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11:07 AM, September 6, 2016
Sri Lanka's ex-defense secretary Ghotabaya Rajapaksa

Sri Lanka’s Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) indicted eight people including former defense secretary and three ex-navy commanders for illegally allowing a private floating armory worth $171 million.

CIABOC filed charges against former defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and six others for allowing private Avant Garde Maritime Services to operate the armoury and provide sea marshal services, EconomyNext reported last week.

"The former defence secretary had no authority to grant such permission," a spokesman for CIABOC was quoted as saying by the news website. "By doing so, he caused Avant Garde to illegally earn Rs11.4 billion ($171 million) in revenue."

Former additional secretary to the defence ministry Damayanthi Jayaratne, who has since fled the country; former defence ministry military liaison officer retired general Palitha Fernando; retired general K. B. Egodawela; and former navy commanders Somathilaka Dissanayake, Jayanath Colombage and Jayantha Perera were charged before the Colombo chief magistrate.

The head of Avant Garde, retired major Nissanka Senadhipathi is also being charged under tough bribery and corruption laws.

After months of delay in carrying out investigations, President Maithripala Sirisena in November last year ordered that weapons aboard two floating armouries at the Galle harbour be taken over by the navy.

The business that was initially done by the navy had been handed over to Avant Garde by Rajapaksa.

It was an operation previously carried out by the navy that was subsequently handed over to Avant Garde through a defence ministry-established private security arm known as Rakna Araksha Lanka Limited (RALL).

The vessel Avant Garde, which shares the same name of the company, was seized by the navy on October 5 outside the Galle harbour following several discrepancies about its lethal cargo, the crew, and their route and final destination.

Former Law and Order minister Tilak Marapana, who defended Avant Garde and eventually resigned after allegations of conflict of interest, had claimed ignorance of weapons whose serial numbers had been erased or changed while onboard the Avant Garde vessel.

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