Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has approved the 30-month jail term given to former army chief Sarath Fonseka by a military court on charges of corruption, top officials said on Thursday.
"The Sri Lankan President has approved the recommendation and put a signature on the paper," Cabinet spokesman and Mass Media and Information Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told PTI. He refused to comment on the duration for which Fonseka may have to serve imprisonment, saying it depends upon the recommendation of the military court. "There are other formalities also to be completed," he added. However, a top official in the President's office told PTI that "President Rajapaksa has signed the paper endorsing the military court order sentencing Fonseka for a period of 30 months."
President Rajapaksa approved the sentence after returning yesterday from New York where he attended the UN General Assembly. Earlier this month, the second court martial in Sri Lanka held 59-year-old Fonseka guilty on all four counts in a case related to the procurement of arms by the Army in violation of the tender procedures, and recommended that he be jailed for up to three years. The verdict on September 17 came after Fonseka was stripped of all his ranks and pension a few weeks ago by the first court martial that convicted him of the charge of dabbling in politics while being in uniform.
The recommendations had been sent to the president as it had to be approved by him as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Fonseka, who successfully led the Sri Lankan military in the war against the Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Eelam which ended in May last year, was charged with favouring a company headed by his son-in-law, who is also an accused in a separate case filed in the high court on the same charges. The former army chief was found guilty of the charges of purchase of night vision devices, generators, batteries and equipment for VHS direction finders from a firm with which his son-in-law was associated.
The former army chief-turned lawmaker had earlier maintained that he was prepared to go to jail. Fonseka challenged incumbent Rajapaksa in the January presidential election and lost badly. Thereafter, he accused the government of a political witch-hunt by framing charges against him. The ex-general, who is in custody since his arrest in January, had termed his dishonourable discharge as a "joke". Fonseka, who was once close to the President, fell out with him in the last days of the Elam War IV and later challenged him in the presidential election. The opposition has called the targeting of Fonseka by the Rajapaksa government as political witch-hunting.