By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
The crackdown on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) by the Swiss Federal Police on January 11th where ten top tiger activists were taken into custody is a development of enormous significance.
[pic. Courtesy of SwissInfo.ch]
Helvetia or Switzerland is home to 40-42,000 Tamils of Sri Lankan origin. While this number is less than that of the Tamil Diaspora in countries like Canada, Britain, USA, France or Australia, the immense contribution made by the Tamils of Switzerland to the war effort of the LTTE has proportionately exceeded that of Tamils living in other Western countries.
The Swiss Tamils in recent times have provided much money power, man power and muscle power towards the tiger cause.This qualitative contribution has made Switzerland being regarded as the “Puligalin Kottai” (tiger fort) in Europe.
When viewed against this backdrop the recent crackdown by Swiss authorities seems to be a harbinger of bad tidings for the future of the LTTE in Switzerland. The tiger “Pappadam” seems to be crumbling in Helvetia as a number of Tamils seem to have come forward to testify against the LTTE operatives.
Among those arrested are the present head of the LTTE in Switzerland Vijaratnam Sivanesan alias Ragu a.k.a Ragupathy, his predecessor Chelliah Kularajasekeram alias Kulam and the influential Swiss tiger finance chief Chelliah Jeyapalan alias Abdullah
If the Swiss authorities are successful in their attempt to prosecute leading tiger functionaries, it would certainly result in a weakening of the tiger structures in Switzerland and loosen the LTTE grip on the Tamil people there.
For such a prosecution to be successful the full cooperation of Swiss Tamils affected by the LTTE is a pre-requisite. It appears that in this instance many Tamils are indeed cooperating with the authorities to bring leading tiger operatives to justice. This is in contrast to earlier situations where Tamils have been “reluctant” to give evidence against the LTTE.
The significant aspect of this cooperation is the fact that most people willing to testify against the LTTE are not non –LTTE victims but people who had at one time been ardent supporters of the movement. The tiger bubble in Switzerland has burst mainly because people from within LTTE ranks have come forward to blow the whistle against their own camp.
This unusual development was caused mainly because of the actions of the tiger operatives themselves. In an act of gross recklessness and betrayal these elements generated bank loans in the names of their supporters, misappropriated those sums and have made no attempt to help pay back the money.
This left the people who had taken those loans in a very vulnerable and desperate situation. The financial institutions that had lent the money were also in a predicament. In such a situation the erstwhile tiger supporters have been compelled to complain to the authorities and comply with their directives in prosecuting the major LTTE operatives.
If these meaningful efforts do reach their logical conclusion and leading tiger personalities are successfully prosecuted then that would set a precedent which in turn could have a demonstration effect on other western countries with large pro – tiger Tamil Diaspora elements also.
In order to understand the implications and ramifications of the recent Swiss crackdown it is essential to understand how the LTTE fund raising mechanism operates abroad. There are generally five modes.
The first is the mode known as “SO” or Standing order. This is a method by which committed supporters of the LTTE make arrangements through their banks for a monthly sum to be sent directly to the front organization of the LTTE in his or her country. This is comparatively a small sum but has regularity guaranteed.
There is no coercion in this because those who contribute are genuine supporters who do so willingly. The funds raised through this method are used for the running of LTTE branches/fronts in each country and not sent to Sri Lanka or used to buy arms.
The second is the annual general collection. This is a collection drive executed on an on going basis throughout the years. In this Tamils regardless of whether they are active supporters or not are targeted. Pledges are extracted for certain sums of money to be paid in a few instalments.
Force, intimidation and coercion is used frequently in these collections to make people pay up or increase the sums of money promised. An easy way of frightening Tamils was by threatening harm to family members living in Sri Lanka. A large number of people paid up willingly too.
Earlier tiger collectors used to work on a voluntary basis but later the collectors were paid a commission depending on the amount they collected. This incentive resulted in a massive increase in the fund raising. At the same time enthusiastic collectors engaged in violence and intimidation to increase the amount collected as their own income through commissions too increased proportionately. In France LTTE collectors had a farm outside Paris where abducted Tamils were taken and held as captives until ransoms were paid or huge payments guaranteed.
The money raised through these collections were spent in three ways. A substantial portion of it was sent to the LTTE headquarters in the Wanni for maintenance and upkeep of the movement. Another portion was sent to procurement agents abroad for arms and ammunition purchases. A third and perhaps the largest portion was used for investment and setting up businesses abroad.
The third form of fund raising is the one known as “Special collection”. This is actually a kind of credit or loan arrangement used exclusively to facilitate acquisition of arms. This concept was pioneered by Selvarasah Pathmanathan alias KP decades ago when he was in charge of the LTTE overseas procurement or arms purchases.
What had happened then was that huge amounts of money were required at short notice to make arms purchases. KP who was then in overall charge of overseas LTTE administration and fund raising hit upon the idea of a special collection to raise funds at short notice.
A special collection was one where trusted, diehard supporters of the LTTE in each country particularly those whose credit was good with banks, would obtain loans in their names and then transfer the money to the local LTTE agent or front. In most instances they would use their line of credit or put up their houses as collateral to get loans.
By this method a huge amount of money would be secured rapidly and utilised for arms purchases. The interest due to the banks for these loans would be given by the local LTTE branch through the funds obtained through Standing orders. While the interest was paid off regularly in this way the principal was also paid off gradually through the money raised by the general collection.
KP made sure that all the loans procured by tiger supporters in their personal capacity for a special collection was paid off without default in due course. His successors too followed suit. Thus the special collection idea caught on among LTTE supporters and exceedingly large amounts were raised and paid off without mishap. A special collection is usually undertaken once in eighteen months.
Apart from these there are two other broad methods to generate funds. One is by staging performances and shows and by selling stuff like calendars, videos, DVD’s, Audio CD’s, books, magazines, newspapers, souveneirs etc. Money is also raised by staging black tigers day, great heroes day celebrations too. On the one hand people are charged large amounts for admission while people are also asked to make donations to cover the expenses.
Finally there is the investment in commercial concerns. The LTTE justified its entry into pure commercial pursuits by stating that avenues of regular income should be ensured to sustain the armed struggle at all times. Since reliance on contributions alone could prove unsteady in the long run the tigers needed to set up commercial enterprises on a wide-ranging basis it was argued.
Once LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran gave his consent the floodgates were opened. The LTTE branches engaged in different types of businesses through front agents or “benamis”. Screening Tamil films, restaurants, take –out food services, real estate, grocery shops, printing presses, construction, money transfer services, property development, computer services, trucking, etc were some of the businesses engaged in.
Some businesses were started anew while in many instances the tigers pumped in money to existing ones and acquired control. These businesses pay part of the profits to the LTTE while in some instances those running the businesses are paid regular salaries.
There has been much “abuse and corruption” in this regard as most of the front agents are relatives or associates of prominent LTTE stalwarts. Several LTTE run businesses have gone bankrupt while others continue to “show” loss. After the Mullivaaikkaal debacle of May 2009 many running these businesses have appropriated them.
What has gone wrong in Switzerland for the LTTE is symptomatic of what is happening elsewhere too after the fall of the LTTE in the Wanni. This is why developments in Switzerland could have far –reaching consequences in the future for the LTTE.
Switzerland had only a handful of Tamils decades ago. The numbers began increasing gradually as the ethnic conflict escalated in Sri Lanka. The 1979 declaration of emergency in Jaffna during which Tamil youths like Inbam were executed in cold blood and several others incarcerated resulted in large numbers of Tamil youths seeking political asylum in European countries. The enactment of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) exacerbated this outflow further.
The 1981 May-June violence in Jaffna where indisciplined sections of the Police force burnt down the Jaffna public library, “Eezhanaadu” newspaper office, TULF headquarters, Jaffna MP Yogeswarans house etc saw another spurt in asylum seeking. Then came the July 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom which resulted in a massive on going migration of Tamils to European destinations.
Thus the Tamil population in Switzerland began increasing with boosts in 1979, 1981 and 1983. Thereafter there has been a steady flow of Tamils into Switzerland while some Tamils have been moving out of the Country also. In recent times several media personnel from Sri Lanka have sought refuge in Switzerland, Currently there are 2200 refugee applicants from Sri Lanka in Switzerland.
Unlike Tamils in countries like UK, USA, Australia or Canada the Swiss Tamils have not gone in for higher education in a big way. They are also not well represented in white collar jobs. Most Tamils hold blue collar jobs in factories, restaurants,transport, city maintenance, senior care and janitorial services etc. They are generally hardworking and earn about 2-4,000 francs per month. (One swiss franc equals. 1.06 US dollar and 117 Lankan rupees). Several Tamils who earned well in Switzerland have relocated to Britain and Canada.
The number of Sri Lankan Tamils in Switzerland is estimated at 40 – 42,000. These Tamils consist of supporters from all Tamil political parties and militant organizations. Gradually the LTTE began gaining supremacy. It’s plus point was the claim that the LTTE was the sole organization conducting the armed struggle in Sri Lanka. Persuasion through intensive propaganda coupled with strong arm tactics helped the LTTE establish near monolithic control over the Tamils in Switzerland. The only point of effective resistance to the LTTE in Switzerland has been the Peoples Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) led by Sokkalingam Gnanalingam alias Ranjan.
The LTTE in Switzerland received a massive fillip when Sathasivampillai Krishnakumar alias Kittu moved there from London in 1991. The widely popular Kittu who had been the tiger military commander for Jaffna from 1984 – 1987 had set up an international secretariat for the LTTE in London. He was forced to move to Switzerland to evade possible arrest in Britain
Kittu’s short stay in Switzerland galvanized LTTE supporters. A credible structure was set up. The charismatic Kittu was also able to attract large numbers of Tamils towards the LTTE in Switzerland. Kittu’s sojourn in Switzerland strengthened the hands of Nadarajah Muraleetharan alias Murali the LTTE leader for Switzerland.
Building upon the groundwork laid by Kittu, Murali was able to re-furbish and develop the LTTE in Switzerland. During Murali’s tenure from 1991 to 1997 the LTTE in Switzerland grew in strength.Murali set up a network of Tamil schools in Switzerland as well as a chain of grocery shops known as “Makkal kadaigal” or peoples shops. A negative feature of Murali’s swiss leadership was the recourse to violence to suppress opposition, stifle dissent or coerce people into paying up.
The methods employed by Murali or Swiss Murali succeeded to a great extent and the tigers were well entrenched in Switzerland.LTTE Rallies in Zurich,Berne and Geneva saw thousands attending. Tamils from Switzerland also helped increase crowds at meetings in other European countries. Swiss Tamils also achieved a proportionate first in terms of fund raising. The average Swiss Tamil contributed the largest amount to the LTTE on a per capita basis.
Murali became the blue eyed boy of LTTE supremo Prabhakaran because of the result oriented performance of the Swiss Tamils. There was a time when Prabhakaran told a well –known announcer from the BBC Tamil service that Muraleetharan of Switzerland was the most efficient of the LTTE’s overseas branch heads. But Muraleetharan like Humpty –Dumpty was to have a great fall!
In 1996 Murali along with fourteen other LTTE activists were arrested by Swiss authorities for alleged violence, intimidation and extortion. Subsequently Murali was detained for eight months while the others were released on bail. Muraleetharan on his part sued Swiss authorities for wrongful arrest and confinement.Meanwhile efforts were underway to threaten and persuade Tamil witnesses from testifying against Murali.
During the period Murali was in jail his detractors within the LTTE managed to convince the LTTE hierarchy that he had to be removed from office for the benefit of the movement. So Murali was removed from office when he was acquitted in 1997. Murali was ordered to return to the Wanni. Refusing to do so the former Swiss tiger leader relocated to Canada with his family. He now resides in Canada but is yet referred to as “Swiss Murali”. Interestingly Murali won his case seeking damages for wrongful arrest and obtained a huge sum of money as compensation from Switzerland while living in Canada.
Despite Swissmurali’s downfall and departure the LTTE continued to flourish in Switzerland. After a period of collective leadership Chelia Kulasekarasingham alias Kulam a.k. a Avro Kulam was appointed Swiss tiger chief. Kulam was an early member of the LTTE and a close associate of Velupillai Prabhakaran. Kulam became known as “Avro Kulam” after being arrested for alleged involvement in the bomb explosion in an Air Ceylon plane at Ratmalana in September 1978.
Kulam’s position was in jeopardy after KP was forced to quit in 2002. Manivannan alias Castro the new overseas LTTE chief regarded Kulam as a KP loyalist and began sidelining him. Kulam could not be removed from office by Castro as the veteran Kulam had a close, personal relationship with Prabhakaran. So Castro began undermining Kulam and gave prominence and power to another person whose nom de guerre was Abdullah.
Abdullah whose real name was Chelliah Jeyapalan hailed from Aanaikottai in Jaffna.He was made financial chief of the Swiss tigers and effectively wielded real power. Kulam gradually deteriorated into a figurehead. Despite his growing ineffectiveness there came a time when Kulam was forced out of even his nominal leadership.
This was in March 2009 and the circumstances of his removal have a bearing on the current crisis enveloping the LTTE in Switzerland. What had happened was that in 2007-2008 the LTTE conducted a massive fund raising campaign overseas for what it termed “Iruthi Yutham” or final war. Switzerland once again was at the forefront and a massive amount of money was raised both as general collection and special collection.
But then in early 2009, Castro instructed the Swiss tigers to launch another special collection to buy arms. He was very keen that the Swiss tigers with the reputation of being successful fund raisers for the LTTE should once gain take the lead in this. But Kulam the Swiss LTTE chief was not willing and firmly opposed Castro on this. Kulam pointed out that the loans taken for the previous special collection had not been paid up and undertaking another special collection would be too much of a burden for the people to bear.
With direct communications between Prabhakaran and Kulam being ruptured due to the escalation of war it was easy for Castro and his henchman in Europe Sivaparan Perinbananayagm alias Nediyavan to remove Kulam from office. Once again a collective leadership was established and a fresh fund raising campaign spearheaded by Jeyapalan alias Abdullah was launched. This resulted in a split in the Swiss tiger structure with Kunam and his loyalists being estranged and alienated.
The special collection for the ostensible purpose of raising funds for an emergency purchase of arms struck a responsive chord among many tiger supporters and loyalists because of the prevailing climate.
The LTTE was becoming rapidly boxed into a thin strip of littoral in the Karaithuriapatru AGA division along the Mullaitheevu coast. When the overseas tigers launched a fund raising campaign saying arms had to be acquired urgently to commence a counter-offensive and annihilate the enemy, an emotionally overwrought Diaspora began filling tiger coffers again.
This was the case not only in Switzerland but in almost every country where large concentrations of Tamils were living. The LTTE overseas structures conducted a broad based Special collection fund raising campaign where large numbers of LTTE supporters began taking out bank loans in their names and then transferring the funds to the LTTE to purchase arms. In some instances the LTTE also provided an incentive by promising to pay interest for the loans. This was in addition to reimbursing the interest paid for the loans to the banks.
Thus the period between March 2009 to May 2009 saw a very large sum of money being raised world-wide through bank loans in the form of special collections. As usual Switzerland was once again at the forefront and topped the list in raising funds. The overseas LTTE succeeded in raising a huge amount of money within a period of three or four months.
Despite this last minute frenzy in fund raising the harsh reality was that not even a cent was used to buy, let alone send arms to the Wanni. While big sums of money raised for the avowed objective of buying arms lay unutilised abroad the LTTE itself suffered military defeat and annihilation in Mullivaaikkaal. In one decisive blow the military equation underwent a drastic transformation.
Meanwhile the seeds of the current crisis were being sown among tiger and pro-tiger elements in the Diaspora. The money raised through bank loans had gone into the pockets of vested interests related to the LTTE. Ardent supporters who had taken the loans in their names were in difficulty being unable to re-pay. The tiger bigwigs who had guaranteed repayment were inaccessible and playing hide and seek.
A groundswell of resentment and anger is growing in the hearts and minds of overseas Tamils who have been loyal supporters of the LTTE. This is what we are witnessing now in Switzerland where the LTTE “pappadam” has begun to crumble. Swiss Tamils are suffering more than Tamils elsewhere in this respect because they have exceeded their capacity to generate funds for the LTTE and have been badly let down by the tiger leaders.
TO BE CONTINUED
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at email@example.com