Sri Lanka exhumes body in politically charged murder probe

Forensic experts exhumed the body of a Sri Lankan rugby star on Monday, following allegations that former president Mahinda Rajapakse`s son was involved in his murder.

AFP| Last Updated: Aug 10, 2015, 15:13 PM IST

Colombo: Forensic experts exhumed the body of a Sri Lankan rugby star on Monday, following allegations that former president Mahinda Rajapakse`s son was involved in his murder.

A Colombo magistrate ordered a new murder investigation into the May 2012 killing of Wasim Thajudeen last week after police said they had fresh evidence suggesting he had been tortured and killed. 

Thajudeen`s death was registered at the time as a road accident.

Sri Lanka`s former leader denied Sunday that his son, former rugby skipper Yoshitha Rajapakse, was involved and accused the government of seeking to make political capital out of the investigation.

It comes a week ahead of parliamentary elections in which he is hoping to make his political comeback after he suffered a surprise defeat in January`s presidential vote.

Local media have reported that Thajudeen was killed over a love triangle that involved Rajapakse`s second son Yoshitha.

Both men had represented Sri Lanka at Rugby Sevens and Rajapakse senior has been accused by rival political parties and local media of helping to cover up the murder.

Government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne told reporters last week that three members of Rajapakse`s security contingent had been identified as the men who abducted and killed Thajudeen.

"The body had been wrapped in a plastic bag so it is well preserved and we hope to be able to finish our work very soon," Sri Lanka`s chief judicial medical officer Ajith Thennakoon told reporters at the grave site.

The disinterment comes as new evidence emerged that the victim had been abducted in a car owned by the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society, police said.

The Red Cross said the Land Rover Defender had belonged to the organisation, but it was being used by a charity of the then first lady, Shiranthi Rajapakse, at the time of the rugby star`s death. 

"Accordingly a Defender bearing the number plate WP - KA 0642 was handed over to the Chairperson of the Siriliya Saviya Foundation Former First Lady Mrs. Shiranthi Rajapakse on the 11th of August 2011," the Red Cross said in a statement.

Police have impounded the car as part of their investigation, the Red Cross said.

Rajapakse`s charity is also facing another investigation for receiving two SUVs from the World Food Programme without paying the applicable customs duties.

Dozens of anti-Rajapakse activists carried placards on Monday denouncing the former leader and his administration, which faced international censure over alleged rights violations during his decade in power.

The fresh investigation is the latest blow to Rajapakse, who himself is under investigation over allegations he syphoned off billions of dollars from the state during his rule.

Several of his siblings, as well as other family members and close associates face a plethora of corruption allegations, which they have rejected as a political witch-hunt.