Lawyers say ousted Sri Lanka leader Rajapaksa need not attend court in person

The court notice has raised the possibility that Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa may soon return to Sri Lanka. PHOTO: GOTABAYA RAJAPAKSA/FACEBOOK

BANGALORE - Sri Lanka's Supreme Court has issued a notice calling former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa to appear in court on Aug 1, but lawyers noted there may be no compulsion for the ousted leader to appear in person.

The Supreme Court has ordered Mr Rajapaksa to appear in relation to a petition filed by Transparency International Sri Lanka and three individuals, that has called for action against persons responsible for the country's worst economic crisis.

The court notice, reportedly issued on Wednesday (July 27), has raised the possibility that Mr Rajapaksa - who fled to Singapore via the Maldives two weeks ago - may soon return to Sri Lanka.

But senior lawyers told The Straits Times that legally, Mr Rajapaksa does not have to appear in court in person, and can be represented by his lawyers.

The once-popular president arrived in the Republic on July 14, and his resignation was officially announced by Parliament a day later.

Singapore considers Mr Rajapaksa's stay a private visit, and extended his on-arrival 14-day social visit pass recently to Aug 11.

But Sri Lankan Media Minister Bandula Gunawardana had triggered discussions of Mr Rajapaksa's return home when he told reporters on Tuesday that the unpopular politician was "not hiding in Singapore" and was expected to return to Sri Lanka.

Thirteen politicians and civil servants are named as respondents in the petition filed in June.

It claims that the officials named are directly responsible for the unsustainability of Sri Lanka's foreign debt, its default on foreign loan repayments, and for the 22 million population suffering severe food, fuel and medical shortages.

The list includes former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother Basil, the former finance minister. Both were barred by the Supreme Court from leaving the country on July 15, a day after their brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigned as the president.

Former Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal was also named, along with Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sri Lanka's interim prime minister turned president.

A five-judge bench including the Chief Justice decided on Wednesday to name Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa as a private respondent to the petition.

The co-petitioners are former head of Sri Lanka's Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Chandra Jayaratne, entrepreneur Jehan Canagaretna and Sri Lankan medal-winning swimmer Julian Bolling.

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