Sri Lanka’s main opposition presidential candidate Gotabhaya Rajapaksa faced a fresh legal challenge Monday as the Court of Appeal entertained a petition questioning his citizenship and the legality of his identity documents.
A formal hearing was scheduled for Wednesday, just five days before nominations for the November 16 polls close.
Two civil society activists, Gamini Viyangoda and Chandraguptha Thenuwara told the Court of Appeal in a Writ application that Rajapaksa had not obtained Sri Lankan nationality in addition to his US citizenship in 2005 when he returned to the country.
The petitioners say that a recent police investigation had shown that Rajapaksa’s purported dual citizenship certificate was not valid because it had been dated at a time when there was no cabinet of ministers or secretaries to issue such a certificate.
Documents filed in court showed that Rajapaksa’s dual nationality certificate was outside the normal numbering system of such certificates. Unlike other certificates, his had been signed by an unknown person on behalf of a ministry secretary.
Court of Appeal was told on Monday that neither the immigration department, the passport office nor the defence ministry had any file supporting the claimed dual nationality of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. In fact, the purported certificate number that he claims is actually that of another person.
The petitioners want the Court of Appeal to declared that the alleged dual citizenship certificate of Rajapaksa has no force in law and all subsequent travel and identity card documents he obtained on the basis of a dual citizen be declared null and void.
Should the court grant the relief sought, Rajapaksa could end up stateless as according to his own statements he had renounced his US citizenship sometime in April this year.
The court ordered the immigration department as well the registrar of persons (identity card office) to issue all documents relating to Rajapaksa’s citizenship status although both departments have already in statements to the CID has made it clear that such files do not exist.
Rajapaksa’s lawyers have also sought orders from court to secure copies of full statements made by immigration and ID card officials to the police investigating the case for nearly two months.
A decision is expected by Friday.
Rajapakse gave up his Sri Lankan citizenship and became a US national in 2003. However, he returned to the island two years later to help his brother Mahinda’s successful presidential election campaign in 2005.
On Thursday, the Criminal Investigations Department in a ‘B’ report informed Colombo Chief magistrate Lanka Jayaratne of the outcome of their investigations into complaints that Rajapaksa had failed to obtain dual nationality in November 2005 as claimed by him.
Official records before court show that Rajapaksa was issued 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.