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Sri Lankan Cabinet minister resigns after being arrested in a counterfeit drugs scandal

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — A Sri Lankan Cabinet minister has resigned after being arrested in a scandal over the government’s alleged purchase of counterfeit drugs during the country’s economic crisis.

A government statement Tuesday confirmed that Environment Minister Keheliya Rambukwella, who previously served as health minister, has resigned. He was arrested on Friday for alleged involvement in the procurement of counterfeit intravenous human immunoglobulin, which is used to help fight infections and cancer, and was ordered held for investigation until Feb. 15.

His resignation follows mounting pressure from opposition lawmakers, activists and health groups for him to be removed and for a transparent investigation to be held into the scandal.

Five other senior Health Ministry officials and the supplier of the alleged counterfeit drugs have also been arrested.

Rambukwella is accused of using the economic crisis as a pretext to bypass the usual tender process in purchasing many types of medicine and allegedly favor a particular supplier.

He served as health minister until last October, when he was removed and appointed environment minister. In September, he survived a no-confidence motion submitted in Parliament by opposition lawmakers who accused him of failing to secure enough essential drugs and laboratory equipment, resulting in preventable deaths in hospitals.

The no-confidence motion was easily defeated since the governing coalition has a majority in the 225-member house.

Rambukwella could not be reached for comment. He has previously rejected the allegations against him.

Sri Lanka provides free health care through state-run hospitals, which experienced a shortage of medicines and health workers, especially doctors, as