Sri Lanka president approves 30-month prison term for ex-army chief convicted of fraud

By By Krishan Francis, AP
Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sri Lanka president OKs ex-army chief’s jail term

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s president approved a 30-month jail term for his former army chief and political rival Thursday, confirming a military court verdict that he was guilty of fraud. The decision may disqualify the ex-general from continuing as an opposition lawmaker.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa endorsed a court-martial decision on former Gen. Sarath Fonseka on Thursday and “has recommended two and half years in his endorsement in keeping with the maximum period for the offense in accordance with the law,” a statement from the president’s office said.

Fonseka’s party, the Democratic National Alliance, cried foul at the jailing, calling it personal and political revenge.

Party lawmaker Vijitha Herath told reporters that Fonseka will appeal the military court’s decision in a civilian court.

Once allies, Rajapaksa and Fonseka were both considered heroes by the country’s Sinhalese majority for crushing Tamil Tiger rebels last year, ending a quarter-century civil war that killed 80,000 to 100,000 people.

But they had a falling out months after the war ended and the general quit the army after accusing Rajapaksa of sidelining him, suspecting a military coup. Their relationship further deteriorated after Fonseka challenged Rajapaksa in a presidential election earlier this year.

Two weeks ago Fonseka was found guilty of bypassing military procedures in purchasing equipment and involving his son-in-law in the dealings.

Fonseka has already been stripped of his title, medals, pension and other honors and dishonorably discharged following an earlier court-martial ruling that he laid the groundwork for a political career while still serving in the army.

Fonseka’s imprisonment may disqualify him from continuing as a lawmaker. The constitution says a lawmaker is disqualified from holding office if he is sent to prison after a ruling by a court of law.

However, Fonseka’s lawyer, Rienzie Arsecularatne, said a higher court or the elections commission must interpret the law to say whether it applies to a court-martial ruling because there has been no precedent.

Fonseka has described the cases against him as a political vendetta, and said they were launched to persecute him for daring to challenge Rajapaksa in the presidential election. Earlier this month, Fonseka met reporters in Parliament and said the government was determined to send him to jail and he did not expect justice.

Critics say the Sri Lankan government is systematically persecuting its rivals as it consolidates power, exploiting public goodwill gained when the ethnic Tamil rebels were defeated.

Fonseka was arrested just weeks after his unsuccessful presidential bid but managed to win a parliamentary seat on the opposition ticket while in military custody.

Rajapaksa’s party won a resounding majority in Parliament.

Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Ubaya Medawala said Fonseka, detained for nearly eight months in the country’s naval headquarters, will be transferred to a civilian prison on Thursday.

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