister. This last stand could also be his final chance to stop efforts to bring several Rajapaksas to trial for corruption - as well as possibly war crimes following the Tamil Tiger insurgency in 2009, which left as many as 70,000 dead.
Mr Samaraweera, a senior Rajapaksa aide until 2007, said: "Since we took
office in January, we have found widespread evidence that funds were siphoned off from government projects.
"We have asked for help from the authorities in Britain, the US, India and several other countries, as well as the stolen assets recovery unit at the World Bank, as we try to identify assets stashed abroad in offshore accounts, property and business investments.
"We are on the verge of some major breakthroughs and we are preparing criminal cases right now."
Particular attention has focused on the Colombo Port City harbour reclamation project. The pounds 800?million scheme, funded by China, has been dogged by accusations of pay-offs.
The former president and his family deny money laundering and claim they are the target of a political witch-hunt by the new government.
Mr Rajapaksa, without control of the state media and government finances, has struggled to find support for his bid to lead the next government as 15 million Sri Lankans today go to the polls.