Fijian officials have rejected claims Australian-born terrorist Neil Prakash is a citizen of their country, leading the federal opposition to label Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton as an embarrassment to the country.
Last month Mr Dutton revealed the federal government had revoked Prakash’s rights as an Australian citizen because of his affiliation with the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group.
The federal government argued it could strip his citizenship because it had “clear advice” he had, or was entitled to, Fijian citizenship.
Prakash was born in Melbourne to a Fijian father and Cambodian mother. He is currently in jail in Turkey, awaiting trial on multiple terror charges.
Now Fiji’s Immigration Director Nemani Vuniwaqa has told the ABC there is no evidence of Prakash or his parents ever being Fijian citizens.
“[There are] no records of Mr Prakash being a Fiji citizen,” he said.
“We do not have any records of his immediate family either, unless if it was provided to the department.”
Fijian law states the children of a former citizen can apply for citizenship, provided that one of their parents was still a citizen at the time of their birth.
In an indication of how Canberra has handled the matter, Mr Vuniwaqa said he had not received any communication from the Australian government about Prakash’s case.
“I first received info from a local media source who quoted that Mr Prakash had been stripped of his Australian citizenship,” he said.
“There was no formal communication with regards to the plans by the Australian government.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is making an official visit to Fiji next week, where the matter will likely be discussed.
Shadow Immigration Minister Shayne Neumann said Mr Dutton had badly mishandled the situation.
If Neil Prakash is not a Fijian national, then his citizenship as an Australian cannot be stripped from him. He can’t be rendered stateless.
“Peter Dutton didn’t consult, or have his department consult with the Fijian government before he announced that he was stripping this terrorist of citizenship,” Mr Neumann said.
“Peter Dutton is a shameless, self-serving media tart on this issue and what he’s done is embarrassed himself, has embarrassed the Prime Minister, embarrassed our country, and in a week’s time Prime Minister Morrison has to go to Fiji to sort out Peter Dutton’s mess.”
The federal government is standing by its decision.
“Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has been very clear in his comments about Neil Prakash. He’s made it clear what the government’s position is,” cabinet minister Paul Fletcher said.
“He’s also made it clear he’s not going to be providing a running commentary on this matter.”