Sri Lanka's embattled president Gotabaya Rajapaksa was left stuck on the island, after airport staff blocked his attempts to flee the country in yet another humiliating blow to the accused war criminal.
The 73-year-old former defence secretary was reportedly trying to flee the country before he is scheduled to step down on Wednesday, and lose immunity as a head of state that protects him from prosecution for a range of crimes. He reportedly fears being arrested and placed on trial where he could face prosecution for his financial crimes, as well as his genocide of Tamils.
However as Rajapaksa and his wife attempted to leave the country at Colombo’s international airport, immigration officers were refusing to go to the VIP suite to stamp his passport. Rajapaksa reportedly refused to go through the public facilities, fearing reprisals from an already angry Sri Lankan public just days after protestors overran his official residence.
Protestors inside the official residence of Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Saturday.
With the standoff continuing, Rajapaksa reportedly missed four flights to the United Arab Emirates, and he and his wife had to return to a nearby military base.
There is still no official word from the president’s office regarding his whereabouts – a point that has been a source of speculation for several days.
A defence source told AFP that he could still take a navy vessel to either India or the Maldives.
However, reports emerged this morning that the Indian government refused to let Rajapaksa land at a civilian airport in the country using an air force jet. Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Colombo also denied Rajapaksa a visitor's visa to enter the country.
As Rajapaksa attempted to flee Sri Lanka, his brother Basil Rajapaksa, the former finance minister of Sri Lanka, also tried to do the same last night. The sibling, once nicknamed “Mr Ten Percent” over his reputation to demand a 10% bribe for any project, was reportedly attempting to board a flight to Dubai, and then travel to the United States where he still holds dual citizenship.
Hours before his flight, his ticket details had been leaked and shared widely on socal media, showing the former finance minister was set to travel to Dubai first class on an Emirates flight. He had paid for the tickets, which cost over USD$ 36,000 for four people according to the leaks, entirely in cash.
Basil Rajapaksa flight ticket details were leaked hours before his attempted departure.
A diplomatic source told AFP that Basil had to obtain a new passport after leaving his behind at the presidential palace, which protestors raided on Saturday morning. A sum of 17.85 million rupees in cash was also discovered at the president’s residence.
However, Basil too found himself unable to make it past border control. Though he had attempted to use the paid concierge service for business travellers, airport and immigration staff refused to serve him.
The Sri Lanka Immigration and Emigration Officers Association confirmed its members declined to serve Basil Rajapaksa at the VIP departure lounge of the Colombo airport.
“We were informed yesterday (Monday) that Basil Rajapaksa could leave Sri Lanka. But as we had decided to withdraw from duties from midnight, we didn’t see him arriving,” K A S Kanugala, president of the association, told Al Jazeera.
“Following our decision to withdraw, Mr Rajapaksa reportedly came for check-in in normal passenger area.”
What followed next was more chaos, as footage on social media showed angry passengers at the airport reportedly berating the younger Rajapaksa
“There, angry passengers shouted at him and he has reportedly left the airport,” added Kanugala. “What we can confirm is that he didn’t leave Sri Lanka officially.”
"There were some other passengers who protested against Basil boarding their flight," an airport official told AFP. "It was a tense situation, so he hurriedly left the airport."