Barely 24 hours after Gotabaya Rajapaksa arrived back in Sri Lanka after spending months avoiding his trial at the Permanent Trial At Bar in the D. A Rajapaksa corruption case the Supreme Court has stalled the proceedings by two months in one of dozens of cases filed by the former Defence Secretary’s lawyers to try and stop the case from going forward.
The issue has become doubly important as an announcement is due in two weeks about the SLPP’s presidential candidate with Gotabaya being the preferred candidate of the majority.
The Supreme Court bench led by Justice Buvaneka Aluvihare ordered that proceedings in the Permanent High Court be suspended until the matter in the Supreme Court is heard and decided. The next date for the hearing will be October 1 by which time the nomination period for the 2019 presidential election would have already commenced.
The case that came up today (25) at the Supreme Court is one of several filed by Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s lawyers to stall his D.A. Rajapaksa corruption trial.
This appeal was filed by Rajapaksa’s lawyer’s challenging a Court of Appeal ruling issued in June 2019. Gotabaya’s lawyers challenged an order made by the three judge bench of the Permanent High Court rejecting preliminary objections they had raised. The CA threw the case out saying they did not have jurisdiction to hear the writ and revision applications since the Judicature Act had stipulated that all appeals against orders made by the Permanent High Court must be heard by a five judge bench of the Supreme Court since the PHC is a trial-at-bar.
Today in Supreme Court the three judge bench led by Justice Aluvihare was hearing Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s lawyers appeal against the Court of Appeal judgement citing lack of jurisdiction. Rajapaksa’s lawyers are arguing that the CA does in fact have jurisdiction to hear the writ application against the PHC order made in February 2019.
The Bench gave Rajapaksa’s lawyers leave to proceed in the case and also decided that the trial in the Permanent High Court would have to be suspended until the matter is determined, playing beautifully into the hands of the former Defence Secretary, who reportedly only decided to return to Sri Lanka after being provided numerous assurances that his trial would be stalled, and that some charges against him may even be dropped. The Attorney General has already provided an assurance to the Supreme Court – without being asked by any of the judges – to amend Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s indictment in the D.A. Rajapaksa case. This is despite the fact that the judges of the Permanent High Court held with the Attorney General when Gotabaya’s lawyers led by Romesh De Silva PC insisted that the indictment had been erroneously filed. Months later the AG appears to be admitting that he made a mistake with the indictment.
The Supreme Court order and the decision of the judges to push the case back so far in the year, when the country will be in the throes of a major election in which Rajapaksa is hoping to stand as a candidate sent shockwaves.
While unsurprising because ex officials in the Rajapaksa regime have repeatedly got a wide margin from the country’s highest courts the SC ruling put paid to any kind of accountability for tens of millions stolen from state coffers (and part of it returned after investigators started digging into the transaction) ahead of the presidential poll, in which the first accused in the major corruption trial will likely be a candidate. If Rajapaksa wins the presidency, years of work by the FCID and the AG’s Department will go to waste since the cases are unlikely to move forward against a sitting president.
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.
Reacting to the shock expressed on social media about the SC ruling Mohammed Ali Sabry one of Gotabaya’s lawyers wrote on his Facebook page: “We don’t know the case, we don’t know the preliminary objections, we haven’t seen the order, but if a Rajapaksa is a party, the order must be wrong – Signed NGO Guild”.
Even though Rajapaksa told a Sinhalese newspaper two weeks ago that he was “coming back to face up to his cases”, the truth of the matter is that he was not planning to return until he was certain the trial would not commence on July 26. Despite the assurances provided by Attorney General Dappula De Livera that the case would be delayed since the indictment would be amended, Rajapaksa’s lawyers also ensured they had further insurance by appealing the CA ruling in the Supreme Court a day before the trial was set to begin.
Colombo Telegraph learns that Rajapaksa’s legal team is elated about the delay effected to the trial, since the matter will only be postponed from October 2019 onwards, after which the fate of the trial will be decided only at the presidential election.