A diplomatic disagreement was developing between Australia and Fiji as Peter Dutton insisted on Wednesday afternoon that Islamic State fighter, Neil Prakash, was a Fijian citizen.
On Friday it was revealed Australian authorities had revoked the Australian citizenship of 27-year-old Prakash over his association with offshore terrorism groups, on the understanding he also held citizenship in Fiji.
Under Australian law a dual national can be stripped of their Australian citizenship if they have committed terrorists acts, but international law prohibits rendering a person stateless.
However on Tuesday Fijian immigration authorities said they have no record of Prakash, who was born in Australia but has Fijian-Indian and Cambodian background.
Dutton called a press conference on Wednesday afternoon to insist the legal advice given by the government solicitor “was clear”.
“The advice to the government based on all the intricate detail and fact of this particular matter is that Mr Prakash is, by operation of law, a citizen of Fiji,” Dutton said.
“As I say the Fijians were advised some time ago and we’ve been working with the Fijians and will continue that relationship.”
The director of the Fijian immigration department, Nemani Vuniwaqa, told Guardian Australia unequivocally the 27-year-old Prakash had never held or sought Fijian citizenship. He also said no Australian government representative had contacted him.
“The law states that if you are born outside of Fiji, the father has to apply for citizenship for the child,” Vuniwaqa said. “He hasn’t applied for it, his father hasn’t applied for it.”
Prakash was born in Australia and is of Fijian-Indian and Cambodian background, and the government’s understanding was that he held Fijian citizenship, the Australian reported on Saturday.
“Dual citizens who choose to be involved in terrorism forfeit the privileges of Australian citizenship, and I remain committed to enforcing the legal provisions that remove them,” the home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, said on Saturday.
First reported by the Fiji Sun, Vuniwaqa said he had searched through Fijian immigration records and confirmed Prakash had not entered the country, or applied for citizenship. Nor had his father apply on his behalf, the official said.
“He was born in Australia and has acquired Australian citizenship since birth,” he told the paper.
Vuniwaqa told Guardian Australia he learned of the Australian government’s claim that Prakash was Fijian through the media, and no one had spoken to his department.