In the late hours of Tuesday, Sri Lanka’s embattled and disgraced President Gotabaya Rajapaksa made his way out of the country. His destination – Maldives. Arriving in the early hours of Wednesday, Rajapaksa was first denied permission to land in the Velana International Airport.
His long-term ally, Mohamed Nasheed, overrode the air traffic control measures. Once safely in Male’, Rajapaksa and his contingent was ushered into the VIP area. They had left VIP terminal, to a destination unknown. In spite of the late hour, Nasheed left only after ensuring that Rajapaksas were safe.
Reportedly, Gotabaya had exited Sri Lanka, carrying millions.
The decision to grant safe passage to Rajapaksas was ultimately, to say the least, a major blunder. Geopolitics aside, this latest development had made a mockery of the centuries-old relationship between Maldives and Sri Lanka, the country’s foreign policy, the sentiments of Sri Lankans who had protested their deplorable situations, and the lives of the thousands of Maldivians living in the country.
Attempts to flee after leaving the country in tatters
The Rajapaksa clan had been attempting to flee the country over the past few weeks. The clan’s patriarch Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned his Prime Ministerial position on May 9th. His whereabouts are unknown.
His brother Basil Rajapaksa had attempted to flee to Dubai on Tuesday, only to be foiled by flyers at the airport.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa had also attempted to flee. Sources report that the US Embassy had refused to grant him a visitor visa. Rajapaksa had given up his dual US citizenship to run for presidency – rendering him ineligible for a visitor visa.
The Indian government reportedly refused permission for a Sri Lankan military plane carrying the president to land at an Indian civilian airport.
He had attempted to flee on Monday night as well. Officials said immigration staff prevented the president from going to the VIP area of the airport to stamp his passport. Rajapaksa reportedly missed four flights to the United Arab Emirates, and he, his wife and a dozen other family members and close aides spent the night at a nearby military base.
Nasheed acted on his own will?
Back in May, TMJ revealed that Nasheed was brokering safe passage for the Rajapaksa family. At the time Nasheed was quick to deny all the claims. It did not age well.
Claims that this decision was independent of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Defense Minister Mariya Ahmed Didi, and Foreign Minister Abdullah Shahid is unbelievable. If a military craft of any nation is to land in the country, then the law demands that the President, Defense Minister, and Chief of Defense Force be in the know.
If we are to believe that Nasheed acted on his own will, then Nasheed wields more power than the President.
Coordinating relief efforts?
When Ranil Wickremesinghe was appointed as Prime Minister after Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned, Nasheed made a point to offer his assistance. Nasheed had volunteered to coordinate international relief efforts and Wickremesinghe had accepted the offer.
Nasheed’s months long venture to gain economic relief had so far failed to gain any traction. Sri Lanka’s opposition Member of Parliament Harsha de Silva took to media to debunk Nasheed’s efforts. He revealed that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohamed bin Salman had asked Nasheed not to bring up the matter until the country has a concrete plan to resolve the crisis.
A similar response also came from the ruler of United Arab Emirates (UAE) His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid Al Makhthoum. Sheikh Makhthoum had ruled out assistance unless Sri Lanka provides a list of assets that can be sold off.
Nasheed’s ‘assistance’ was a mere cover. His meetings with Sri Lanka’s opposition and government figures was an attempt to secure a safe passage for the Rajapaksa clan.
His sole aim was to grant the same safe haven he was given in Sri Lanka – irrespective of how Maldivians and Sri Lankans would feel about it.
Safe havens for Maldivian troublemakers
For a long time, Sri Lanka was a safe haven for Maldivian dissenters. During the reign of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, several high-ranking members of MDP had made base in Sri Lanka. They continued their activities in Sri Lanka. The calls to boycott Maldivian tourism started from Sri Lanka.
The biggest attack on Maldivian national security came in November 3, 1988. An armed Tamil mercenary group of the LTTE had attempted to overthrow the Government. The plotters had confessed that they had done so, at the behest of Abdullah Luthfy. The unsuccessful coup was engineered in Sri Lanka. Luthfy had traveled to Sri Lanka, met Uma Maheshwaram.
Up until very recently, Luthfy was living in Sri Lanka.
MDP had their humble starts in Sri Lanka, as the Constitution then did not allow political parties. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, the then-Prime Minister, granted safe haven for MDP, allowing them to foster relations with heads of Embassies and High Commissions in the country.
Nasheed was one among many who had lived in Sri Lanka at the time. The current President’s father-in-law, Sikka Ahmed Ismail is a long-time resident in the country. His residence is in Battaramulla, a suburb in capital Colombo. The area is described as the home to the country’s elite and government department head offices are located in the area.
Most of the current administration were stationed in Sri Lanka during the administration of President Abdullah Yameen. Nasheed and his allies, including current Ambassador Omar Razak, were pivotal in drumming up foreign support against the Yameen administration.
In spite of the political cold war between Nasheed and Solih, both are closely intertwined with Rajapaksa family. The Solih administration had welcomed all of the Rajapaksa clan on various occasions.
Gotabaya’s safe haven in Maldives, therefore, can be viewed as mere payback for all the times Rajapaksa and his allies had given safe haven for Maldivian troublemakers.
Safe haven in Waldorf Astoria, at the expense of Sri Lankans
Gotabaya is presently in Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi, a property owned by business tycoon Mohamed Ali Janah. Janah is a close associate of Foreign Minister Abdullah Shahid.
Staff at the resort have confirmed that they are hosting the disgraced First Family – much to their displeasure. A night’s stay in the swanky property costs between US$ 5,903 and US$ 8,760.
The extravagance is a stark contrast to the long lines at Sri Lankan petrol sheds. It is a stark contrast to the meal rationing most Sri Lankans had faced in the past few weeks. It is a stark contrast to the citizens who had died waiting for petrol and basic necessities.
It is a slap in the face of the citizens who had protested for accountability. It is a slap in the face of Maldivians who live in Sri Lanka and call the country their second home. It is an affront to justice.