Monday, March 31, 2008

Sri Lanka: LTTE man charged under Canada's terrorism financing law

Prapa Thambithurai, a 45-year-old satellite dish installer who emigrated from Sri Lanka two decades ago and now living in a suburban duplex north of Toronto, is alleged to be a bagman for the Tigers.

Two weeks ago, Thambithurai became the first person charged under Canada's terrorism financing law, which makes it a crime to collect money knowing it "will be used by or will benefit a terrorist group."

Part of the Anti-Terrorism Act brought in after 9/11, the law has been on the books for more than six years, but nobody had ever been charged until Thambithurai's car was pulled over in New Westminster, B.C. on March 14 night.

Police seized more than $1,000 in cash as well as pledge forms, Thambithurai told the National Post in his first public comments since his arrest.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) alleges he was soliciting for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, (LTTE), which is on Canada's list of outlawed terrorist groups.

Thambithurai was active in the Vancouver chapter of the World Tamil Movement (WTM), which came under police investigation in 2003 as an alleged Tiger front organisation.

RCMP Corporal Paul Huston visited the WTM office in Vancouver in 2004 and described what he saw in a search warrant application: "Inside the office, behind the counter was a large picture of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the LTTE, with the logo of the WTM on the picture, a large flag of the LTTE was positioned by the front door beside the flag of British Columbia; inside a glass cabinet were LTTE compact discs and flags for sale; on a bookshelf beside the glass cabinet were videos and books for sale or rent; behind the front counter were WTM newspapers for sale."

Since moving to Ontario four years ago, Thambithurai has kept a low profile. He runs a company called Solar Satellite Service and has three children. He said he was not active in the Ontario branch of the WTM, which is also under police investigation.

But when he returned to B.C. earlier this month and began collecting money, police moved quickly. The RCMP said in a press release he was "targeting residents of the Lower Mainland of Tamil heritage to make cash donations to support the LTTE."

The case is a first for Canada but it follows a series of similar arrests in Europe and the United States that have taken down key figures in what is sometimes called Tigers Inc., the global financial network that sends money and arms to the Tigers.

"It is estimated that 95 per cent of the LTTE's operational revenue is generated outside Sri Lanka," says a declassified report by Canada's Integrated Threat Assessment Centre.

The World Tamil Movement is an important part of that financial pipeline, the RCMP says. Members of the group collect "war taxes" from ethnic Tamils in Canada and send the money to the Tigers, police said.

While some give voluntarily, others feel pressured to donate. Tigers, supporters will visit a family up to three times a week seeking cash.

"Fundraisers may refuse to leave the house without a pledge of money, and have told individuals who claim not to have funds available to borrow the money, to place contributions on their credit cards, or even to re-mortgage their homes," Human Rights Watch wrote in a 2006 report.

The cash seized from Thambithurai's car is but a fraction of the $209-million that Canada's anti-money laundering agency, FINTRAC, says passed through Canadian financial institutions last year despite suspected links to terrorist activity and other security threats.

Given the amount of terrorist-related money said to be moving through Canada to support violent causes from Lebanon to Afghanistan, to some of the most surprising part about the arrest is why it took so long.

The RCMP first raided the WTM's Canadian headquarters in Scarborough, Ont., in 2006. Police have been pouring over the seized evidence for almost two years now.

A judge has given police until the middle of next month to either return the materials or press charges.

Thambithuri faces a possible 10-year jail term if convicted but insisted the money he collected was "100 per cent" for humanitarian relief and had nothing to do with terrorism.

Tigers in Canada

October 18, 1995: Manickavasagam Suresh, then the co-ordinator of the World Tamil Movement, is arrested for allegedly raising money for the Tigers. Immigration officials have been trying to deport him ever since but he has remained in Canada by launching repeated court appeals.

September. 16, 1998 RCMP officers arrest Muralitharan Nadarajah, alleging he is a former leader of the Swiss branch of the Tigers and had entered Canada on a false passport.

November 24, 2005 RCMP search the Vancouver office of the World Tamil Movement (WTM).

March 15, 2006 Human Rights Watch reports the Tigers are using extortion tactics to raise money in Toronto.

April 10, 2006 The Canadian government announces the Tamil Tigers have been placed on Ottawa's list of designated terrorist entities. April 12, 2006 RCMP search the WTM's Montreal office.

April 22, 2006 RCMP search the Toronto WTM office and seize a moving truck full of materials. Police later claim they found manuals on missile guidance systems, books encouraging suicide bombings, an Elections Canada voter list and evidence of terrorist fundraising. No charges have been laid.

August 21, 2006 Following a joint FBI-RCMP investigation, Project O-Needle, seven Canadians are charged for allegedly trying to buy weapons for the LTTE.

November 15, 2007 The US Treasury freezes the assets of the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization office in Toronto, alleging it is part of a worldwide network that covertly supports the Tigers.

March 14, 2008 Prapa Thambithurai is arrested in New Westminster, B.C., and becomes the first person charged under Canada's terrorist financing law. National Post, Canada)

The Law on Financing Terrorism

Providing, making available, etc., property or services for terrorist purposes.

Criminal Code SECTION 83.03

Everyone who, directly or indirectly, collects property, provides or invites a person to provide, or makes available property or financial or other related services:

(a) intending that they be used, or knowing that they will be used, in whole or in part, for the purpose of facilitating or carrying out any terrorist activity, or for the purpose of benefiting any person who is facilitating or carrying out such an activity, or

(b) knowing that, in whole or part, they will be used by or will benefit a terrorist group, is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than 10 years.

Source: Ministry of Defence, Public Security, Law & Order - Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka Courtesy : Daily News