(MENAFN - Gulf Times) Sri Lanka is to set up special courts to investigate charges of corruption amounting to billions of dollars under former president Mahinda Rajapakse, the government said yesterday.
The move, designed to accelerate the process of trying such cases, follows criticism over the slow pace of justice under the government elected three years ago.
President Maithripala Sirisena came to power in 2015 promising to stamp out corruption and punish members of the former administration accused of stealing vast sums from Sri Lanka's coffers during Rajapakse's decade in power.
'There will be special three-judge high courts set up exclusively to hear bribery and corruption cases which are currently clogging the lower courts, the government said in a statement.
Sirisena has said as many as half of all public procurement contracts under the Rajapakse administration were corrupt and the new government has renegotiated several multi-billion dollar projects.
Rajapakse's chief aide Lalith Weeratunga has already been convicted on a charge of misappropriating $4mn and sentenced to three years in prison.
Two of the former president's three sons have been charged with money-laundering and other family members face
allegations of corruption.
Rajapakse, who is not under investigation, denies any wrongdoing and says his successor is carrying out a witch hunt.
Official sources said the new courts could start functioning by the middle of this year.
Last Friday, President Sirisena said that more than $58bn, or 90%, of foreign loans borrowed by the previous government was unaccounted for in finance ministry records.
Sirisena also said a large sum of funds under the previous government that should have been deposited with the treasury have gone to private companies. This was done in a systematic manner to avoid disclosure, he said.
His administration is facing a debt crisis and struggling to face an expensive loan repayment cycle started this year. It must repay an estimated Rs1.97tn ($12.85bn) in 2018 a record high including $2.9bn of foreign loans, and a total of $5.36bn in interest.
'President Maithripala Sirisena said of the Rs10tn rupees loans taken by the previous government from abroad, only about Rs1tn could be accounted for in the assets and huge sum of money could not be accounted for in the documents in the finance ministry, his office said in a statement.
The president also criticised his own coalition government, saying some of the sales of state properties during the last three years were done without informing the cabinet.
However, ministry officials of the last government said President Sirisena's numbers
The central bank's latest records show Sri Lanka's total outstanding debt was Rs10.3tn as of the end of September
Under the previous government from 2004-2015 led by Rajapakse, Sri Lanka borrowed Rs5.17tn of total loans including Rs2.16tn ($14.06bn) of foreign loan.