Sunday, 12th October 2014
By Camelia Nathaniel
The widow of Ponniah Selvanayagam Kajeepan (alias Gobi), Kajeepan Sarmila, was detained at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), Katunayake, last Sunday (5), when she was about to leave for Switzerland, even though she had a valid visa to enter that country. She had told the authorities at the BIA that she was heading to Switzerland to attend a wedding of a relative. However, the Sri Lankan authorities had prevented her from leaving the country in view of an ongoing inquiry against her late husband, who was shot dead during a clash with the army in the jungles off Padaviya in April this year. Gobi was allegedly leading the attempts to revive the now defunct LTTE.
Surprisingly though, soon after Sarmila’s brief detention at the airport, an official from the Swiss Embassy in Colombo had arrived and requested the Immigration officials to release her as she had a valid visa. The questions that arise are, how did the Swiss embassy know of her detention, and is it customary for embassy officials to intervene in such situations where someone connected to a person who has a legal case pending, had been prevented from leaving the country? If not, what was the connection between the Swiss embassy and Sarmila?
However, despite the representative of the Swiss embassy intervening, Immigration officers had told the Swiss official that an investigation in relation to her husband’s death was underway, and they could not allow her to proceed. Subsequently, the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) had obtained a statement from her, and she was allowed to return home.
Supporting a revival
LTTE branches located in Switzerland, France, Norway, Canada and a few other countries are allegedly providing support to revive the LTTE in Sri Lanka. The LTTE branches overseas work with LTTE front organizations to engage the Tamil Diaspora and host governments. Suntharalingam Gajatheeban, alias Theiveegan alias Deiveegan, who led the revival, was supported by a number of terrorist entities that had been so designated under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373. With their international partners, the Sri Lankan government had commenced investigations to uncover those directing such operations, their operatives, and their sources of finance.
In an attempt to revive the LTTE in Sri Lanka, Theiveegan and his key operatives had built links to the LTTE’s international network to plan, prepare and execute attacks. Theiveegan, a former bodyguard of Prabhakaran and his wife, Mathivathani, was born in Manthuvil, Jaffna on May 23, 1979. Also known as Theivan, Navaneethan, Vallan and Devan, Theiveegan served the LTTE since 1995. Later, he had joined the Radha Regiment, military intelligence and the Black Tigers. After serving as an instructor, he had learnt to fly before joining the LTTE’s air wing. In 2009 February, Radha regiment commander, Ratnam Master, had tasked Theiveegan to establish a transit base in Nedunkerni for Prabhakaran to relocate to the east, and then fly him out in a helicopter to the LTTE ship, MV Princess Christina. With the failure of the LTTE to break out of the No Fire Zone at Kepapuavu, Prabhakaran was killed. Reportedly, Theiveegan had returned with a vengeance to Nedunkerni after a period of travel in Europe, the Middle East and in Asia.
Swiss based Dayamohan, the LTTE political leader for Batticaloa and Ampara Districts had supported Theiveegan to build a base in Tamil Nadu, and train the new recruits. Dayamohan, who had relocated to Switzerland in December 2009, had been granted asylum in the Swiss canton of Schwyz, and had developed financial support, both from the Headquarters Group led by Vinayagam and the Tamil Coordinating Committee led by Nediyavan. Although they were rivals, the Norway-based Perinbanayagam Sivaparan alias Nediyavan, and France-based Sekarampillai Vinayagamoorthy alias Vinayagam, had come together to support Theiveegan and his Sri Lankan network led by his deputies, Gobi and Appan. The weaknesses in the Swiss intelligence, law enforcement and judiciary had enabled the LTTE to operate with impunity in Switzerland. A review of the LTTE’s structure in Switzerland reveals that both during the war in Sri Lanka and afterwards, Switzerland remains a very important LTTE base of operations. After Theiveegan, Navaneethan Navaratnam alias Appan and Selvanayagam Kajeepan alias Gopi had been killed on April 10, 2014, the LTTE’s Swiss base had organized their network, as well as facilitating their families to relocate in Switzerland.
The Swiss Structure
The LTTE in Switzerland is led by Vijayarathnam Sivanesan alias Ragupathey alias Ragu, a former LTTE member. Ragupathey operates under the banner of the Swiss Tamil Coordinating Committee. After he joined the LTTE in Jaffna, he earned the trust of then LTTE Jaffna commander, Sathasivam Krishnakumar alias Kiddu. A senior cadre, he was the first chief of the LTTE’s video media unit called ‘Nitharsanam.’ He arrived in Switzerland in 1987, the year the LTTE declared war against the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). After joining the LTTE’s Swiss office, he had worked closely with Kittu, who later became the head of the UK- based LTTE International Secretariat.
After Kittu’s role in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination became known, the Indian government exercised pressure on the UK to expel him. The British government, having monitored Kittu’s activities, was aware of the LTTE operations including the ongoing LTTE’s extortion of the Tamil community. After the UK government had served Kittu a quit notice, Kittu relocated to Switzerland and worked with Nadarajah Muraleetharan alias Murali, the LTTE leader for Switzerland. Operating from Switzerland, Kittu continued to guide the international network of the LTTE. Kittu’s stay in Switzerland led to the restructuring of LTTE in Switzerland.
Both Murali and Ragupathey were in contact with Kittu who had committed suicide in the LTTE arms carrier, MV Ahat that had been intercepted by the Indian Navy on January 15, 1993. During Murali’s stay in Switzerland from 1991 to 1997, Murali had built a ruthlessly efficient system to disseminate propaganda and raise funds. Murali had a team that threatened with injury and death, those Tamils who did not pay the LTTE a “tax.”
Schools and businesses in Switzerland
The chain of grocery shops known as “Makkal Kadaigal” (or people’s shops) earned not only revenue but enabled LTTE Switzerland to build a database of Tamils and LTTE supporters in Switzerland. “The LTTE branches engaged in different types of businesses through front agents or “benamis.” Screening Tamil films, restaurants, take-out food services, real estate, grocery shops, printing presses, construction, money transfer services, property development, computer services, trucking, et al., were some of the businesses they engaged in. Some businesses were started anew while in many instances, the Tigers had pumped in money into existing ventures and had gained control. These businesses pay part of the profits to the LTTE while in some instances those running the businesses are paid regular salaries.
After monitoring the LTTE, the Swiss police and intelligence services had disrupted the LTTE network in July 1996. Murali and 14 other LTTE activists were arrested, detained and later released on bail for having engaged in violence, intimidation and extortion. The LTTE not only threatened the witnesses to refrain from testifying against Murali but had also filed a case against the Swiss authorities. Murali was acquitted in 1997. Thereafter, Murali had relocated to Canada, the popular destination of terrorist leaders, members and supporters. Murali was succeeded in Switzerland by Chelliah Kularajasekeram alias Avro Kulam alias Kulam who served from 2002-2010. Due to his role in the bombing a commercial aircraft in Sri Lanka, Kulam was known as ‘Avro Kulam.’
In the lead up to the end of the war, the LTTE in Switzerland had intimidated and coerced the Sri Lankan Tamil community to contribute to the LTTE’s coffers. An ethnologist, Damaris Lüthi, had revealed that towards the end of the war, the pressure on the Tamil community to pay more money had increased enormously. She said the LTTE had raised SFr 50-100 ($ 52-104) per family every month. Both Kulam, and his successor and current leader, Ragupathy, were arrested by the Swiss authorities on January 11, 2011 for threatening and blackmailing, as well as extorting money from the Sri Lankan Diaspora to support the LTTE, the monies being mainly used to buy weapons. With these two directing figures, the Swiss had also arrested eight others including Swiss LTTE finance chief, Chelliah Jeyapalan alias Abdullah.
Due to a reportedly weak counter-terrorism framework, they were released and are said to be active once again. Ragupathy, the current chief of the LTTE, works closely with his brother, to move former and serving LTTE operatives and their families to Switzerland.