- Daily FT exposé sparks police investigations
- Gota violated tourist visa conditions to campaign for MR
- Before becoming a citizen, Gota was Lanka’s first foreign Defence Secretary
- PM knows how passport was issued, Gota’s citizenship status unclear – Vajira A.
By a Special Correspondent
Two civil society activists, Gamini Viyangoda and Professor Chandragupta Thenuwara have lodged complaints with police headquarters demanding a probe into the revelations contained in the Daily FT last Monday (5) about irregularities in Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Sri Lankan citizenship, recent passport and political activities in Sri Lanka as an American citizen. Daily FT previously revealed that Rajapaksa, who is widely tipped to be the presidential candidate of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), came to Sri Lanka as an American on a tourist visa in 2005 to support his brother’s election campaign, and purportedly acquired dual citizenship immediately after his brother’s victory under mysterious circumstances.
Further exposed in Monday’s issue were that files relating to Rajapaksa’s dual citizenship do not exist at the Immigration Department and that computer records were made only in January 2014. Rajapaksa was also registered to vote in 2005 despite being ineligible as an American citizen, and in May this year obtained a passport on a new National Identity Card (NIC) that is not tied in immigration records to his previous passports and court-ordered travel restrictions.
Viyangoda’s complaint to the Acting Inspector General of Police (IGP), C.D. Wickremaratne, stressed that Rajapaksa “is an alleged criminal who is on trial for corruption and criminal misappropriation of public funds,” and that were he to be elected President, “all criminal proceedings would cease.” He said it is of paramount importance for Sri Lanka’s national security and justice system that immediate investigations be conducted into possible criminal offences and “whether Rajapaksa did indeed ever legally obtain dual citizenship in Sri Lanka after renouncing his allegiance to this country and pledging fealty to the United States in 2003.”
Prof. Thenuwara, in a similar complaint, did not name Rajapaksa, but described him as a “former senior public official” who is “currently enlarged on bail” facing criminal proceedings instituted by both the Attorney-General and the Bribery Commission.
Other activist groups, speaking to Daily FT, said they too are likely to complain to the police and explore additional avenues to force the police to act, out of concern that the police brass and immigration officials are fearful of moving against Rajapaksa so close to an election in case he becomes President. “This won’t be like Helping Hambantota. It could become a bloodbath,” a senior officer said.
Rajapaksa acquired US citizenship on 31January, 2003, according to a document published on Twitter by his spokesman Milinda Rajapaksha. He therefore ceased to be a Sri Lankan citizen on this date. Section 20 (5) of the Citizenship Act states that “a person who is a citizen of Sri Lanka by descent shall cease to be a citizen of Sri Lanka if he voluntarily becomes a citizen of any other country.”
Official records indicate that Rajapaksa returned to Sri Lanka as a US citizen on an American passport on 3 July 2005 using a tourist visa. In an affidavit he filed with the Supreme Court in May 2015 to support an application to prevent his arrest in several criminal cases including the MiG Deal, Avant Garde floating armoury scam and financial crimes at Mihin Lanka, Rajapaksa declared under penalty of perjury that he returned to Sri Lanka to “assist” his brother “in the election campaign” for the presidency. The conditions of Rajapaksa’s on-arrival visit visa permit only “bona fide tourist” activity and forbid “visit for purposes other than holiday.”
The day Mahinda Rajapaksa took oaths as President, Friday, 18 November 2005, Gotabaya Rajapaksa apparently lodged a dual citizenship application that was fast-tracked, and approved on Monday, 21 November. However, according to the few records that exist of this event in Immigration Department systems, Rajapaksa’s purported dual citizenship only became effective on 30 November 2005. He was appointed Defence Secretary on 24 November 2005.
A review and record search by senior immigration officials last week sparked a panic. The file of Rajapaksa’s dual citizenship application and grant could not be found, nor could any trace of its location. Electronic records of the 2005 saga turned out to have been entered in January 2014, nine years later.
The relevant page of the manually written and maintained ‘Register of Dual Citizenship’ maintained by the Citizenship Section of the Immigration Department showed signs of tampering, with an application number for Rajapaksa written above a certificate number with a different pen, along with other signs of doctoring, according to two officials who saw the page and requested anonymity to discuss sensitive official records.
Meanwhile, the Government appears nonplussed as to how Gotabaya Rajapaksa apparently side-stepped the law relating to dual citizens reacquiring full Sri Lankan citizenship and obtained a new NIC and passport on 6 May within a matter of hours, without the necessary endorsement that he is a dual citizen. “This was beyond the purview of the Controller General [of Immigration],” a senior official said. “Per the law, all citizenship matters must be decided by the Minister, who has total discretion, per the Citizenship Act and the Constitution.”
Speaking to journalists on Thursday (8), Home and Internal Affairs Minister Vajira Abeywardena addressed allegations that he and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had exercised political influence to assist the budding SLPP candidate to obtain an irregular passport and sidestep immigration law. “We know how this happened,” Abeywardena quipped after the press conference. “But I cannot comment until the Prime Minister has spoken on the matter.”