Immigration issues mount for Sri Lanka presidential hopeful

ECONOMYNEXT – Opposition presidential hopeful Gotabaya Rajapaksa faced another challenge Thursday as he was not included in an official list of those who had renounced US citizenship, a pre-requisite to contest upcoming elections.

The US Federal Registry, Sri Lanka’s equivalent of a government gazette, gave names of 612 individuals who had successfully “expatriated” 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 had claimed in a statement to a national daily, his name should have appeared in the latest publication under normal circumstances.

There was no immediate word from Rajapaksa or his campaign about the omission of his name from the latest US listing, but his legislator nephew Namal advised United National Party (UNP) MP Harsha de Silva not to worry about his uncle’s citizenship status.

"Don’t worry about SLPP candidate," Namal said on twitter.com referring to their newly established Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party .

"If his documentation is the issue, will present if needed. Worry abt governing the country for next few months, to salvage frm this sorry state. Also perhaps worry about who you can put forward to contest @GotabayaR (Gotabaya Rajapaksa).”

Harsha de Silva, who is also Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution, has since deleted his tweet, but there was no clarity from the US authorities on why Rajapaksa’s name was left out of the list of those renouncing US citizenship in the second quarter of 2019.

Two civil actions against Rajapaksa, for causing the death of editor Lasantha Wickrematunge and torturing a former Tamil Tiger suspect in custody when he was secretary to the ministry of defence and law and order, are to be taken up for hearing in late September.

US authorities said the pending civil court cases in California did not impact on renouncing US citizenship. If he was required to testify, it could be done through a US diplomatic mission via a video link without having to travel to the United States.

If his name is to be included in the Federal registry as having given up US citizenship, it will be published only in mid-November, long after nominations for the presidential elections due between November 9 and December 9.

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 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 and also given him more leverage as a member of parliament.

If Gotabaya was 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.

Sirisena had wanted to retain the portfolio of Environment under a Mahainda-Gota government, but the national list issue appears to have been an sticking point that derailed those negotiations.

Sri Lanka Citizenship also in doubt

After local media reported that Rajapaksa had been issued a new ID card and a passport without a reference to his previous identity and travel documents, two complaints have been lodged with the police against him.

Civil society activists have claimed that both the National Identity Card (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 take action against those responsible for issuing these documents fraudulently.

Activists have also noted media reports that claimed Gotabaya acquired dual Sri Lankan citizenship on November 21 even before his brother Mahinda could form a government and appoint secretaries to ministries.

It is also widely reported that the immigration department does not have any supporting documents to prove or otherwise that Gotabaya legitimately acquired dual Sri Lankan citizenship. This information has been provided by the Immigration department in response to a query based on the Right to Information Act.

At the time he claimed he renounced US citizenship, Gotabaya was required to apply to the minister in charge of immigration to resume his Sri Lankan citizenship by descent.

He gave up his Sri Lankan citizenship in 2003 when he became a US Citizen. Minister Vajira Abeywardena told reporters last week that Gotabaya did not make a fresh application to resume his Sri Lankan citizenship as required by law.

This raises further questions on the current nationality of Gotabaya. Police confirmed they received two complaints regarding Gotabaya’s citizenship and travel documents and investigations were underway.(COLOMBO, August 15, 2019)