Sri Lanka anti-corruption chief quits after president's criticism

COLOMBO (Reuters) - The head of Sri Lanka’s anti-corruption body resigned on Monday, government officials said, days after President Maithripala Sirisena implied her agency was favoring the rival party of his prime minister.

Dilrukshi Wickramasinghe has headed probes into alleged corruption involving top officials in the former government of ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa, including his brothers, son and officials. Sirisena defeated him in a January 2015 election.

But Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party, once Rajapaksa’s power base, now governs in coalition with the United National Party (UNP), led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The corruption probes have raised concerns about strains between the two parties in the governing coalition.

Last week, Sirisena expressed his displeasure after the anti-corruption agency took former defense secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, younger brother of the ex-president, and three ex-navy chiefs - who are hailed as war heroes - to court on corruption charges.

“I will have to take action,” he said, if the anti-graft commission and two police corruption divisions were “working according to a political agenda,” he told military officials.

Deputy Justice Minister Dilan Perera, a Sirisena aide, denied any link between his comments and Wickramasinghe’s resignation. “It can’t be president’s comments because he did not point finger at anybody,” he told journalists.

Sirisena campaigned for the presidency promising to eliminate corruption and appointed Wickramasinghe to head the anti-graft commission that rights groups say hardly probed any cases in the past because of political interference.

Wickramasinghe did not respond to requests for a comment.

The police’s criminal investigation department has been probing past allegations against military intelligence during Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war, which ended in 2009 with the military defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who fought for a separate state in the island’s north and east.

Scores of military intelligence agents have been arrested in connection with alleged crimes including murder and abduction in the final phase of the war. The opposition now led by former president Rajapaksa has criticized Sirisena’s government for the arrests.

Reporting by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Tom Heneghan