Lefteris Pitarakis / AP

Sri Lanka alleges ‘billions’ lost in corruption at national airline

Case follows series of corruption allegations leveled at former President Mahinda Rajapaksa

Sri Lanka's new government has ordered a criminal investigation into alleged corruption at the state-run national airline that it says involved “billions of dollars.”

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's office said an inquiry, led by an anti-corruption lawyer, had found “shocking details of corruption running into billions of dollars” at SriLankan Airlines, as well as “irregularities” in its $2.3 billion 2013 deal to buy 10 Airbus aircraft.

The statement, issued on Saturday, contained no allegations of wrongdoing by Airbus.

Airbus said it had no comment on the Sri Lanka government statement. The inquiry recommended investigations into the national carrier's “entire re-fleeting process,” according to the statement.

The statement also said that former airline chairman Nishantha Wickremasinghe, who it identified as a brother-in-law of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, “should be prosecuted.”

Efforts to contact Wickremasinghe for comment were unsuccessful.

Wickremasinghe resigned as the airline's chairman shortly after Rajapaksa, who had been Sri Lankan president for 10 years, was defeated in a January election by Maithripala Sirisena.

The statement also said staff at the airline had knowingly ignored conflicts of interest with companies and individuals it hired, and that the inquiry found cases of the manipulation of contracts.

It also alleged that Rajapaksa changed the management of the loss-making airline, which is 51 percent government-owned, to ensure the purchase of the Airbus planes despite the availability of cheaper alternatives.

Rohan Weliwita, Rajapaksa's media coordinator, said on Sunday the former president had no comment yet on the government statement.

The corruption allegations are the latest in a series leveled at Rajapaksa by President Sirisena, who has ordered an investigation into all financial deals sealed by his predecessor.

Rajapaksa and former government officials have rejected the allegations and said they are ready to face any investigation.

Since Rajapaksa’s defeat in the Jan. 8 presidential elections, complaints have flooded a Sri Lankan anti-graft commission alleging huge corruption by members of his administration.

The ex-leader himself faces allegations that he tried to use military force and remain in office when it became clear during the vote count that he was headed for a defeat.

Al Jazeera and Reuters

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