Sri Lanka graft busters question Rajapakse brothers

Two brothers of former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapakse faced questioning by anti-corruption investigators on Thursday as the new government stepped up its crackdown against the old regime.

Colombo: Two brothers of former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapakse faced questioning by anti-corruption investigators on Thursday as the new government stepped up its crackdown against the old regime.

Hours after the former president`s youngest brother Basil was arrested on his return home from a trip abroad, another younger sibling, Gotabhaya, aged 65, was hauled before the country`s main anti-corruption body over claims of kickbacks that he allegedly received while he served as defence secretary.

Gotabhaya, widely regarded as the real power behind 69-year-old Mahinda Rajapakse during his decade-long rule, angrily denounced the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) as he arrived at their headquarters on Thursday.

"They are taking action against policy decisions we took," he told reporters in downtown Colombo.

"At this rate, they can arrest the entire (former) cabinet for taking decisions. This is ridiculous."

"I have not done anything wrong. I was an honest government officer."

Hundreds of his supporters carried photos of him and shouted anti-government slogans as riot police stood guard.

The questioning took place behind closed doors although sources said that it was a brief session and Gotabhaya would return for a more lengthy interrogation early next week.

Basil, who was economic development minister under his brother, was facing his own interrogation behind bars at a Colombo prison hospital over allegations that he embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars in a controversial government housing scheme.

The 64-year-old, who has dual Sri Lankan-American citizenship, had fled to the United States soon after his brother lost the January 8 election to Maithripala Sirisena, a former ally of Rajapakse before he jumped ship to challenge his old mentor.

But he was arrested on Wednesday shortly after returning home to Colombo to face charges that are non-bailable.

Police said they will question him over the next two weeks, after which formal charges are expected to be framed.

As he was driven to the prison hospital on Wednesday, Basil told reporters that he was not guilty of any crime.

"The government has prejudged the case and carried out this arrest," he said after a magistrate had granted his request to be sent to the prison hospital to continue treatment for an unspecified medical condition.

In an interview with AFP on Wednesday, Mahinda Rajapakse slammed the string of corruption probes against his relatives as part of a "witch-hunt" instigated by his successor.

The new president is expected to address the nation later Thursday amid growing pressure to call parliamentary elections.

The current legislature remains packed with Rajapakse loyalists, complicating the new leader`s reform programme.