Sri Lanka police raid safes linked to political rival

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan police said Monday they had raided a bank and seized more than half a million dollars allegedly belonging to relatives of the arrested former army chief Sarath Fonseka.

Fonseka is under arrest on unspecified charges, but defence officials have accused him of plotting a coup and planning to assassinate President Mahinda Rajapakse and his family.

Detectives obtained a court order to search the safe deposit lockers of Fonseka's son-in-law and his family and found just over 650,000 dollars, said spokesman Prishantha Jayakody.

"We have asked the Central Bank to investigate the origin of this money," Jayakody said, adding they have also obtained an arrest warrant for the former army commander's son-in-law, Dhanuna Thilakaratne.

There was no immediate comment from Fonseka's family.

Fonseka, the only four-star general, has denied trying to stage a coup. He challenged Rajapakse in the January 26 presidential elections that the incumbent won by a solid margin.

Two weeks after the election, Fonseka was arrested by the military and is being held at the island's main naval headquarters.

He emerged as a national hero after leading the military campaign that crushed the Tamil Tiger rebels and ended their decades-long separatist campaign in May last year.

But he fell out with Rajapakse and quit in November and entered politics with the backing of the island's two main opposition parties.

The arrest of Fonseka and the crackdown against his party workers and family members have sparked international concern for the outlook for democracy in the island.

The Supreme Court is to rule next week on the legality of his arrest.