Investigations how Tamil Tigers collected 60 million Swiss Francs

For the first time, evidence has surfaced that the Tamil Tigers had used illegal methods to collect money. The Swiss Federal Prosecutors are in Colombo to question witnesses

From Tuesday, 4th September 2012 until next Thursday, two Swiss Federal Prosecutors and 5 criminal police officers are in Colombo, questioning witnesses in connection with the legal proceedings against former members of the Swiss branch of the rebel army of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

These individuals are being accused of being involved in intimidation, blackmail, money laundering and belonging to an illegal organization and threatening their compatriots living in Switzerland to extract money to finance the war waged by the LTTE.

The sessions will be conducted from early morning to late evening and will not be interrupted at weekends. Representatives of the Government of Sri Lanka, which 3 years ago defeated the rebels, will also be present at the sessions.

Already it is evident that the LTTE had collected monies illegally in Switzerland and sent it to Sri Lanka. These conclusions have emerged after the investigations commenced in 2009. The Federal Prosecutors office has established that from 1999 and May 2009, 60 Million Francs has been remitted to Sri Lanka. Part of the money came from contributions made by the Tamil diaspora and the rest had been from illegal sources.

Tamils are heavily in debt


The LTTE set about the collections on the following basis: they fabricated false wage statements for their compatriots. These individuals were then able to get overdrafts from Banks amounting to between 70,000 and 100,000 francs. The loan statements were well above the real incomes. Since the LTTE serviced the interest, the individuals acquiesced. The Prosecutors Office is dealing with 130 such cases.

For years, this system functioned without any problem. According to the Federal State Prosecutor , Juliette Noto, who is heading the investigations and is at the moment in Colombo, these Tamils in Switzerland were not put under any pressure. However, for those who refused to cooperate and take overdrafts from the Banks, there were consequences: they were either banned from returning to their homeland or were assaulted, or their relations in Sri Lanka were chastised.

The system of extracting money collapsed when the rebels were militarily defeated in May 2009.

From that point onwards the contributions and financial inflows, to service the interest on the overdrafts, ceased. The Tamil workers in Switzerland were now saddled with the debts. Because of their plight many of them turned to the Federal Prosecutor’s Office. As a result of a raid in January 2011, 10 persons who held leading positions in the LTTE Swiss branch were taken into custody.

The Federal Prosecutor Noto is investigating as to where the monies had been diverted. Among the Tamil diaspora in Switzerland, it is an open secret that the monies were used to buy weapons. Marcel Bosonnet, the Attorney for the former head of the LTTE branch in Switzerland, has stated that part of the money was spent on relief work. What happened to the rest is not known to his client: that was decided by the local LTTE leadership. Bosonnet and the other lawyers representing the other accused are following the proceedings on video in a room at the Federal Prosecutors office in Bern.

Originally, the defense Counsel were to travel to Colombo but their visas were refused. That is the reason why Bosonnet refers to the present proceedings as having a “special procedure”. The investigation does not conform to the accepted legal standards. He would have had to submit his questions in writing and those witnesses he wished to cross examine would have to appear in person.


Concessions to Colombo

The Federal Prosecutor, Ms Noto, conceded that she had made allowances to accommodate the position of the Sri Lankan government. For example, there could be an instance where it is problematic and Colombo refuses access to a witness who is important for the defense. Broadly, however, the proceedings are being conducted as they would have been in Switzerland.

(This is a translation of an article by Dario Venutti. which appeared in the Basler Zeitung of 8th September 2012 on the cases against the Tamil Tigers in Switzerland. The Swiss team of investigators are presently in Sri Lank.)

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