“We are not a criminal organisation” – Head of LTTE in Switzerland
23/11/2011 6 Comments
In a revealing interview by the Swiss newspaper, “20 mins online” on 6thNovember, the new commander of the LTTE in Switzerland revealed the massive financial support given by Diaspora Tamils to the LTTE from Switzerland, his unwavering belief in the possibility of attaining Eelam (an independent Tamil homeland carved out from within Sri Lanka), the new direction of the overseas LTTE, how Sri Lanka’s secret agents combat the overseas LTTE and of Switzerland’s shameful capitulation to terrorism.
Story by Joel Bedetti, 6thNovember 2011. [Translated by Mango.]
Between hope and despair. The commander of the Tamil Tigers in Switzerland speaks for the first time about his future in Sri Lanka, his years in exile and his 25 days in custody.
The commander of the Tamil Tigers in Switzerland is a kitchen assistant in a canteen in the district of Freiburg. He is 41 years old and has two small children. He’s wearing jeans and a striped blue and white shirt. He has a contagious laugh. We meet Rakupathi, (his Nom de Guerre) and his small entourage in a Tamil snack bar in Zuricher Krei 5, a stronghold of the Tamil diaspora. For two hours we drink great-tasting, over sweetened tea which the owners of the snack bar give freely.
When were you last in your homeland?
21 years ago, when I left the country. But I’d be the first to return home if I could go to a free country. I’m steadfast in my belief that it will happen soon. That’s why I never applied for a Swiss passport.
The military defeat of the Tamil Tigers in 2009 shocked the diaspora. Is Sri Lanka lost?
Our homeland is not lost. On the 19th September, nearly 8,000 people took part in a huge rally in front of the UN in Geneva. We haven’t thrown in the towel.
In whose name are you speaking? For yourself, the Tamil Tigers or Tamils in Switzerland?
This isn’t about me, we’re doing this for the Tamil people. I speak in their name. The goal of our liberation struggle has not yet been achieved. We didn’t succeed using weapons. Now the fight goes on using political and legal means.
How did you become the head of the Tamil Tigers in Switzerland?
I fled to Switzerland in 1990 and since then I’ve had a full-time job; in my free time, I supported the Tamil Tigers and I joined their cadre. One year before our military defeat in May 2009, I became the second-in-command of the LTTE in Switzerland. After the Tamil Tiger in Sri Lanka capitulated, the then Tiger chief in Switzerland, Kulam, handed over the leadership to me.
Did he give up?
You have to ask him that. In any case, the change happened voluntarily.
What’s your understanding of the Tiger’s mission, today?
The newly formed LTTE will try to progress our struggle through political and legal means. Our mission now consists of supporting the indebted Tamil here and the survivors and wounded left behind in our homeland. This will no longer be done centrally, rather, through sponsorships.
On 11th January yourself and nine other cadres were arrested. Where were you when that happened?
I was asleep at home. The front doorbell rang at 6.30 am. My wife opened the door to find the Police at the front door who explained that they had to arrest me. They confiscated my computer hard drive, my mobiles, SIM cards and a jacket with a Tamil Tiger logo on the back. Everything was done by the book and the officers were friendly. But since then both my wife and children are always afraid when the front door bell rings.
What happened next?
It was absurd. Right from the beginning of questioning, I could tell that the investigators had nothing to charge me with.
What did you notice?
They didn’t know what to charge me with. First they accused me of belonging to a criminal organisation. After the third interrogation they accused me of extortion. But again, they failed to offer any evidence.
When were you released?
In early February, after 25 days on remand. In March, I was again asked to present myself for questioning. Since then I’ve not heard anything from the Federal Prosecutor’s office. This whole process has been a complete waste of taxpayer’s money. How can it be that the LTTE, which until 2007 was invited to participate in peace talks, was supported and advised suddenly became a criminal organisation? To this day we don’t understand the reasons for these police raids.
The legal action against you is still continuing. How do you see the case against you?
I’m not afraid of it. We are not a criminal organisation. In mid-April the last remaining suspects were released from custody, and legal processes are continuing against only five people. I think that as the horrific atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan Army come to light, the image of the Tamil Tigers will start to change.
Many Tamils suspect that the Swiss authorities are in cahoots with the Sri Lankan government.
I suspect that the Sri Lankan government has influenced the Federal Prosecutor’s Office and fed them with false information, especially about General Jagath Dias.
The Federal Prosecutor’s Office sent a list of allegedly suspect telephone numbers to Sri Lanka. What’s your assessment of this?
It’s incomprehensible. I’d always believed that the Swiss authorities were very careful with personal data – especially when it’s in relation to a State that disappears and suppresses political opponents. We have proof that because of this list, people who fled to neighbouring countries, which were sympathetic to Sri Lanka, have been arrested. The investigators should’ve known that Tigers still in Sri Lanka don’t communicate with their own phones. People on this list are above all, civilians. At some point we will start legal action against the Federal Prosecutor.
The Federal Prosecutor accuses the Tigers of not only money laundering, but also of extortion against local Tamils.
An organisation can’t extort people for over 10 years. Today in Switzerland, if you hit a child, the Police are called. How could we extort people for many years without anyone taking us to court? Thousands of Tamils voluntarily attend our events. We respect the Rule of Law, we haven’t been here just for a few weeks, we’ve been here for over 10 years. The Diaspora is the foundation of the LTTE and we would never want to trifle with that.
There are people who say that it wasn’t as if a knife was held to their throat, but that they faced unbearable pressure from the Tigers when they leave. The talk is of telephone and doorbell terror. “The Tigers will make your life daily life hell and will see to it that you won’t be able to sleep.”
Most Tamils in Switzerland gave us between 50 to 200 Swiss Francs a month, mainly by standing order. What a ridiculously disproportionate effort to chase people for only 50 Swiss Francs a month! To rebut these accusations we organised a huge gathering, placed a cash box in the middle and said to our compatriots: prove that we’re not extorting money from you, rather that you’re giving donations voluntarily. At the end, there was over 100,000 Swiss Francs in the pot.
This extortion wasn’t for charitable purposes. A Tamil told the “Tages Anzeiger” newspaper how he was forced by the Tamil Tigers to take out a loan of 45,000 Swiss Francs. Is he lying?
We can’t force anyone to take out a loan on our behalf.
The man said the Tigers had threatened him by saying that harm would befall his family in Sri Lanka.
To support and sponsor our struggle, about 200 people who were deeply committed to the Tigers took out loans up to 100,000 Swiss Francs. This was done voluntarily. These people are now faced with the difficulty of repaying the interest and the loan. Many are doing two or three jobs.
Once more: is the man lying?
If hundreds of people allege this, perhaps one could believe this. But only a few people say this and this is simply not credible. Even in 1994 there was a campaign against us. The former head of the LTTE, Moralidaran was arrested and accused of extortion. Later it became known that a witness had made a false statement. Moralidaran was awarded 100,000 Swiss Francs in damages.
If someone donates regularly and suddenly says he can’t give any more because he’s bought a new car – what happens?
Nothing, it’s his right not to donate. Look, it disturbs me that the talk is always about donations. We also do things for the Tamils. We organise social functions and sports events and many volunteer for these events. Have we also put those people under pressure? We’ve reduced the workload for the Swiss authorities, in that we’ve held our Diaspora together. No-one talks about that. Instead we’re pushed into the filth. Such actions impede the integration of Tamils and damages our reputation in Switzerland.
Who wants to push the Tamil Tigers into the filth?
Agents of the government of Sri Lanka. The country has created five secret intelligence teams and sent them into the Tamil diaspora to combat the Tamil Tigers. They’re also present in Zurich. They have more resources than us and are well-connected.
How do these secret intelligence teams operate?
The agents photograph and document who’s active in the LTTE or who attends demonstrations. This information is sent back to Sri Lanka via their embassy. We saw them again, in May last year. We estimate that there are at least 50 agents are in Switzerland and among them, Europeans also. There are also those who criticise the Tamil Tigers in the media.
Leaving aside the secret agents, do the Tigers have only friends in Switzerland?
The Tamils are with us. Up to 80% have supported the liberation struggle in some form. The rest are indifferent. But even they would be happy when we will have attained our independence.
Due to the continuing frictions between the new and old homeland, the Tamils have not really integrated into Swiss society. When young Tamils renounce their tradition it often leads to discord. Is it a problem for you if a young Tamil woman marries a Swiss?
No. There are many mixed marriages here in Fribourg. I was one of the first to support a couple and speak with the Tamil parents.
What would you say if your children were to break away from the liberation struggle and marry a Swiss?
I would accept it. I have nothing against Switzerland. They gave us asylum and the chance to build a new life here. Until 2007, Switzerland went out of its way to find a solution to the conflict. For that, I thank the country.
In June 2009, Andrea Geissbühler, a Swiss politician tabled a motion in the Swiss Parliament: “Why is the LTTE in Switzerland still a legal organisation?”
- “The Tamil Tigers have been classified as a terrorist organisation by 31 countries including India, USA and EU.”
- “Switzerland has become their last refuge due to its declared policy of non-banning.”
- “Why is there still no active policy to ban the LTTE?”
- “How can a terrorist organisation operate in Switzerland, without consequences?”
Micheline Calmy-Rey, Federal Councillor, gave the official Swiss government position, which can be summarized in 11 words.
We don’t give a damn because they never threatened our interests.
The full explanation (via machine translation) is :
There is no legal requirement that States are required to compile lists of individuals or terrorist organizations. There are states that take such lists and make them known to other States. The effectiveness of such lists is not proven, as evidenced by the common manifestations of the LTTE in countries such as Britain, Germany, Italy and Canada where the LTTE is considered a terrorist organization.
Switzerland does not maintain such lists because they go against our legal tradition, especially against freedom of opinion, our policy of neutrality and our political culture. But Switzerland is pursuing the perpetrators of acts related to terrorism, including in financial matters, or hate speech. Party to all United Nations conventions on the fight against terrorism, Switzerland has a legal arsenal enabling, for example, immediately freezing the funds for which there is a suspicion of connection with criminal activity.
There is no accepted definition of terrorism both in Switzerland and internationally, as a result there is no infringement to terrorism. In Switzerland all components of a terrorist act, however, are punishable, for example murder, bomb threat, financing of crime and are prosecuted as crimes giving rise to individual criminal responsibility. Instead of banning organizations in full, Switzerland following a procedure consistent with the spirit of the law by applying the Penal Code, particularly Article 260 “criminal organization” and 260 “Terrorist financing” and Federal Law establishing measures for the maintenance of internal security.
Faced with the LTTE, a policy of restriction and vigilance is in effect. The many Tamils living in Switzerland must be able to peacefully exercise their rights, including the right to protest, but the LTTE should not exercise illegal activities in Switzerland or from their territories: any wrongdoing by the LTTE would obviously be continued.
The deep background on the Swiss Tigers was (as ever) provided by the peerless journalist, DBS Jeyaraj, still exiled in Canada.