COLOMBO — Sri Lanka’s top court has ruled that ex-president Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother Mahinda were among 13 former leaders responsible for the country’s worst-ever financial crisis.
Their “actions, omissions and conduct” sparked the crisis, the ruling noted.
In 2022, inflation surged as foreign reserves emptied and the country ran out of fuel, food and medicine.
The crisis sparked months of huge public protests that eventually toppled Rajapaksa.
He then fled the country but returned in September 2022, after a new government supported by his party restarted negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout.
While Tuesday’s verdict carries no penalty apart from an order to pay the petitioners’ legal fees, experts tell BBC Sinhala that it could open the door for other lawsuits. The case was filed by corruption watchdog Transparency International Sri Lanka and other activists.
The verdict was a 4-1 split, with the majority agreeing that the leaders violated Sri Lankans’ fundamental rights in mishandling the economy. Former finance minister Basil Rajapaksa and two ex-central bank governors were among the 11 other officials who were held responsible, alongside the Rajapaksa brothers.
“Respondents cannot shirk responsibility by merely stating that the decisions they took were policy decisions. It was within full power of respondents to prevent such calamity as they had full knowledge,” Transparency International Sri Lanka said in a statement.
“It is clear that they did not act and take all measures to remedy the situation in the public interest,” it said.
At the height of the crisis, Sri Lankans experienced up to 13-hour power cuts. The country declared bankruptcy last year and is still struggling to overcome the worst effects of the crisis. It secured a $3b (£2.4bn) bailout from the IMF and is required to meet strict targets under the agreement.
As of November 2023, it has a total foreign debt of $46.9bn, 52% of which is owed to China, its largest lender. — BBC