Recently, the former Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili was stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship by Ukraine’s President, Petro Poroshenko. Saakashvili had previously abandoned his Georgian citizenship so he could take up a major anti-corruption assignment in Ukraine. When his Ukrainian citizenship was cancelled, he pledged to return to Ukraine to mobilize his supporters there, to defy Poroshenko’s decision. It is difficult to see how Saakashvili can return to Ukraine, however, since there is no way he can travel anywhere as a stateless human being. He may have to claim asylum in the United States first. This series of events leads into a very interesting ethical question, namely, whether holding dual citizenship could result in a conflict of interests in high office and whether persons holding high office should abandon their second citizenships.
A good starting place for such a discussion is to recall our own Presidential election and the status of one of President Trump’s fiercest opponents, Senator Ted Cruz.
Currently, there’s no disclosure requirement in U.S. law regarding dual citizenship when running for office, and nothing specific in conflict of interest rules when running for office as a dual citizen. Dual citizenship is a tricky subject at the best of times, bringing up questions of divided loyalties and voluntariness. Being accused of having foreign allegiances can be poisonous for a politician. Michelle Bachmann suffered criticism when she acquired, then gave up Swiss citizenship.Ted Cruz was born both a U.S. and a Canadian dual citizen because he was born in Alberta, Canada but to a U.S. citizen mother. At any time he could have sent off an application in the mail and received his Canadian passport, at least, until he renounced his Canadian citizenship in 2014. Supposedly, Cruz was unaware of his Canadian citizenship until 2013. When it was brought to his attention, he took steps to remove doubt about where his loyalties lay. In this he did the right thing. He did so voluntarily, without the force of any legislative act, albeit, under media exposure and pressure.
Even false accusations like the Obama birther conspiracy theory can be troublesome.
Sometimes, dual citizenship is understandable – countries like Iran and Cuba make it extremely difficult to give up their citizenship, even if their nationals become citizens of another country (like the U.S.). Other times, multiple citizenships are acquired simply for the purposes of convenience. The scenario of convenience is far more open to criticism.
The personal history of Conrad Black, Lord Black of Cross-Harbour serves as an example of how things could and should work. In 2001 Conrad Black, a dual citizen of Canada and Britain, was granted a life peerage in the British House of Lords. The British government had no such legal requirement to give up foreign citizenship to become a Lord. However, the Canadian government has had a long history of banning Canadian citizens from receiving such peerages. In the end, Conrad Black gave up his citizenship to circumvent the Canadian ban to receive his British peerage.
Conrad Black’s case is a relatively benign one. Take the more controversial case of Andriy Artemenko, another Ukrainian. Born in the Soviet Union, now Ukraine, Artemenko acquired Canadian citizenship. Under Ukrainian law at the time, he should have renounced his Ukrainian citizenship within two years, since the country does not allow dual citizenship. But he did not. At the same time as he acquired this citizenship, he began working as a municipal politician in Ukraine while continuing his business interests. In 2014 he was elected to Ukrainian parliament as a member of the Radical Party of Oleh Lyashko. Now, up to this point Artemenko could at most be accused of what many politicians of poor countries around the world do. He acquired the citizenship of a more attractive country for the many benefits it provides, such as ease of movement and legal protections, and did the same for his children.
Then Artemenko went one step further. As a deputy of a non-governing party, he met with Michael Cohen, the personal lawyer of President Donald Trump, presenting a wholly unauthorized peace proposal for the war in Eastern Ukraine. Artemenko insinuated that this proposal had the support of aides close to Putin. In most places, going behind the back of your own government to deliver proposals regarding the territorial integrity of your country would be considered treason. On May 5, 2017, Artemenko was finally stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship, on the grounds that he voluntarily took up Canadian citizenship.
The U.S. and Canada don’t keep track of which congressmen or senators have dual citizenship. Neither does Ukraine (although it really should, considering Ukrainian laws against dual citizenship). But while there might be at most one or two dozen elected representatives in Canada or the U.S. with dual citizenship, the situation in Ukraine is quite different. When questioned in parliament, Artemenko claimed there were over 100 national deputies with at least dual citizenship. It’s a phenomenon that’s a well-known open secret. Many years ago, when Pavlo Lazarenko, former Prime Minister of Ukraine was arrested in Switzerland for money laundering, he was travelling on a Panamanian passport. Today, Roman Nasirov, disgraced former head of the Ukrainian fiscal service may be tried in Britain on corruption charges due to his British citizenship. Little seems to have changed in the country.
One might think of these examples as a spectrum of possibilities, with the U.S. on one end and Ukraine on the other. In the U.S., there’s an expectation that when people serve as an elected representative, they make sure there’s not even an appearance of impropriety or conflict of interest (the Trump circus notwithstanding). In Ukraine, deputies flaunt the laws of the country, route their money into hidden accounts in tax havens, and generally enrich themselves at their country’s expense.
Dual citizenship is attractive for many reasons, but there are times when it simply should not be tolerated. Serving as the elected official of a country at the national level is one of those times. No congressman or senator should have even the appearance of divided loyalties that dual citizenship brings, and one can look to the cases of Ted Cruz and Conrad Black as how things can and ought to play out. Meanwhile, we can only wait to see how Sakaashvili sorts out his problems and whether he will be able to reinstate his Ukrainian status.
This article is reprinted from an article formerly published in the Forbes.