Sri Lanka ex-minister held over phone recording scandal

Much of the leaked conversations suggested political interference in cases against senior members of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration between 2005 and 2015. — AFP pic
Much of the leaked conversations suggested political interference in cases against senior members of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration between 2005 and 2015. — AFP pic

COLOMBO, Jan 17 — Sri Lankan authorities have arrested a former minister who allegedly recorded 100,000 phone calls, the sometimes lewd and compromising contents of which were leaked on social media.

In what has become a major scandal, Ranjan Ramanayake is heard discussing court cases with judges, police, politicians and local celebrities in some of the recordings.

Police, who seized hard drives from Ramanayake’s home, said they were investigating whether the recordings had been used for blackmail or other criminal activity.

The opposition lawmaker, 56, who was remanded in custody earlier this week, has said he is being targeted for speaking out against corruption.

In some of the leaked audio tapes, Ramanayake is heard slating the leadership of his own opposition United National Party, which has since suspended his membership.

Parliamentary speaker Karu Jayasuriya said the scandal demonstrated the moral degradation of the otherwise conservative Buddhist-majority nation of 21 million people.

“Recording private conversations as well as broadcasting them (illegally) shows the moral decay in our country,” Jayasuriya said in a statement urging the clergy to encourage higher ethical standards in society.

The leaks have already led to the suspension of a magistrate and disciplinary action against a high court judge, officials said. Both had reportedly discussed ongoing cases with Ramanayake.

A senior police detective who had also had discussions with the politician has been suspended pending an internal inquiry.

Much of the leaked conversations suggested political interference in cases against senior members of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration between 2005 and 2015. His brother Gotabaya won the November presidential election.

Official sources said the leaks could lead to a judicial review of some of the ongoing cases as well as those that have concluded unfavourably for Rajapaksa loyalists.

The Attorney General’s office said Ramanayake was in custody for offences committed under the constitution for “interference with the functions of Judges.” 

He could face up to a year in jail. — AFP

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