COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — As the guests sat down for a banquet dinner last summer at the grand colonial-era home of Sri Lanka’s president, the small talk soon turned gravely serious.
Addressing members of the ruling coalition, the country’s energy minister, Udaya Gammanpila, defended a small increase in fuel prices that was intended to address a critical shortage of dollars the island nation needed to import fuel, medicine and other necessities.
The president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and his brother Mahinda, the prime minister, had come on board with the measure after a year of discussion. But another member of the family — Basil, the finance minister, one of five Rajapaksas in the cabinet — had other ideas.
Before the guests made their way to the dance floor, Basil Rajapaksa rose to declare that Sri Lanka was not in fact suffering from a foreign currency crisis, according to Mr. Gammanpila and another person present. Criminals, he claimed, were funneling dollars out of the country’s banking system. Give him two weeks, he said, and he would fix it.