Attorney General Eva Wanasundera has expressed the opinion that a Presidential pardon for former General Sarath Fonseka would not be possible until appeals against his conviction, already filed in courts, are determined or withdrawn.
This opinion was conveyed to President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Friday, according to Attorney General’s Department sources.
Mr. Fonseka has lodged two appeals in the Supreme Court. One is against his conviction and the three-year jail sentence in the ‘White Flag’ case. This appeal is due to come up for hearing on May 31. The other is the appeal against the second Army Court Martial which sentenced him to a two-and-a-half year jail term for irregular procurements when he was Commander of the Army. This appeal to the Supreme Court came after a previous one to the Court of Appeal was dismissed.
The AG’s advice is on the basis that the President could confer a pardon only on those convicted.
Hence, the same sources said, a move that would pave the way for his early release would be the withdrawal of the appeals.
Counsel for Mr. Fonseka, the Sunday Times learns, will file motions in the Supreme Court on Monday to withdraw the appeals.
It is still not immediately clear whether a Presidential proclamation will be ready by that time. In the alternative, one could be issued only after Wednesday when President Rajapaksa returns from a trip to Qatar.
The power to pardon
The President under Article 34 (1) of the Constitution may in the case of any offender convicted of any offence in any court within Sri Lanka grant a pardon, either free or subject to lawful conditions.
The President can “grant any respite, either indefinite or for such period as he may think fit, of the execution of any sentence passed on such offender.”
He can also “substitute a less severe form of punishment imposed on such an offender or remit the whole or part of the punishment imposed”. The President also has the power to “grant a full or conditional pardon or reduce the period of disqualification of a person who has been disqualified as an elector due to a conviction.”