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Top court rules Rajapaksas guilty of Sri Lanka’s crisis

Supreme Court ruled ex-presidents Mahinda and Gotabaya Rajapaksa and top officials mishandled the island nation's economy
Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapakse (second right) and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse (second left) leave after the new cabinet swearing-in ceremony at the Buddhist Temple of the Tooth in the ancient hill capital of Kandy, some 116 km from Colombo on Aug. 12, 2020.

Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapakse (second right) and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse (second left) leave after the new cabinet swearing-in ceremony at the Buddhist Temple of the Tooth in the ancient hill capital of Kandy, some 116 km from Colombo on Aug. 12, 2020. (Photo: AFP)

Published: November 15, 2023 05:05 AM GMT
Updated: November 15, 2023 05:24 AM GMT

Sri Lanka's Supreme Court issued Tuesday a symbolic ruling that the powerful Rajapaksa brothers -- including two ex-presidents -- were guilty of triggering the island's worst financial crisis by mishandling the economy.

The case was filed by corruption watchdog Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) and other four activists against top former officials including former presidents Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Mahinda Rajapaksa.

It also included their younger brother, ex-finance minister Basil Rajapaksa, two former central bank governors and other top treasury officials.

"We sought a declaration from the court that the mishandling or inaction on the economy by the former heads of the state and senior officials did violate the fundamental rights of people," Transparency International lawyer Nadishani Perera told AFP.

"We have received that. It is now up to the citizens to take any further action."

A five-member bench ruled 4-1 that the group was responsible for economic mismanagement between 2019 and 2022, ordering them to pay just over $450 (150,000 rupees) as legal costs to the petitioners.

"Given that petitioners came to court in the interest of the public and did not seek compensation for themselves, the court was not inclined to order compensation other than costs incurred by petitioners," Transparency International said in a statement.

The financial crisis sparked months of public protests with dire shortages of food, fuel and medicines, which eventually toppled Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Rajapaksa centralized power after taking office in 2019 by removing independent oversight from the police, judiciary and election authorities.

But his administration stumbled when a critical foreign currency shortage left Sri Lanka unable to import vital goods.

Rajapaksa has since returned to Sri Lanka and is living under armed protection, despite calls for his arrest and prosecution on a raft of corruption charges.

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