Organizations that allegedly raised money for Tamil Tigers ordered to forfeit belongings
COURT HANDOUT/National Post
The World Tamil Movement headquarters in Montreal, with Tamil Tigers flags and a poster of a Tigers leader. An audit found the group took in up to $763,000 a year, and most of the money went to a Malaysian account linked to the rebels
Stewart Bell, National Post
TORONTO — A pair of Canadian non-profit organizations the RCMP says raised millions of dollars for Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers rebels have been ordered to forfeit all their belongings to the federal government.
The Federal Court ruled the property of the World Tamil Movement of Ontario and the World Tamil Movement of Quebec was owned or controlled by a terrorist organization and therefore had to be forfeited.
The decision marks the official end of the WTM, which was formed in 1986 and became closely aligned with the fight for Tamil independence in Sri Lanka. It also marks the conclusion of a nine-year RCMP investigation that did not result in criminal charges.
“We still view this as a very positive ending in the sense that we did disrupt activities of terrorist financing in Canada, so that’s important to us,” RCMP Assistant Commissioner Gilles Michaud said on Friday.
Although the WTM has ceased to function, Assistant Comm. Michaud, head of National Security Criminal Investigations, said the Tamil Tigers are still a “group of interest” for RCMP counter-terrorism investigators.
“They do remain a focus because we do have concerns as to if they’re going to regroup and … if they do, how are they going to do it. Are they going to be going through violence or through political influence?”
Neither the Ontario nor Quebec WTM branches contested the forfeiture of their property. Representatives of the groups said it would have been too costly and there was little point since the civil war in Sri Lanka was over.
“The whole thing underlying this was support for a cause, and that cause seems to be quieter,” said Steven Slimovitch, the lawyer who represented the Quebec branch of the WTM. “It made sense to move on.”
Sitta Sittampalam, the former president of the WTM in Ontario, also said circumstances had changed. “When you look at what has happened since the events that have passed, it didn’t make sense for us to spend so much on litigation on this matter” he said. “The community is moving forward.”
The court orders make Ottawa the new owner of the WTM headquarters building in Montreal, several bank accounts, cash, and thousands of propaganda items, many of them bearing the militaristic emblem of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebel group.
The list of items seized by police includes boxes of LTTE flags, 20 t-shirts with the LTTE logo, 67 posters of LTTE theoretician Anton Balasingham, 5 garbage bags with the LTTE logo and calendars, watches and posters featuring images of rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.
What the government will do with it all is unclear. The court said the materials were “to be disposed of as the Attorney General directs or otherwise dealt with in accordance with the law.” For now, the forfeited items are being stored in Westmount, Que. and Newmarket, Ont.
“This decision by the Federal Court confirms that our efforts to disrupt terrorist activity in Canada are working,” said Christopher McCluskey, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews. “We applaud this decision.”
The investigation began in 2002, when the RCMP Integrated National Security Enforcement Team in Ontario launched what it called Project Osaluki. The following year, a similar probe called Project Crible began in Montreal. The Canada Border Services Agency and Royal Malaysian Police Force were also involved.
Police kept WTM activists under surveillance as they organized rallies in Canadian cities and traveled to Sri Lanka to meet the leadership of the Tamil Tigers. Some of the Canadian activists were photographed holding heavy weapons.
During an interview with RCMP officers in 2004, Mariyathas Manuel admitted the leader of the Tamil Tigers had personally chosen him to run the WTM office in Toronto. “They are fighting, so we are supporting them,” he said, according to a transcript filed in court.
In 2006, police raided the WTM offices in Toronto and Montreal, hauling away so much paraphernalia and documentation that investigators had to rent a moving truck. It took years to translate and analyze the seized evidence.
A forensic audit found that the WTM was running a pre-authorized payment program that withdrew monthly sums from the bank accounts of Canadians. The WTM took in up to $763,000 a year using the scheme. Most of the donors took part voluntarily but police also interviewed witnesses who said they were coerced or pressured into participating.
In addition, the WTM made money through bake sales, car washes, newspaper sales, merchandise sales and festivals. The RCMP traced more than $3-million that was forwarded from WTM bank accounts to overseas accounts. Most of the money went to a Malaysian account the RCMP said was linked to the rebels.
In addition, police found letters signed by rebel leaders in Sri Lanka asking for money specifically for weapons. A password-protected disc found in the WTM office in Toronto contained a document named Armscost that listed the prices of various military items needed by the rebels, including anti-aircraft missiles and artillery.
“In Canada, the WTM is the main front organization for the LTTE,” RCMP Corporal Steve Dubreuil wrote in an affidavit released by the court on Friday. “The WTM is an integral part of the LTTE strategy to raise funds for rearmament and to gain legitimacy as the sole representative of the Tamil people in the international community. Through the WTM, the leadership of the LTTE is influencing events within the Tamil Canadian community and exerting influence over their activities.”