Sri Lankan military court convicts ex-army chief of fraud, could face jail sentence

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — A Sri Lankan military court convicted the former army chief, who ran for president on the opposition ticket, of fraud. He could be sentenced to jail time.

Sarath Fonseka has already been dishonorably discharged following an earlier court-martial conviction. He has described the prosecutions as a political vendetta and said they were launched to persecute him for daring to challenge President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the presidential election earlier this year.

Critics say the Sri Lankan government is systematically persecuting its rivals as it consolidates power following victory of ethnic Tamil rebels last year.

Government spokesman Lakshman Hulugalla said the court-martial that heard the case against Fonseka has sent its recommendation to the president and the sentence will be announced after his approval.

Fonseka is accused of bypassing military procedures in purchasing equipment and involving his son-in-law in the dealings.

The verdict Friday came weeks after Fonseka was stripped of his rank, pension, medals and other military honors after another court-martial convicted him of involvement in politics while in service.

Once allies, Rajapaksa and Fonseka were both considered heroes by the Sinhalese majority for crushing the Tamil rebels last year, ending a quarter-century civil war that killed 80,000 to 100,000 people.

But they had a falling out months after the war ended and the general quit the army after accusing Rajapaksa of sidelining him, suspecting a military coup. Their relationship further deteriorated after Fonseka challenged Rajapaksa in the presidential election.

Fonseka lost the election to Rajapaksa in January and was arrested weeks later. He was accused of planning his political career while still in uniform and breaching regulations for purchasing military hardware. Fonseka has been detained by the military since then.

While in detention, Fonseka contested parliamentary elections in April with the opposition Democratic National Alliance and won a seat, while Rajapaksa's party won a majority.

Last week, Fonseka met reporters in Parliament and said the government is determined to send him to jail and that he won't expect justice from them.