ECONOMYNEXT – Opposition presidential hopeful Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s declaration that he had renounced his US citizenship and obtained a new Sri Lankan passport has sparked fresh investigations into how he acquired dual nationality.
After a fake renunciation certificate circulated on social media outlets such as WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook earlier in the week, Rajapaksa said a document leaked a day later was a true copy of his real ”Certificate of loss of US nationality”.
While social media users were quick to point out a grammatical mistake and an omission in the second certificate, purported to be real, what attracted more interest was Rajapaksa’s statement to the media that he had obtained a fresh Sri Lankan passport.
Immigration controller R. M. P. S. B. Rathnayake confirmed he had issued a new passport to Rajapaksa on May 7. But this appears to have been done without a declaration of Sri Lankan citizenship as required under the Citizenship Act.
A Sri Lankan holding dual citizenship is required under Article 8 (1) of the Act to make an application to the minister in charge of immigration to resume his or her citizenship by descent after renouncing the foreign nationality.
“8(1) Any person who ceases under section 19 or section 20 to be a citizen of Sri Lanka by descent may at any time thereafter make application to the Minister for a declaration that such person has resumed the status of a citizen of Sri Lanka by descent; and the Minister may make the declaration for which the application is made.”
Records at the Passport office do not show that Rajapaksa had provided such a certificate, an official source at the Passport office said, adding that they were perplexed how their controller rushed to issue Rajapaksa’s new passport in a matter of hours.
There was also no record of him surrendering his dual nationality certificate at the time of getting the new passport.
Investigators looking into Rajapaksa’s dual nationality have also hit a blind wall as immigration authorities do not appear to have any documents pertaining to his acquiring Sri Lankan nationality in 2005 when he was a US citizen.
He acquired dual nationality soon after elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa won the presidency. Computer entries show that the Sri Lankan dual citizenship was speedily granted.
Rajapaksa applies for Sri Lankan citizenship (dual nationality) on Friday the 18th of November 2005, the very day Mahinda is declared elected.
Immigration law says a dual citizen applicant has to pay the prescribed fee only upon the approval of his or her application, but in this case the fee was paid even before a government was formed and before there was a minister to approve his application.
On Monday the 21st of November 2005, two days before a cabinet is appointed, a computer entry is made that he had paid his fees. The haste with which Rajapaksa obtains his dual citizenship is in sharp contrast to others who have been on a waiting list for long periods.
Unlike in Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s case, his wife Ioma’s supporting documents for her dual nationality claim are readily available with the authorities.
Gotabaya signed his wife’s certificate as secretary ministry of defence, public security and law and order while brother-in-law Mahinda has signed as President. She obtained her dual nationality on February 9, 2006.
Legal implications of new ID
Apart from Rajapaksa being issued with a new passport, what is more disconcerting from a legal standpoint is his new national identity card number which has no link to the previous NIC held by him.
He is currently on bail, but when he gets permission to travel abroad, courts inform the immigration office about allowing the person bearing NIC xyz and PP abc to leave the country for a specified period.
Those who are barred from overseas travel have their passport/NIC numbers sent to the immigration / police counters at all exit points from the country. In this case, with a totally new ID and a passport, the immigration and CID authorities will not be able to stop him if he is in violation of any court order.
Investigators have also found that problems with Rajapaksa’s official documents may go further back to the 2005 elections. His name appeared in a Hambantota district voter list for the 2005 presidential elections when he was clearly a US citizen only at the time and not a dual citizen.
The fake US citizenship renunciation certificate may have raised more issues than the subject anticipated.(COLOMBO, Aug 3, 2019)