by Sandhya Jain
Two events over the last fortnight have uncovered the role of the Catholic Church in fostering Tamil separatism in Sri Lanka, with the aim of carving a separate Christian country out of India’s Tamil Nadu and the Tamil areas of the island-nation. The first was India’s deporting the Sri Lankan Tamil Catholic priest, Fr. S.J. Emmanuel, back to Dubai, when he arrived at Chennai hoping to meet chief minister Jayalalithaa, and to attend some events at Chennai University and later, at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.
Fr. Emmanuel is president of the UK-based Global Tamil Forum (GTF), a leading LTTE front and umbrella organisation for Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora groups. The Sunday Observer from Canada reported that Emmanuel had recently visited Canada and Europe to raise funds and mobilise pro-LTTE groups to stoke anti-Colombo propaganda in the West. But now, moderate sections of the diaspora are questioning Emmanuel’s role in radicalising Tamil youth while not utilising the millions of dollars collected through donations to help resettle and rehabilitate former LTTE cadres.
The second incident relates to the Oct 13, 2011 sentencing of Sri Lankan hedge fund billionaire Raj Rajarathnam to eleven years imprisonment for insider trading on Wall Street, by the US Federal district court, Manhattan.
Rajarathnam was actually investigated for his links with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. According to an ex-Tamil Tiger turned FBI informant, codenamed Rudra, Raj’s father, Jesuthasan Rajarathnam, himself a wealthy financial manager, was a lavish donor. The father-son duo set up the Rajarathnam Family Foundation to support charitable causes in Sri Lanka and elsewhere; it was also a front to channel funds to the Tamil Tigers.
Vanity Fair reports that in November 2002 (the US State Department listed LTTE as a terrorist organisation in 1997), a Tamil cultural organisation, Ilankai Tamil Sangam, hosted a 25th anniversary celebration at Doubletree Hotel in Somerset, New Jersey. LTTE flags and videos were displayed throughout the hall. It may be recalled that LTTE had assassinated former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991 and Sri Lanka President Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1993, besides wreaking mayhem in the island nation with suicide attacks on buses, temples, shopping malls, and village massacres.
At Doubletree Hotel, Raj Rajaratnam (secretly taped by the FBI) said, ‘Everyone must support the Tigers’ cause.’ He had, in 2000, given $1 million after the victory over the Sri Lankan army at Elephant Pass, gateway to the northern peninsula.
Rudra infiltrated the LTTE network abroad by meeting Tiger operatives at such events. Rumours were spread that Rudra had contacts with top Mafia figures in prison and could access corrupt American officials and ‘get things done’ for the Tigers – such as smuggling Tamils without proper visas into the United States. FBI built his credibility by helping smuggle nine persons at Newark airport in 2001. In April 2004, Rudra saved Fr. Gaspar Raj, a Catholic priest and key Tamil Tiger member, from being deported by federal agents at Newark.
Prabhakaran ran the Tamil Tigers abroad on classic, cellular lines, with each group unaware of the others. But Rudra soon emerged as a trusted go-between for many cells trying to raise money and procure weapons, including surface-to-air missiles. In August 2003, Rudra travelled with LTTE’s top international financier, Vijayshanthar Patpanathan (Chandru), to the Tigers’ Vanni fortress. It had underground bunkers for advanced computers and communications equipment and two fully equipped subterranean hospitals. He met most of the senior LTTE leadership here, and recorded their conversations.
By 2005, Rudra had helped the FBI get a comprehensive picture of LTTE’s fund-raising capability. Raj Rajaratnam’s name cropped up often; LTTE gave Raj huge money to invest in his Galleon Group fund. The Tigers raised $1 million every time they held a function, and extorted thousands of dollars from diaspora professionals for ‘the next wave of operations’.
In 2001, when FBI wiretaps detected an executive from Intel Corporation giving Raj insider tips, the link between terrorism and insider trading was exposed. And just as the legendary gangster Al Capone was actually convicted for tax evasion, so Rajarathnam was investigated for terrorist funding, and convicted for insider trading!
FBI uncovered LTTE’s main “front” charities in America and Britain, which were shut down. This impacted LTTE’s capacity to fight. The Tigers’ last stand came in April 2009, when the Sri Lankan army overran Vanni, killing Prabhakaran.
One important front group, the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO), was active in 17 countries before the US Treasury froze its assets in November 2007. Rajaratnam played a key role in transferring money from TRO to the LTTE. An April 2007 affidavit by an FBI special agent regarding Rajarathnam’s banking records showed that he wrote three checks totalling $1,000,000 between July and September 2000, which made its way to a TRO account in London (paradise of the arms merchants). Most of the money was later withdrawn in cash.
TRO received maximum donations from America, where the Rajarathnam family was the largest private donor. The US Treasury said the TRO had “facilitated LTTE procurement operations, including purchase of munitions, equipment, communication devices, and other technology.” Through 2003, Raj gave $5.05 million to his family foundation, which passed on $5 million to the TRO. In June 2004, he gave $1 million directly to the TRO. After the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, Rajaratnam set up Tsunami Relief, Inc., which was administered by staff at the Galleon Group headquarters in New York. It collected over $7 million and gave nearly half the money to the TRO in America and in Sri Lanka.
These huge monies have prompted victims of LTTE violence to file for damages in New Jersey, for crimes financed by Rajaratnam. His lawyers assert that there is “no connection” between Rajaratnam’s donations to the TRO and the harm suffered by the claimants, as there is no evidence that he ever sponsored acts of violence.
Yet, in US law, one need not prove that money a person gave to an entity that funded terrorism was actually spent on armaments; it’s enough to show that the recipient body used some of its funds for terrorist purposes. The New Jersey federal court has already accepted jurisdiction and upheld the suit as a claim for crimes against humanity.
As India debates clemency for the murderers of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the New Jersey verdict will be interesting.
The author is Editor, www.vijayvaani.com