Sri Lanka minister quits over arms scandal

Sri LankaSri Lanka’s police minister resigned on Monday following allegations he tried to shield a private security firm under investigation for gun running and money laundering.

Law and Order Minister Tilak Marapana said he quit to protect the government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who was under intense pressure from cabinet colleagues to sack him.

Marapana told parliament last week the security firm had not committed wrong doing, despite an ongoing probe into the discovery of two floating armouries run by the company off Sri Lanka’s southern coast.

“Many people, including some government members, felt that my continuing as a minister will prevent the police from conducting an independent investigation and that is why I resigned,” Marapana told reporters at his home.

Before becoming a minister in August, Marapana acted as the company’s lawyer and successfully quashed one case of illegally possessing weapons.

However, a second floating armoury was seized last month, reopening the case. The company says the previous government allowed the armouries so it could carry out armed escorts of commercial ships.

His resignation came even as cabinet held a special meeting Monday to discuss a course of action against Marapana.

The private firm identified as Avant Garde Maritime Services had been granted permission to operate floating armouries by former president Mahinda Rajapakse’s then defence secretary brother Gotabhaya.

Gotabhaya is now under investigation for his role in transferring state weapons to Avant Garde.

Investigators are still trying to locate thousands of weapons they say have disappeared from state inventories after they were transferred to third parties.

Avant Garde maintains that it legally obtained weapons and operated floating armouries following authorisation from Gotabhaya.

The new government of President Maithripala Sirisena insists Rajapakse did not have the legal authority to approve such private security operations.

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