Sri Lankan Ambassador A Fraud?
By Raisa Wickrematunge
Representing country overseas undoubtedly has its plus points. Being an ambassador necessitates being a symbol of sorts of the country you represent — a good, law-abiding citizen. Unfortunately, it is looking increasingly likely that one of our own ambassadors has indulged in a little law bending (or perhaps just taken advantage of the ubiquitous red tape in government organisations.)
The recent string of political appointments as ambassadors to our missions overseas included the appointment of Ivan Amarasinghe. Kalahe Gamage Ivan Amarasinghe was appointed Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Vietnam in September 2009, during the tenure of former Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama.
Investigations by The Sunday Leader reveal that Amarasinghe obtained a Sri Lankan Diplomatic Passport on October 5, 2009 (Passport number D3642465). Amarasinghe was not a dual citizen of Sri Lanka as of that date or hitherto, according to records available at the Department of Immigration and Emigration, The Sunday Leader reliably learns. He was issued a diplomatic passport to enable him to take up his position as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Vietnam by the Immigration Department in accordance with a letter provided by the Overseas Administration Division (OAD) of the Ministry of External Affairs. It is reliably learned that Amarasinghe produced a M series (ordinary) passport at the point of obtaining his DPL passport.
A Twist In The Tale
So far, nothing at all amiss. Yet, we have now learned that this was far from the end of the story. For according to the curriculum vitae submitted to the Ministry of External Affairs when his appointment was made, Amarasinghe claimed that he migrated to the United Kingdom in 1973 with his wife Amara Nanayakkara. Amarasinghe and his wife have three children, Theshanka, Eresha and Kapila, all of whom are British Citizens and currently reside at No. 6, Constable Close, Neath Hill, Milton Keynes, UK. Amarasinghe’s wife Amara was formerly a British civil servant, The Sunday Leader learns.
Most importantly, the entire Amarasinghe family is listed as being on the UK electoral roll in Milton Keynes in 2004-2005 and most recently in 2009, as registered voters. (See directory information montage) According to the Sri Lanka’s Citizenship Act of 1948 a person ceases to be a citizen of Sri Lanka at the moment of accruing a citizenship of another country. In the event this happens, it is mandatory that such an individual informs immigration authorities immediately, in order to have his Sri Lankan citizenship revoked.
Which brings us to the very interesting question — if Amarasinghe is indeed a Sri Lankan citizen, as he claims, how is it that he and his family are listed on the UK electoral roll? For that matter, how is it that he has a residence in Milton Keynes? This points to one of two scenarios. Either a foreign national was awarded a senior diplomatic position, which is unheard of, or Amarasinghe obtained his British citizenship and fraudulently (or conveniently) forgot to inform the authorities of this important fact. According to Sri Lankan immigration law, Amarasinghe has committed immigration fraud in Sri Lanka by not revealing his actual citizenship status. Furthermore Amarasinghe as a citizen of the UK has no doubt committed a serious crime under British law, by virtue of having obtained a travel document from a country in which he does not hold citizenship through fraudulent means.
Amarasinghe’s case is unprecedented in Sri Lankan diplomatic history. He has obtained his travel documents fraudulently and furthermore deceived not only the Sri Lankan government but also the host government of Vietnam.
Worse than Karuna
The last time such a scandal occurred with regard to the issue of Diplomatic Passports was when former LTTE Eastern Commander Karuna Amman alias Vinyagamoorthy Muralidharan was issued a DPL passport to attend a conference in 2007. At least at that time, immigration officials were sure Karuna was a Sri Lankan citizen. Sneaking through the High Posts Committee further exacerbating the scandal involving Amarasinghe’s immigration fraud, parliamentary sources confirmed to The Sunday Leader that his appointment as Ambassador to Vietnam was never ratified by the Parliamentary High Posts Committee, a mandatory requirement for all Sri Lankan ambassadors / high commissioners appointed to foreign capitals.
Parliamentary sources told The Sunday Leader that had Amarasinghe appeared before the High Posts Committee all these issues would have been raised and made public prior to his taking up appointment in Vietnam. Amarasinghe’s failure to appear before the High Posts Committee is a serious breach of procedure, but one that is overlooked often in this age of political appointments. However, Amarasinghe’s complete lack of regard for immigration laws underscores the importance of the whetting process undertaken by bodies such as the High Posts Committee. The Committee’s intervention may have brought to light Amarasinghe’s previous track record in government positions, and raised red flags for the External Affairs Ministry and the Sri Lankan government as a whole.
Controversy and irregularities are nothing new to Amarasinghe, who was embroiled in a financial scandal a few years ago, when he held the position of chairman, National Institute of Fisheries and Nautical Engineering (NIFNE). The Sunday Leader reported exclusively on July 22, 2007 in a story entitled “COPE Stunned By Sinking Fisheries Institute” that the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) then headed by MP Wijayadasa Rajapakse had faulted Amarasinghe on 12 serious counts which included financial irregularity, abuse of power and even allegations of sexual misconduct.
“What transpired before COPE had been so serious that members of the committee had felt bold enough to declare that though COPE had summoned institutional heads for querying purposes, they have never met someone this inefficient or come across an institution that is so badly managed as NIFNE,” The Sunday Leader article reads. However, most COPE investigations were stopped in their tracks after President Mahinda Rajapaksa prorogued parliament and dissolved the committee, which was in the process of bringing several government agencies to book.
Given the nature of these accusations, The Sunday Leader contacted Ivan Amarasinghe at his office in Vietnam, to hear his side of the story. Replying to our queries regarding his citizenship, Amarasinghe said that he had never had dual citizenship, and had always been a Sri Lankan citizen. Amarasinghe added that there was a copy of his Sri Lankan passport with the External Affairs Ministry as proof of this.
However, when The Sunday Leader called Amarasinghe back for a clarification about his presence on the UK electoral roll for 2009, his personal secretary said that Amarasinghe “was not ready to talk.” This reticence is odd, to say the least — unless, of course, Amarasinghe felt he had something to hide. Certainly, there remain many unanswered questions. Of course, given Amarasinghe’s political connections, it is likely that he will move swiftly to obtain dual citizenship status as soon as this article appears in print. However it would bode well for the External Affairs Ministry to take steps to authenticate claims made by prospective appointees in order to prevent embarrassment for Sri Lanka in the eyes of a host government and the diplomatic community at large by the actions of dubious individuals appointed to high office in the Sri Lankan government sector.