Sri Lankan rugby player's body exhumed in murder inquiry

A car transporting the remains of Sri Lankan rugby player Wasim Thajudeen leaves the burial ground of the Dehiwela mosque in Colombo - 10 August 2015 Image copyright Azzam Ameen/BBC
Image caption The car carrying Wasim Thajudeen's remains passed a crowd of anti-Rajapaksa protesters

Sri Lankan investigators have exhumed the body of a former national rugby player in a murder inquiry linked to ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa's son.

Wasim Thajudeen was found dead inside a burning car after an apparent accident in the capital Colombo in May 2012.

But the case was reopened earlier this year after claims that Mr Rajapaksa's security officials killed Thajudeen.

Thajudeen is said to have been in a dispute over a woman at the time of his death with Mr Rajapaksa's son Yoshitha.

His body was exhumed from a Muslim burial ground at a mosque outside Colombo on Monday, watched by a judge and other officials.

Dozens of protesters gathered outside the mosque, holding placards with anti-Rajapaksa slogans.

After initially ruling Thajudeen's death an accident, police have now cited post-mortem reports saying his body had torture marks, as well as broken teeth and bones.

"The body had been wrapped in a plastic bag so it is well preserved and we hope to be able to finish our work very soon," chief judicial medical officer Ajith Thennakoon told reporters.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Mr Rajapaksa says the claims are a bid to discredit him ahead of parliamentary elections
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Rajapaksa's son Yoshitha is also a former member of Sri Lanka's rugby union team

The removal of the body came as new evidence emerged that the victim had been abducted in a car owned by the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society, according to police.

In response, the Red Cross said the vehicle had belonged to them but that it was being used by a charity of the then first lady, Shiranthi Rajapaksa, at the time of the rugby star's death.

Police have impounded the car as part of their investigation, the Red Cross said.

'Politically motivated'

On Sunday, Mr Rajapaksa denied his youngest son, who is also a former member of Sri Lanka's rugby union team, was involved in the mysterious death.

The former president also said the allegations, mainly by members of the current ruling party, were politically motivated to discredit him ahead of parliamentary elections next week.

Mr Rajapaksa's eldest son, Namal, also denied any link to his family and said his family had been close friends with Thajudeen.

"We totally deny this," he told the BBC's Azzam Ameen. "Even without doing a proper investigation they are pointing the fingers at the Rajapaksas."

"They began this investigation just ahead of the election so we all know it's politically motivated to target us," Namal added.

Mr Rajapaksa was defeated in presidential elections earlier this year but hopes to become prime minister if his party does well enough in the parliamentary elections.

The investigation is the latest blow to Mr Rajapaksa, who himself is under investigation over allegations he siphoned off billions of dollars from the state during his rule.

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