Sarath Fonseka given 30 months hard labour, loses seat
Sentenced over misappropriation of Army funds
Case is second court-martial, two criminal cases left
Reuters: Sri Lanka’s President yesterday upheld a military court ruling sentencing former Army Chief Sarath Fonseka to prison, meaning his wartime ally turned political arch-rival will lose his Parliamentary seat.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s widely expected approval of the sentence is the latest reversal of fortune for ex-General Sarath Fonseka, who just over a year ago was lionised as a national hero for leading the army to victory over the Tamil Tiger separatists.
Rajapaksa and Fonseka basked together in their victory in the quarter-century civil war in May 2009, but quickly fell out and the general quit the military to run unsuccessfully against his former Commander-in-Chief in a January presidential election.
Fonseka was arrested on 8 February on what the opposition, which formed a loose coalition to back his campaign, called politically motivated charges. He won a parliamentary seat in April despite being in custody and is a vocal Rajapaksa critic.
“President confirmed the court-martial sentence,” of 30 months of rigorous imprisonment, cabinet spokesman Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said.
Under the Constitution, Fonseka will lose his parliamentary seat, Rambukwella said, and will be transferred to a civilian prison from Navy Headquarters, where he is now being held.
The court-martial found Fonseka guilty of misappropriating army funds.
The career infantry officer had already been stripped of his four-star general rank and had his pension revoked after another court-martial found him guilty of politicking in uniform. He still faces two civilian criminal cases.
Some Sri Lankans and the opposition have decried Fonseka’s treatment as overkill and political vengeance by Rajapaksa, who earlier this month pushed through a constitutional amendment reducing the few checks against his already vast official powers.
“The President is taking revenge personally,” said Vijiith Herath, a legislator and spokesman for Fonseka’s Democratic National Alliance party. “This is political revenge just for challenging him at the presidential election.”
In a Parliament overwhelmingly in the hands of Rajapaksa’s ruling alliance, Fonseka has been a strident opposition voice and darkly hinted that the constitutional changes had nailed “the coffin of democracy” and could foment a revolution or coup.
During the war, Rajapaksa had given Fonseka wide scope to prosecute the military campaign, and the general publicly branded critical journalists and rights activists traitors.
For that, Fonseka drew opposition criticism which quickly turned to praise when it became clear that the war hero was the only candidate who could challenge Rajapaksa’s enormous popularity and rightly claim a major role in winning the war.
The two waged a bitterly personal presidential race that climaxed with Army commandos surrounding the luxury hotel Fonseka was in as the votes were counted, on suspicion he and dozens of former military officers with him were plotting a coup.