ECONOMYNEXT – Police have reported progress in their investigations into allegations Gotabaya Rajapaksa had failed to resume Sri Lankan citizenship he renounced in 2003 and raised serious doubts about his ability to stand at November’s presidential polls.
The Criminal Investigations Department in a ‘B’ report informed Colombo Chief magistrate Lanka Jayaratne of the outcome of a near six-week investigation into complaints that Rajapaksa had failed to obtain dual nationality in November 2005 as claimed by him.
The contents of the B report were not immediately known, but police Spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera in a statement on Friday night confirmed that a progress report was filed with the Chief Magistrate informing her that there was sufficient evidence to proceed with the criminal probe.
Two civil rights activists who made the initial complaints have noted that there was no Ministry Secretary in charge of the subject of immigration when Rajapaksa claimed he had been issued with a dual citizenship certificate.
Immigration department sources said the passport office had issued Rajapaksa with a new passport on May 7 after he produced a national identity card (NIC) which was different from the original NIC which he had at the time he obtained his first Sri Lankan passport.
The activists have claimed that both the NIC and the new passport had been issued without following due process and the authorities should be held criminally liable.
They want both documents declared null and void and action taken against those responsible for issuing these documents fraudulently.
It is understood that criminal investigators were looking into three separate issues – the allegedly fraudulent dual citizenship, obtaining of a new NIC without surrendering the old one and violation of the immigration act to obtain a new passport.
“It is a very, very serious matter,” an immigration official said asking not to be named. The official said they were also unable to trace some of the related files going back to a period from 2005 when Rajapaksa himself was the secretary to the ministry of defence.
The defence ministry was responsible for both the passport and identity card offices.
The latest development came even as questions were raised as to whether Rajapaksa had renounced his US nationality which he had obtained in 2003. A dual citizen cannot contest Sri Lankan presidential elections in line with the 19th amendment to the constitution .
In November 2005, on the day his brother Mahinda was sworn in as President, he had applied for Sri Lankan (dual) citizenship.
Within just one working day of applying for dual citizenship, he had been granted Sri Lankan nationality, but two days before a cabinet was appointed and three days before a ministry secretary could be appointed.
“The allegation is that he did not obtain Sri Lankan citizenship through proper means,” the immigration official said.
“Now we are told that he renounced his US nationality on May 3 and if the police findings are upheld, we have a situation where Mr. Rajapaksa is stateless.”
Election Commission documents also showed that Rajapaksa was using an old NIC number which should have been invalidated at the time he obtained dual Sri Lankan nationality in November 2005.
In a statement to the Daily Mirror newspaper on Saturday, Rajapaksa said he did not know how his old ID number appeared in the electoral register, something that has to be signed and certified by the chief occupant, in this case, Rajapaksa himself.
“I filled the form stating the new ID number and mentioned the old ID number within brackets for reference purposes since the new ID number they issue bears a different form of numbering whereas the normal identity card number is derived from the birthday of the person,” Rajapaksa said in a statement to the Daily Mirror.
“Also once the new identity card number is given to a person the Department of Registration of Persons informs all relevant government departments about it.
“As such they have informed of this change to the Elections Department as well. But for some reason what appears in the electoral registers is the old ID number,” Rajapaksa said.
However, there was no immediate comment from the independent Election Commission.
An offence under Presidential Elections act of 1981 carries a penalty of losing civic rights for a period of seven years and is a disqualification to contest that election for seven years from the date of a conviction.
The renouncing of his US citizenship has also yet to be published.
The latest US Federal Registry, Sri Lanka’s equivalent of a government gazette, gave the names of 612 individuals who had successfully “expatriated” US citizenship between April 1 and June 30, 2019, the period during which Rajapaksa too purportedly gave up his US citizenship.
“This listing contains the name of each individual losing United States citizenship within the meaning of section 877(a) or 877A with respect to whom the Secretary received information during the quarter ending June 30, 2019,” according to the federal notice which can be accessed here: (https://s3.amazonaws.com/public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2019-17498.pdf)
If Rajapaksa had submitted papers to renounce his US nationality on April 17 and was given a certificate to prove it on May 3, as he claimed in a statement to a national daily, his name should have appeared in the latest publication under normal circumstances.
However, US diplomatic sources have said that the non-inclusion of Rajapaksa ’s name in the latest may not be a sign that he had not renounced US citizenship as claimed, but what was more important was the certificate of renunciation.
Rajapaksa is yet to formally release a copy of proof of his renunciation of US citizenship. Some certificates released on social media turned out to be fake.
Rajapaksa still faces two civil court action in the US.
The two civil actions are over the death of editor Lasantha Wickrematunge and the torture of former Tamil Tiger suspect in custody when he was secretary to the ministry of defence and law and order. The cases are to be taken up for hearing later this month, but he has asked for a postponement.
Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa anointed Gotabaya as the SLPP candidate on August 11 on the understanding that all his citizenship issues had been well and truly addressed and cleared without any doubt.
National list test
Political sources said president Mahinda Rajapaksa had also wanted President Maithripala Sirisena to nominate Gotabaya to parliament via a national list vacancy that exists after the death of an SLFP legislator, Salinda Dissanayake.
However, political sources say that Sirisena was not receptive to the suggestion that could have rested Gotabaya’s citizenship issues once and for all and also given him more leverage as a member of parliament.
If Gotabaya had been recognised by the Election Commission as a suitable candidate to fill a national list vacancy, that would have also removed any doubt about his suitability to be a candidate at the presidential poll.
However, Gotabaya has been denied that opportunity as Rajapaksa-Sirisena talks failed, according to political sources on both sides.