Sri Lankans Rid Themselves Of Their Odious Oligarchal Autocrat

Rajapaksa Escaped... To Enjoy The Billions He And His Family Have Stolen

Today a nationwide curfew was declared in Sri Lanka. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had promised to resign but decided not to wait around and fled with his wife and 2 bodyguards on an Air Force jet to the super fancy Waldorf Astoria Ithaafushi Resort in the Maldives and then on to Singapore, which has agreed to grant him political asylum and from where he says he will issue his official resignation letter. CNN reported earlier that Rajapaksa and 14 family members and retainers were blocked from departing the country twice Monday, once for Dubai and once for Abu Dhabi after refusing to join a public queue at the Bandaranaike International Airport in order to have his passport checked by immigration. He's petrified of being arrested and tried for his myriad crimes.

The Rajapaksa family is the most powerful and richest family in Sri Lanka and has distinguished itself in the fields of corruption, theft of public funds, nepotism, toxic Sinhalese nationalism, brutality and authoritarianism. The family, whose political power goes back to the 1930s, has had members in Parliament continuously from 1936 through 1977. In 2005 Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected president and the family has controlled the country until the last few days when angry protesters forced Malinda’s brother, Gotabaya, out of office— and the country. Did I mention that the Rajapaksa family has grown richer, stealing billions of dollars, as they pillaged and wrecked Sri Lanka’s economy?

Last month, Vice News asked “How did the Rajapaksas go from being one of the most powerful families in the region, to becoming a cautionary tale for populist leaders in the global south?”

During Mahinda’s rule, the family controlled two-thirds of the Sri Lankan budget.
One of the key drivers of protests has been allegations that the Rajapaksas were stealing public money. “The family didn’t just hold on to power through nepotism but also stole from public funds,” Uditha Roshan, another war veteran at the protest, told VICE World News. Like many protesting Sri Lankans, Roshan wants an audit of the Rajapaksas’ wealth. “We’re broke because they stole all the money. I want the money to be brought back to the national treasury,” he said.
The demand for accountability and auditing also stems from the fact that there is no transparency or public record of the Rajapaksas’ actual wealth and assets despite the family having been in politics since the 1940s. Observers note that the family ran the country like a family business, and focused on centralising power while taking away all checks and balances, including on allegations of grave war crimes against Tamils.
Last year, the Pandora Papers investigation, a series of leaked documents that exposed the illicit wealth of the world’s rich and influential, found some members of the Rajapaksas hoarding millions in offshore investments and accounts. Before that, in 2015, an opposition politician accused the Rajapaksa government of illegal financial deals amounting to over $5 billion. Mahinda himself was accused of stealing millions of dollars meant for tsunami relief in 2004. Over the years, Mahinda’s son Namal has also been accused of money laundering and receiving payoffs worth millions by private foreign companies.
…Over the past month, some exasperated protesters burnt down symbols of the Rajapaksas’ power-- from their privately-owned mansions to a museum built by the family using public funds. A few days later, Gotabaya’s elder brother Mahinda resigned as the prime minister, as did the rest of the Rajapaksas who held different positions. Currently, many Rajapaksa family members are hiding out in a military base.
…Ambika Satkunathan, the former commissioner of Human Rights Commission Sri Lanka, described the Rajapaksas’ appeal as “Trump-like, where intellectualism and expertise was connected to elitism. Add to that, a good dose of racism,” referring to the discrimination of the Tamils by the Sinhalese.
The family were also compared to kings of the country’s perceived glorious past, and songs were sung to valourise them. “We’re still a society with feudal elements, and it’s driven by patronage,” she said. “The Rajapaksas fit right in.”
…The underlying factor, he added, is majoritarian racism, which overshadowed all their misconduct.
Gotabaya faces a string of lawsuits in the U.S. involving alleged war crimes. Before he became president, he had dual citizenship in Sri Lanka and the U.S. To become president, he surrendered his U.S. citizenship as his new position afforded him immunity against lawsuits.
The 2010 Wikileaks cables showed that top U.S. officials knew of the Rajapaksa government’s complicity in alleged war crimes. “The Rajapaksas have never been hunted in the way other world leaders have,” said Abeywardane, implying that the international community appears to have deliberately looked the other way. “How did a citizen of the U.S. carry out all these acts, then go on a holiday, and come back to become the president?”

Rajapaksa left’s puppet prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, in charge as “acting president,” which further stoked protests. Some members of the criminal family, including crooked brother Basil, the former Finance Minister, have been prevented from feeing the country, although reports late today says has escaped to the U.S. Also late today, Wickremesinghe— his office occupied by protesters— told the military to restore order by “any means necessary.”