Supreme Court Justice Buwaneka Aluwihare today made sure that former Secretary to the Ministry of Defence Gotabaya Rajapaksa would not stand for presidential election while being on trial for embezzling state monies, by delaying an appeal involving the same case by over two months.
Rajapaksa’s appeal taken up today was against a Court of Appeal ruling dismissing a writ application his lawyers filed challenging an order of the Permanent High Court at Bar hearing the D.A. Rajapaksa museum case. Trial was set to begin on October 15.
The appeal was set to be taken up for argument today before a SC bench led by Justices Aluwihare, Murdhu Fernando and Amarasekera. That was after Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s lawyer president’s counsel Romesh De Silva fought hard to push the case back past October 15th when it was last taken up on October 3rd.
However the bench which did not include Justice Aluwihare pushed back against Rajapaksa’s counsel, insisting that the case be taken up for argument before trial was set to start at the Permanent High Court. Over De Silva PC’s protests the judges ordered the case to be taken up on October 11th.
But when the case came up today, Aluwihare, a long time ally of the former Defence Secretary, handpicked for secondment to the Defence Ministry from the AG’s Department during Rajapaksa’s tenure, was once again the presiding judge.
The case was originally set to be taken up at 12 noon and then at 2PM. However before 2PM the judges extended the stay order preventing the trial in the Permanent High Court and pushed arguments on the case back until December 20th, a decision that could mean that the Supreme Court has signed the death warrant on the D.A. Rajapaksa memorial corruption case.
The long date means that if Gotabaya Rajapaksa wins the presidential election on November 16 the corruption trial will be stayed for the duration of his presidency. No civil or criminal suit may be brought against an incumbent president either in his official or personal capacity even for offences committed in the past while he holds the office.
In September, a five judge bench of the Supreme Court which did not include Aluwihare, dismissed an appeal filed by Rajapaksa’s lawyers against the same order by the Permanent High Court rejecting their preliminary objections about the trial. The judgment paved the way for the trial to begin, but state lawyers were awaiting the ruling on this separate appeal on the same case to conclude. In a brilliant tactical move, Rajapaksa’s legal team headed by De Silva PC has flooded the court system in litigation, filing writs and revision applications in courts that have no jurisdiction over the matter, but ensuring the time provided to appeal those judgments can then be used to stall the trial.
Rs 33 million is what the Attorney General has accused Gotabaya Rajapaksa of misappropriating from state funds to build a private memorial for his late parents. The money was taken from the Land Reclamation and Development Board. Rajapaksa, who was then Defence Secretary and also Secretary to the UDA under which the LRDB functions also got the Sri Lanka Navy to carry out the construction of the memorial and museum in Medamulana.