SWITZERLAND, Dec 4 – The Swiss Federal Court has ruled that the Tamil Tigers or LTTE are not a criminal organisation and has acquitted 12 people of charges filed by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG).
In its indictment, the OAG had accused the people of violating the Swiss Penal Code by raising funds for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) between 1999 and 2009. After its nine-year investigation, the OAG suspected the accused of financially supporting the World Tamil Coordinating Committee (WTCC).
But in June 2018 the Federal Criminal Court found that the hierarchical link between the LTTE and WTCC could not be sufficiently established. The judges also felt there was not enough proof to consider the LTTE a criminal group.
In April the OAG appealed against the verdict, insisting that the accused had supported a criminal group.
It all started in 2009
The whole process was set in motion in 2009 when the Office of the Attorney General launched an investigation against “unknown persons” for extortion, coercion, money laundering and organised crime.
Then, in 2011, a vast sting operation across various Swiss cantons resulted in the arrest of several suspects who were later released. A year later, a delegation from the Office of the Attorney General and the Federal Office of Police travelled to Sri Lanka to interview around 15 witnesses.
The accused are from Switzerland, Germany and Sri Lanka and are charged with funnelling more than CH15 million to the LTTE between 1999 and 2009. Some are former members of the World Tamil Coordinating Committee (WTCC), which represented the LTTE in Switzerland until 2009, and include its founder, his deputy and the person in charge of finances.
During the trial, federal prosecutor Juliette Noto presented the LTTE as a movement “whose effectiveness inspired al-Qaeda”. Showing a picture of the WTCC leader behind a heavy machine gun, as well as images of child soldiers, she listed the crimes attributed to the Tigers. She said that the accused were fully aware that they were supporting and funding the LTTE and that they used threats to coerce money from the Tamil diaspora.
For its part, the defence stressed the legitimacy of the Tigers’ fight against an oppressive regime. They sought to convince the court that the funds raised by the WTCC from the Tamil diaspora were primarily for humanitarian causes. They also accused the Attorney General of instigating the trial at the behest of the European Union.
After eight weeks, both sides outlined their positions regarding the final outcome. The prosecutor wants a six-and-a-half-year prison term for the WTCC’s finance manager and five years for the WTCC president, his deputy, as well as the organisation’s treasurer. Two of the accused who arranged loans from Bank Now (owned by Credit Suisse) on false pretences – which were then allegedly funnelled to the LTTE – are expected to serve a four-and three-year prison term respectively. The prosecution also called for the remaining defendants – creators of financial structures, collectors of funds and an employee of Bank Now – to serve prison terms ranging from three years to 18 months.
The defence pleaded acquittal and compensation for the defendants.
LTTE not regarded as a criminal organisation
In a decision published on Tuesday the Federal Court upheld the previous ruling, noting that Article 260 in the Swiss Penal Code was designed to combat organised crime of a mafia nature. Since then it has also been applied to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda or the Islamic State (IS) terrorist militia. The LTTE was not regarded as a criminal organisation at the time of the fundraising, stated the Federal Court.
According to the court, those who procured money for the LTTE in Switzerland at that time could not assume that they would later violate the law. Even if it had carried out terrorist attacks, the LTTE’s primary objective was to be recognised as an independent ethnic community.
Around 50,000 people from Sri Lanka live in Switzerland, mostly ethnic Tamils who fled the island’s 30-year civil war that ended in 2009.
Similar prosecution in Malaysia against LTTE sympathizers
12 Malaysians were detained under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma) after a crackdown on LTTE sympathizers last October.
It will be interesting to see how Malaysian authorities will react to this news from Switzerland.
–NMT (Original news credit to SwissInfo)