Recent events have focused the media spotlight on the Federal Republic of Switzerland known officially as the Swiss Confederation. The landlocked European nation is respected highly on a global scale due to its policy of armed neutrality. Despite the impeccable credentials of Switzerland, the country is being viewed negatively by influential sections of the Sri Lankan people. There is suspicion that an orchestrated campaign is being pursued by certain elements to depict the country as an “enemy” of Sri Lanka.Three recent happenings concerning Switzerland – Sri Lanka relations have contributed to this unfortunate state of affairs.
The first is the accusation that ace CID sleuth and chief inspector of Police Nishantha Silva has sought political asylum along with his family in Switzerland. Nishantha Silva is suspected of taking along with him files and documents of several on-going cases in Sri Lanka. These could be damaging to Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council it is felt. There is suspicion that the Swiss embassy connived in facilitating Nishantha Silva’s “escape” from Sri Lanka.
The second is the incident where a Sri Lankan woman employee at the Swiss embassy in Colombo was allegedly abducted, molested and intimidated by unknown persons in a white vehicle. It was said that the unknown persins had sought information from her about Nishantha Silva. The Govt position is that the evidence unearthed by the Police so far does not corroborate the complaint made on behalf of the alleged victim by the Swiss embassy. A request tp transport the traumatized woman by Air Ambulance to Switzerland has been rejected. She has been banned from travelling outside Sri Lanka. A lengthy interrogation and recording of statement from her by the CID has been in progress for more than three days.
The third is about a ruling by the Apex court in Switzerland that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) organization is not a criminal organization and the related acquittal of 13 persons allegedly involved in raising funds for the tigers in Switzerland. The Swiss Federal Supreme court ruling was the climax of judicial proceedings going on for a long period of time.It upheld the verdict given by the Federal Criminal court last year. Unfortunately the court ruling being announced shortly after the alleged asylum and abduction episodes has helped add grist to the Swiss conspiracy theory mills working overtime in Sri Lanka.
All three instances occurring within a period of ten days is being perceived by influential sections in the country as part of a sinister conspiracy against Sri Lanka in which Switzerland is allegedly involved. There are even signs of an orchestrated anti-Swiss campaign being conducted in this regard. Much as this column would like to comment on all three issues listed above, the paucity of reliable information – as opposed to whipped up media frenzy – about the Nishantha Silva and Swiss Embassy employee matters, are current constraints. This column certainly intends writing about these two matters in due course after more genuine information is available. However this week’s article would examine in detail the phenomenon of LTTE fund raising in Switzerland in the context of the Swiss Federal Supreme Court ruling.
World Tamil Coordinating Committee
The Swiss Federal Supreme court ruling was the culmination of a long drawn out judicial process. Swiss authorities conducted an investigation into LTTE fund raising activities in Switzerland from 2009 for two years before launching a crack down on suspected key tiger operatives in 2011. They were all past or present members of the World Tamil Coordinating Committee(WTCC) the alleged front organization of the LTTE in Switzerland. Ten persons were initially arrested after Swiss Police conducted simultaneous raids in several of Switzerland’s 26 Cantons. Thereafter a protracted investigation went on. Swiss investigators went to a number of countries including Sri Lanka to probe the tiger money trail. Several legal challenges were also mounted by Swiss Tamil activists.
Finally matters came to a head after seven years in 2018 when thirteen suspected LTTE operatives were charged in the Swiss Federal Criminal court. Twelve of these were Swiss or Sri Lankan citizens while one was a German national. They were accused of participating in or supporting a criminal organisation, raising funds for the organization and engaging in illegal activities such as fraud, forgery, money laundering and extortion. An eight week trial ensued from January to March 2018 . The federal prosecutor Juliette Noto sought prison terms between 18 months and six years for the accused.
In June 2018 the court verdict was delivered. Although the prosecution demanded strict sentences , eight of the thirteen were acquitted of all charges. The others were found guilty of fraud only. This was over a scheme to procure bank loans through false ptetences. Suspended sentences stipulating prison terms of 24 months were imposed on two. Suspended prison terms of 20 months were imposed for another two while one got a 21 month suspended sentence. The chief reason for the “soft” ruling was because the courts felt hierarchical links between the LTTE and WTCC were not sufficiently established by the prosecution. Moreover courts made a significant ruling there was inadequate proof to classify the LTTE as a criminal organization under section 260 of the Swiss Penal Code.
The Swiss Attorney -General appealed against the ruling in April this year. The Swiss Federal Supreme Court dismissed the appeal in its ruling of December 2019 . The Federal Supreme court upheld the earlier Federal Criminal Court ruling and reiterated that the LTTE could not be regarded as a criminal organization. It must be noted that these investigations and judicial proceedings were enacted after the LTTE was militarily defeated in May 2009 thus bringing about an end to the war. Therefore probing the fund raising activities of the LTTE from 1999 to 2009 in a sense became a matter of academic interest. Had the war been in progress the perspectives may have been different.
Fifteen Million Swiss Francs
What then led to the Swiss authorities launch a Police investigation and mount a legal case against LTTE fund raising in Switzerland after the war had ended and fund raising had virtually ceased? This was due to internal dissensions among LTTE supporters shortly before and immediately after the end of the war in May 2009. As a result of these tensions the Swiss authorities found many Tamils complaining about tiger fund raising activity. This had not happened before. Had this occurred during the Sri Lankan civil war the situation may have been different. Moreover there were allegations about procuring over fifteen million Swiss francs illegally by de-frauding the banking system. It was for these reasons that the Swiss authorities undertook this protracted investigation costing four million francs.
Even though the Swiss authorities were unable to convince the Swiss judiciary into convicting the alleged LTTE/WTCC members and imposing harsh sentences, it must be realized that a very genuine effort was made by the Swiss police and Attorney -General’s department to do so. It is therefore rather unfair to accuse that country of aiding and abetting the LTTE officially. It is a fact that several LTTE operatives and supporters are domiciled in Switzerland. It is also a fact that Tamils in Switzerland played a vital role in helping the LTTE to prosecute the war. Furthermore there are still active LTTE or pro-LTTE elements in Switzerland who are continuing in attempts to trigger some violence in Sri Lanka. This reinforces suspicion that the LTTE is being molly coddled by Switzerland officially or unofficially with official sanction.
This however is not true. Those who know and understand how Western democracies work and how their Law Enforcement and judicial systems operate will realise how the climate of freedom and tolerance prevailing in these societies are being exploited by various groups. As far as the LTTE is concerned it is no longer existent in Sri Lanka. The overseas structures of the LTTE remain in many countries but they too are gradually declining and decaying. Nevertheless they continue to project an image to the contrary. This is true of Switzerland too. The tiger -flag waving demonstrations in Geneva during the UNHRC sessions in March and September may convey an impression that the LTTE is vibrantly active in that country. That however is mere perception and does not reflect reality.
It is against this backdrop therefore that this column seeks to delve in detail into the circumstances relating to recent action against the LTTE and its suspected front organization the WTCC by Swiss authorities. It is necessary to provide a concise account of LTTE fund raising activity in the pre-2009 period in Western countries in general and Switzerland in particular. Again it is noteworthy that tiger fund raising in the west has decreased drastically and is only a fraction of what it was ten years ago.
Five Modes of LTTE Fund Raising
In order to comprehend the implications and ramifications of the recent Swiss legal action against suspected LTTE fund raisers it is essential to understand how the LTTE fund raising mechanism operated abroad in the years before the war ended. There were generally five modes.
The first was the mode known as “SO” or Standing order. This is a method by which committed supporters of the LTTE made 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 was comparatively a small sum but had regularity and reliability guaranteed.There was no coercion in this because those who contributed were genuine supporters who did so willingly. The funds raised through this method were used for the running of LTTE branches/fronts in each country and not sent to Sri Lanka or used to buy arms.
The second was the annual general collection. This was a collection drive executed on an on-going basis throughout the years. In this many Tamils regardless of whether they were active supporters or not were targeted. Pledges were extracted for certain sums of money to be paid in a few instalments.Force, intimidation and coercion was used frequently in these collection drives 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 amounts of cash were pledged as “donations”.
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.
“Special Collection” Loan Arrangement
The third form of fund raising was 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 was usually undertaken once in eighteen months.
Broad Methods to Generate Funds
Apart from these, there were two other broad methods to generate funds. One was by staging performances and shows and by selling stuff like calendars, videos, DVD’s, Audio CD’s, books, magazines, newspapers, souveneirs etc. Money was also raised by staging events like black tigers day, great heroes day along with related celebrations. On the one hand people were charged large amounts for admission while on the other , people were also pressured to make donations to cover the expenses. Since these events exploited the emotions of people, it was possible to extract huge sums easily.
Finally there was 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, running restaurants and take –out food outlets, operating real estate services, grocery shops, jewellery stores, printing presses, construction, money transfer services, property development, computer services, trucking, etc were some of the enterprises the tigers were engaged in.
Some businesses were started anew while in many instances the tigers pumped in money to existing ones and acquired control. These businesses paid part of the profits to the LTTE while in some instances those running the businesses were paid regular salaries. Since these businesses and services were originally started by people independently the community at large did not suspect or know about subsequent tiger infiltration and acquisition of these enterprises
There was much “abuse and corruption” in this regard as most of the front agents were relatives or close associates of prominent LTTE stalwarts. For instance the brothers of a well-known senior LTTE leader who is no more were not known to hold a steady job for several years in the country they were living in. Suddenly both became very prosperous. Today one brother is the owner of many buildings given on rent while the other owns a fleet of trucks.
Even when the LTTE was active in Sri Lanka , some of the the people running tiger businesses abroad began siphoning off cash clandestinely Several LTTE run businesses went bankrupt while others continued to “show” loss. After the Mullivaaikkaal debacle of May 2009 many running these businesses as benamis have appropriated them. Some sold off the businesses and buildings and pocketed the cash themselves.
“Puligalin Thiraisari” (Tiger Treasury)
Switzerland is home to more than 50,000 Tamils of Sri Lankan origin now. Of these about 30,000 have acquired Swiss citizenship. In the period before 2009 the Swiss Tamil population was about 40 to 45,000.While this number was 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 in those days proportionately exceeded that of Tamils living in other Western countries.This quantitative contribution earned Switzerland the description “Puligalin Thiraisaeri” (tiger treasury) in Europe.
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 over the years. Some Tamils have been moving out of the Country also. In recent times several media personnel from Sri Lanka have sought refuge in Switzerland. The flow of refugees and asylum seekers from Sri Lanka increased significantly in the past decade. Currently there are over 3000 refugee applicants from Sri Lanka in Switzerland.
Unlike Tamils in countries like UK, USA, Australia or Canada the first generation of Swiss Tamils did not go in for higher education in a big way. They were also not well represented in white collar jobs.This situation is changing fast in Switzerland due to the second generation of Tamils who came to the country as young children or were born there. Most Tamils of an earlier period held blue collar jobs in factories, restaurants,transport, city maintenance, senior care and janitorial services etc. They were generally hardworking and earned about 2-4,000 francs per month. (Currently one swiss franc equals $ 1.02 US dollars and 182.99 Lankan rupees). Several Tamils who earned well in Switzerland later relocated to Britain and Canada.
LTTE Began Gaining Supremacy
As stated earlier the number of Sri Lankan Tamils in Switzerland was estimated at around 45,000 in 2009. These Tamils consisted 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. Interestingly his brothers Karunailingam and Yogalingam are prominent tiger activists in Britain.
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. Credible pro-LTTE structures were 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 then LTTE country 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 in those days.
Murali -Blue Eyed Boy of Prabhakaran
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. One of the charges against Murali was his alleged friendship with a pretty woman from TamilNadu living in Switzerland. It was alleged that she was an agent of the Indian espionage outfit the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).
So Murali was removed from office on the orders of Prabhakaran after he was acquitted and released in 1997. Murali was ordered to return to the Wanni. Refusing to do so ,t he 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.
Chelliah Kulasekarasingham Alias “Avro” Kulam
Despite Swissmurali’s downfall and departure the LTTE continued to flourish in Switzerland. After a period of collective leadership Chelliah 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 position.
“Avro”kulam’s removal was in March 2009. The circumstances of his removal had a bearing on the subsequent crackdown on LTTE fund raising 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 again 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.
Vijayaratnam Sivanesan Alias Ragupathy
With direct communications between Prabhakaran and Kulam being ruptured due to the escalation of war it was easy for Castro and his chief 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. Vijayaratnam Sivanesan alias Ragupathy aka Ragu replaced Kulam as the new leader. A new front named Swiss Tamil Coordinating Committee was also set up.
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 politico-military environment in Lanka.
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. Little did they realise then that even the purchase and transport of additional arms -even if possible – could not have reversed the military balance in the Wanni during the final stages of the war.
“Final Phase Fund Raising”
This “final phase fund raising” was the case not only in Switzerland but in almost every Western country where there were large concentrations of Tamils. 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. One of the methods resorted to by tiger supporters in Switzerland was adopting fraudulent means to procure bank loans. It was estimated that huge sums of money had been taken as bank loans after falsifying documents relating to salary details and by over valuing the worth of assets owned. 182 bank loans amounting to about 15 million Swiss francs had been taken this way to fill tiger coffers.
The overseas LTTE succeeded in raising a huge amount of money within a period of three 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.
Groundswell of Resentment and Anger
The downfall of the LTTE in Sri Lanka and the decimation of the tiger leadership had its inevitable repercussions among the global Tamil Diaspora. One such consequence was the misappropriation of funds raised in the name of the LTTE by tiger operatives themselves. Money raised through bank loans went 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 began growing in the hearts and minds of several overseas Tamils who had been loyal supporters of the LTTE.
This was very much true of Switzerland too in the aftermath of the LTTE fall in 2009.This resentment was caused mainly by the actions of the tiger operatives themselves. In an act of gross recklessness and betrayal these elements had generated bank loans in the names of their supporters, misappropriated those sums and made no attempt to help pay back the money.
This left the people who had taken those loans in a very vulnerable and desperate plight. The financial institutions that had lent the money were also in a predicament. In such a situation several erstwhile tiger supporters in Switzerland were compelled to complain to the Swiss authorities.
Tiger “Pappadam” in Switzerland Crumbled
The tiger “pappadam” in Switzerland crumbled mainly because people from within LTTE ranks started coming forward to blow the whistle against their own camp leaders. It was this which led to the subsequent investigation and judicial proceedings against alleged LTTE fund raisers in Switzerland. What happened thereafter will be related in these columns in a forthcoming article.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at email@example.com
This Article was written for the DBS Jeyaraj Column in the “Daily Mirror” of December 14,, 2019. It can be accessed here-