Graft, misconduct charges against Sri Lanka's chief justice

Misconduct also alleged in impeachment motion against Bandaranayake, part of political battle that sees husband facing corruption trial

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2012, 2:07am

Sri Lanka's ruling party has accused the country's chief justice, Shirani Bandaranayake, of 14 counts of financial corruption and misconduct in an impeachment motion, setting the stage for a potentially destabilising clash between the government and judiciary.

Relations between President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Bandaranayake have been deteriorating in recent months, with the judiciary complaining of interference and the government complaining that she had over-stepped her authority.

Bandaranayake, Sri Lanka's first woman chief of the supreme court, faces charges ranging from having undeclared assets to violating constitutional provisions, according to the impeachment motion lodged in parliament.

"She has plunged the entire supreme court and specially the office of the chief justice into disrepute," said the motion, signed by 117 United People's Freedom Alliance politicians.

Among the accusations is a charge that she had nine bank accounts that were not revealed in her assets declaration on taking office in May 2011. She is also accused of failing to declare around US$250,000 in foreign currency.

The order paper says that Bandaranayake is unfit to remain chief justice because she has the power to transfer or take disciplinary action against judges or examine case documents when her husband, a former state bank chairman, is on trial for corruption. She is also accused of misusing her position to harass other judges.

The International Commission of Jurists, grouping 60 prominent judges and lawyers from around the world, said last week the judiciary in Sri Lanka was under increasing attack and its independence was threatened.

The speaker will appoint a select committee made up of at least seven members to look into the charges against Bandaranayake.

She could be removed with a simple majority of 113 votes in the 225-member parliament. Rajapaksa and his allies control more than two thirds of seats.

Bandaranayake's supporters say she has been trying to preserve the independence of the judiciary in a highly politicised environment.

But she came under criticism from the government after she ruled against a bill in parliament proposing a budget of 80 billion rupees (HK$4.75 billion) for development.

She said the bill had to be approved by the country's nine provincial councils, including the former war-torn northern province, before being approved by parliament.

The block on the bill angered the government and its supporters, some of whom accused the judiciary under Bandaranayake of over-stepping its limits and violating the constitution.

The chief justice has not spoken to the media, but her son, Shaveen Bandaranayake, issued a statement last week saying his mother stood for the independence of the judiciary and democracy.

"My mother will not back down," he said.

The impeachment bid comes as international human rights call for an independent inquiry into the deaths of civilians and aid workers during Sri Lanka's three-decade civil war, which ended in 2009.

A UN-sponsored panel, whose findings have been rejected by the Sri Lankan authorities, has said that the army committed large-scale abuses and was responsible for many civilian deaths in the final stages of the war against ethnic Tamil rebels.

Reuters, Agence France-Presse, Associated Press