COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa has the right to return to the country, but he must be tried for allegations of misuse of funds since he does not enjoy legal immunity, main Opposition party Samagi Jana Balawegaya has said.
Rajapaksa, 73, fled the country and resigned last month in the face of a popular uprising against his government for mismanaging the island nation’s economy.
“Gotabaya Rajapaksa is a citizen of this country and he has the right to return to his motherland. No one can deny this right. However, he should be tried for the allegations of misuse of funds,” Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) CEO Ajith P Perera was quoted as saying by the Daily Mirror newspaper.
Sri Lanka’s Constitution allows privileges to former presidents, including personal security and an office with staff.
“There was a case against him for allegedly spending state funds for his parent’s monument. It is possible to make him face the trials and penalise him if is found guilty, as he does not enjoy a legal immunity as per the constitution,” Perera said while addressing the media on Friday.
SJB has accused Rajapaksa’s government of misusing the USD 1 billion loan facility extended by India as part of its financial assistance to help the cash-strapped island nation deal with its unprecedented economic crisis.
According to a media report on Thursday, Rajapaksa may apply for a US Green Card as he was eligible to apply due to his wife Loma Rajapaksa being a US citizen. In 2019, Rajapaksa renounced his US citizenship to contest the 2019 presidential polls. Veteran politician Ranil Wickremesinghe was elected the stop-gap President for the balance of Rajapaksa’s term until November 2024.
Wickremesinghe is now tasked with resurrecting the island’s ailing economy hit by a balance of payment and a forex crisis. Sri Lanka is in the midst of an unprecedented economic crisis that has led to severe shortages of fuel and other essentials.
The island nation of 22 million needs about USD 5 billion in the next six months to cover basic necessities for its citizens, who have been struggling with long queues, worsening shortages of essentials and frequent power cuts.