Colombo: Basil Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s former finance minister, tried to flee to Dubai amid the wave of protests in the country but had to stay back after people at the airport identified him and immigration officers refused to clear his journey, sources have said.
Mr Rajapaksa, brother of Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, was trying to leave the country this morning through the VIP terminal at Colombo international airport when people recognised him and objected to him leaving the country, a source said.
The sources said he reached the check-in counter at 12.15 am and was there till 3.15 am as immigration officials refused to clear him.
He had to eventually leave the airport after the immigration officers did not clear him, the sources added.
Indian government sources have, meanwhile, denied reports that Basil Rajapaksa is being sheltered here.
The sources have also denied that President Rajapaksa, who is likely to resign tomorrow in the face of the massive economic crisis in the island nation, escaped to India. The sources indicated that none of Sri Lanka’s top leaders could fly out.
Sri Lanka is in the throes of a massive economic crisis over the past few months, and the protests reached a climax this weekend when protesters barged into the President’s official residence. Following intelligence inputs, the President had been moved out of his residence.
The Lankan president was also stopped from leaving his country following a similar humiliating standoff with airport immigration staff, news agency AFP reported today, quoting official sources.
As president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa enjoys immunity from arrest and he is believed to want to go abroad before stepping down to avoid the possibility of being detained.
But immigration officers refused to go to the VIP suite to stamp his passport, while he insisted he would not go through the public facilities, fearing reprisals from other airport users.
The president and his wife spent the night at a military base next to the main international airport after missing four flights to the United Arab Emirates.
The last couple of days have thrown up shocking scenes of protesters exploring the President’s residence. There are reports of them finding millions in cash and discovering a secret bunker. Visuals on social media have shown protesters bathing in the swimming pool and cooking in the kitchen after taking over the President’s residence.
Many have hit out at the President and his family members — many of whom were in the government — for leading a lavish life as the people of the country suffered due to the economic crisis.
Sri Lanka has run out of foreign exchange to finance even the most essential imports, leading to severe hardships for its 22 million people. The country defaulted on its $51-billion foreign debt in April and is in talks with the International Monetary Fund for a possible bailout.
The country is reeling under a massive fuel crisis and non-essential offices and schools have been shut to reduce travel.