COLOMBO: Sri Lanka's anti-graft body arrested President Maithripala Sirisena's chief of staff and another state official on Thursday in the act of accepting a bribe, officials said.
Officials of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) arrested I.H.K. Mahanama, the president's chief of staff, and P. Dissanayake, the head of the State Timber Corporation (STC), the commission said.
"Our officials arrested Mahanama and Dissanayake while accepting 20 million (rupees)," Sarath Jayamanna, the director general of CIABOC told Reuters, indicating a sum equivalent to US$126,863.
He added that the officials were recording statements from Mahanama and Dissanayake, and later on Thursday or early on Friday the two individuals would be produced before the courts.
Jayamanna said Mahanama, the former secretary of the lands ministry, had asked for a bribe of 540 million Sri Lankan rupees (US$3.43 million) from an Indian investor interested in acquiring a state-owned sugar factory.
The two were arrested at a car park of a luxury hotel in the capital Colombo while they were accepting a 20 million rupees bribe from the investor for the transfer of land, he said.
The President's office said in a statement the service of both the officials had been suspended, and the president had instructed the CIABOC officials to enforce the law strictly against the two without any obstruction.
Representatives of Mahanama and Dissanayake were not immediately available for comment.
The arrest comes as Sirisena’s government is under heavy criticism for not fulfilling his main 2015 election pledge to eliminate rampant corruption.
The previous government under former leader Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated in the 2015 poll amid widespread allegations of corruption. However, Sirisena's administration since coming to power has taken insufficient steps to deal with past corruption, his critics allege.
The governing coalition of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led by Sirisena and the United National Party (UNP) of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe lost local government polls in February partly due to failure to fulfil promises to punish corrupt politicians and officials.
(Reporting by Ranga Sirilal, Writing by Shihar Aneez, Editing by William Maclean)