Papua New Guinea's government watchdog has found the citizenship granted to a wealthy Indonesian fugitive was unlawful and should be revoked.

Key points:

  • Tjandra was allowed to change his date of birth and name on PNG passport
  • Ombudsman Commission recommends citizenship and passport be revoked
  • Commisison found then foreign affairs and immigration minister Ano Pala disregarded advice that Tjandra was a fugitive

In 2012 businessman Djoko Tjandra was granted PNG citizenship and given a PNG passport.

That was despite the fact he was a fugitive, on the run after the Indonesian Supreme Court had convicted him of corruption in 2009 and sentenced him to two years' jail.

Concerns were raised in PNG's parliament at the time and the government promised to investigate, but the matter was quietly swept under the carpet.

Now the result of an Ombudsman Commission investigation into the issue has been made public after being tabled in parliament.

The Ombudsman Commission's report outlines what it says is the "improper and unlawful" issuance of citizenship and passports to Tjandra.

It found the then foreign affairs and immigration minister, Ano Pala, granted Tjandra citizenship despite knowing he did not meet constitutional requirements, such as having to reside in the country for eight years.

Mr Pala also disregarded advice from the National Intelligence Organisation, police and Interpol that Tjandra was a wanted fugitive.

'Findings known to government for a long time'

Opposition MP Kerenga Kua was the attorney-general at the time Tjandra was granted citizenship, and said he wasn't surprised by the Ombudsman Commission's findings.

"The findings of the Ombudsman Commission have all been known to government for a long time," he said.

"Government already knew that Djoko Tjandra was illegally granted citizenship in Papua New Guinea."

Mr Kua said he sought cabinet approval at the time to begin court action to have Tjandra's citizenship revoked but he was frustrated by bureaucratic red tape.

"We never got off the ground and that may have been one of the many reasons why I got sacked as attorney-general soon after," he said.

Tjandra allowed to change date of birth

The Ombudsman Commission found many other irregularities in the granting of citizenship and passports to Tjandra.

Its report says Tjandra lodged his citizenship application without paying the prescribed fee as required under the Citizenship Act.

The fee was paid four months later.

Papua New Guinea Justice Minister Ano Pala

Mr Pala printed and signed a certificate of citizenship for Tjandra before the Citizenship Advisory Committee had considered his application.

After being issued a passport in May 2012, Tjandra applied for a new passport three days later along with a statutory declaration changing his name to Joe Chan.

He also changed his date of birth from August 27, 1951 to September 27, 1963.

In June 2012 a new passport was issued under the name of Joe Chan with the new birth date.

Cancelling passport could be problematic

The report and its findings have been welcomed by Lawrence Stephens, the chair of Transparency International PNG.

"People are very pleased that after all these years something has happened," he said.

"We've always felt there was something very strange about the process for somebody to arrive in the country and three years later to be granted citizenship."

The Ombudsman Commission made 18 findings of wrong conduct against immigration officers and Mr Pala.

It recommends Tjandra's citizenship and Joe Chan's passports be cancelled.

Mr Stephens would like to see that happen but said it could be problematic.

"If he has revoked his Indonesian citizenship he becomes stateless and that may cause us a problem if we are trying to declare him stateless," he said.

"That can't happen, so that would tie us up in the courts for another four or five or six or more years."

The Ombudsman Commission also recommends the then chief migration officer, Mataio Rabura, be referred to the police fraud squad, but he died earlier this year.

The watchdog also wants Mr Pala to be referred to its Leadership Division for misconduct in office, but Mr Pala lost his seat in parliament at last year's election.

The ABC attempted to contact Mr Pala but so far has had no response.

In his written response to the Ombudsman Commission's preliminary investigation he denied any wrongdoing.

The PNG government is yet to comment on the results of the investigation or say whether it will implement the recommendations.

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