COLOMBO, (Reuters) – Sri Lanka’s chief justice has been found guilty of three impeachment charges by a parliamentary panel, a government official said today, in a case that has sparked opposition protests and raised international concerns.
Parliament is expected to vote on the finding when it sits in January. President Mahinda Rajapaksa needs 113 votes in the 225-member legislature to remove the chief justice from her post. Rajapaksa’s party has a more than two-thirds majority.
“We have found her guilty of three charges out of the first five we have investigated,” Nimal Siripala de Silva, minister of irrigation and a member of the impeachment panel, told reporters.
He said the charges include financial irregularities, conflict of interest, and failure to declare her assets.
Tension has risen between the judiciary and government since Rajapaksa’s ruling party filed a motion against Shirani Bandaranayake, Sri Lanka’s first female head of the Supreme Court, in parliament last month.
Parliament Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa, the president’s elder brother, appointed an 11-member select committee, seven of them from the ruling party, to investigate 14 charges against Bandaranayake ranging from not disclosing her wealth to professional misconduct.
The four opposition members on the impeachment committee withdrew from it on Friday citing injustice and the entire opposition party left the parliamentary chamber en masse.
The United States, the United Nations and the Commonwealth have raised concerns about the process and have called on the government to ensure the independence of the judiciary.
The chief justice withdrew from the impeachment process on Thursday after appearing at three sittings, saying she had lost faith in the panel.
Bandaranayake recently came under criticism from government supporters for ruling against a bid by the central government to take control of an 80 billion rupees ($614.20 million)development budget, saying it had to be approved by nine provincial councils.
The ruling angered the government and its backers, some of whom accused the judiciary of overstepping its authority before moving the impeachment motion.