Sri Lanka has shared more information with India on the billions of dollars that its new government alleges members of the previous regime headed by Mahinda Rajapaksa had stashed abroad, to support the island nation's request for New Delhi's help to set up a Financial Intelligence Unit to trace the money.
During his India trip earlier this week, new Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena told the Indian leadership about accounts in tax havens such as the St Martin Islands, Hong Kong, Macau and Seychelles where he claimed much of the money had been moved to, government officials privy to the discussions told ET. Sirisena also informed Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other Indian leaders about investments that were allegedly made by the Rajapaksa family in real-estate projects in Dubai, Uganda and Kenya, the officials said.
Sirisena indicated that his government was very serious about pursuing corruption charges against the former president and that it has set up a commission to investigate the charges. As per diplomatic sources, Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera also sought US help in unearthing the money, during his trip there on February 11-15.
Sirisena and the coalition of parties led by him had made corruption a key issue in their successful January election campaign and are moving quickly to fulfil promises.
According to them, powerful figures in the previous government had stashed away $5 billion. The Lankan Cabinet has appointed a high-powered "rapid response team" to look into allegations of corruption in land transactions, stock market price-fixing and abuse of state funds for political purposes. Rajapaksa hasn't yet commented on the allegations.
Officials also pointed out that the meeting between Sirisena and Modi was extremely cordial, which was in stark contrast to interactions with Rajapaksa. New Delhi had been wary about Colombo's close ties under Rajapaksa with Beijing. Sirisena has apparently indicated willingness to correct the China tilt, officials said.
"Rajapaksa, ignoring India's security concerns, continued to deepen defence cooperation with the Chinese government and was even willing to elevate Sino-Sri Lanka relations to a strategic cooperation," an Indian official said. (The Economic Times)