Sri Lanka woke up to a document circulating on social media and messaging platforms like Whatsapp and Viber on Tuesday morning.
The document was a purported “certificate of nationality of the United States” – and Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s name and date of birth was on it.
Within hours social media sleuths and fact-checkers got to work. A single Google search turned up swift results. The document was a mirror image of the sample US renunciation certificate on Wikipedia. The name of the official who had signed the certificate was Joel Fifield. The same official had purportedly signed Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s certificate. Except in the Wikipedia sample, Fifield was an US official working at the US consulate in Paraguay. Rajapaksa’s US passport number was wrong. His date of obtaining US citizenship was listed as March 2003 when he actually became a citizen of the United States on 31 January 2003. The image had no EXIM data, information that reveals the camera settings used to take the picture, which immediately aroused suspicion. It also claimed that Gotabaya Rajapaksa had signed away his US citizenship at the US Embassy in Colombo on July 5 – when in fact on that day he was in Singapore receiving treatment for a heart ailment.
By Tuesday evening, the former Defence Secretary himself was forced to admit the document was false. Full of bravado, Rajapaksa claimed he had the ‘real certificate’ but refused to show it to the press. He also claimed he was in possession of a Sri Lankan passport – a privilege extended to all dual citizens.
On the face of it, the fake certificate caused serious confusion. The scheme obviously caused deep embarrassment to the former Defence Secretary. But speculation also swirled that his own campaign was in fact behind the inspired leak. Under the terms of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, foreign citizens cannot contest for elected office in Sri Lanka.
Colombo Telegraph can now reveal the origins of the forged certificate and why the Gotabaya Rajapaksa 2019 presidential campaign decided it had to be distributed.
Several media reports have already indicated that the document reached journalists first via stock brokers and market dealers. The original distributor hoped that the brokers would leak the information to drive share prices up, resulting in the stock market soaring on the news that Gotabaya’s citizenship conundrum was finally behind him.
Allegedly Media Moghul and stock market manipulator extraordinaire Dilith Jayaweera’s confidant was the original distributor Colombo Telegraph learns. Jayaweera who also owns the advertising agency TRIAD had the document doctored and circulated it widely, particularly among his stock market cohorts. The problem was that Jayaweera’s ad agency associates had done a terrible job of faking the document. The entire scheme crumbled like a house of cards on initial scrutiny, creating a news cycle that was the last thing Team Gotabaya wanted, with its candidate in waiting being forced to play coy again about revealing proof that his US citizenship problem was firmly behind him.
Colombo Telegraph learns that Jayaweera was hoping that a boost in the stock market would convince former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to declare Gotabaya as candidate on August 11. The Gotabaya campaign team has got jittery about his chances at the candidacy after the former President told family members recently that he was worried a Gota 2020 candidacy could result in a tidal wave of legal challenges that would seriously hamper the SLPP’s chances.
When the former Defence Secretary declared his candidacy soon after the Easter Sunday carnage, the shares at the Colombo Stock Exchange soared. Jayaweera was hoping the forged certificate would achieve the same effect.
Alas, this was not to be.
The market surged a bit in the morning, but had dropped 43 points by the end of the day’s trading.
Brokers said there seemed to be an initial surge with the release of the document, but the rally fizzled out when the certificate was debunked as fake within a few hours.
Jayaweera is a master of stock market manipulation, and his ‘pump and dump’ schemes when the Rajapaksas were in power is the stuff of market legend. The Auditor General found that even the EPF had invested heavily in stocks ‘pumped’ by high net worth investors like Jayaweera. Greenlanka, Entrust, Perpetual Holdings (the company behind the 2015 bond scam) Entrust, The Finance and several others were behind the Rajapaksa era pump and dump scandals in the Colombo Stock Exchange. After artificially boosting largely low-value shares, the high net worth investors would sell out in droves, bringing the share prices crashing down and resulting in losses for small time investors and even large pension funds like the EPF. The EPF was often manipulated into engaging in risky investments through payoffs to EPF officials by companies like Perpetual.
The inability to bring manipulators like Jayaweera to book given the backing he enjoyed from the powerful former Defence Secretary in particular resulted saw at least two chairpersons of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the CSE regulatory authority quit in disgust.
Jayaweera has continued to enjoy immunity from accountability for his dubious dabbling in the market even under the Yahapalanaya administration. Ishini Wickremesinghe, the niece and now coordinating secretary to the Prime Minister, is a Jayaweera’s close associate and gives him access to the high echelons of power even in the post 2015 administration. Over time Jayaweera has befriended Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and even Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera. In 2018, the UNP made an astounding move by gifting a Rs 200 million advertising campaign to Jayaweera’s ad agency TRIAD.
Colombo Telegraph has been unable to reach Jayaweera for comment. (By T Bambaradeniya)