Sri Lankan President says he became victim in abduction claim

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Sri Lankan politician Patali Champika Ranawaka who was the urban development minister before current President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected, gestures as prison officers escort him to a magistrate court after his arrest in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019. Sri Lankan police arrested a former Cabinet minister on Wednesday over a 2016 traffic accident in which a young person was seriously injured, state media reported. The minister called his arrest political revenge. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka  Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said Thursday that he has become the victim in the alleged abduction of a Swiss Embassy employee who was reportedly threatened and sexually abused to disclose embassy-related information.

Rajapaksa said reports of the alleged abduction appeared in foreign media before the facts were established, and critics accused his government of carrying it out.

“Now it is very clear. Actually in this case the victim is me, it is not that lady,” Rajapaksa said in comments to foreign media.

“It is very clear that it is a planned thing to discredit me and the government,” he said.

“Over the years they were talking about white vans and all the abductions. Now they want to say immediately after my election this was taking place,” Rajapaksa said.

The Swiss foreign ministry has called the alleged Nov. 25 abduction of embassy employee a “very serious and unacceptable attack” and summoned Sri Lanka‘s ambassador to demand an investigation. It also criticized a lack of due process in the case.

Police have detained the embassy employee pending charges that she made statements to create disaffection toward the government and fabricated evidence. Rajapaksa says evidence collected by investigators doesn’t match her’ account.

Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis phoned his Sri Lankan counterpart, Dinesh Gunawardena, on Wednesday to discuss the case. He’s sending former Ambassador Joerg Frieden to Colombo to help resolve the dispute over the alleged “security incident.”

A Swiss foreign ministry statement said Thursday that Cassis told Gunawardena that “the health and security of staff is of priority” to the Swiss foreign ministry and the Sri Lankan authorities are responsible for protecting them going forward.

Cassis also expressed regret that the judge had ordered the local staff member put in investigative detention. “The circumstances in prison do not consider her state of health,” the ministry said. Cassis also asked Gunawardena to allow her to be moved to an appropriate location, such as a hospital.

The ministry also said that on Tuesday the current Swiss ambassador in Colombo, Hanspeter Mock, met with Sri Lankan prosecutors and made clear “Sri Lanka‘s reputation as a country governed by the rule of law depends on this case.”

Cassis also told Gunawardena that the intense media reporting and public prejudgement in the case endangers Swiss embassy staff and narrows the basis of trust that’s necessary in the investigation.

A Sri Lankan statement said Gunawardena emphasized that the government has “fully complied with national law and international judicial standards, and that any assertion to the contrary was factually inaccurate.”

Rajapaksa became president after winning a Nov. 16 election. Shortly after that, a Sri Lankan police investigator, Nishantha Silva, fled to Switzerland.

Silva had been investigating alleged abductions, torture, killings and enforced disappearances of journalists and activists when Rajapaksa was defence chief under the presidency of his brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been accused of overseeing what were known as “white van” abduction squads that whisked away critics. Some were returned after being tortured. Others were never seen again.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa has denied the allegations.