The Swiss Federal Criminal Court has given no prison terms to alleged financiers of the Sri Lankan Tamil separatist group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE). The 13 accused were either given suspended custodial sentences or acquitted.
The court on Thursday said accusations of participation in and support of a criminal organisation did not stand and released all of the accused.
It noted that the hierarchical link between the LTTE and WTCC was not sufficiently established. The judges also felt there was not enough concrete proof to consider the LTTE as a criminal organisation.
While the federal prosecutor Juliette Noto had asked for prison terms of between 18 months and six years for the accused, the court did not oblige. Eight of the thirteen on the docks were acquitted of all charges.
The others were only found guilty of fraud. WTCC’s finance manager and one of the accused who arranged loans from Bank Now (owned by Credit Suisse) on false pretences got a 24-month suspended sentence. The president of WTCC got 21 months while the finance manager’s deputy got 20 months in suspended sentences.
The whole process is estimated to have cost close to CHF4 million (4.03 million) which the federal government will have to bear. In addition to this amount, compensation for those acquitted, as well as lawyers’ fees total to almost CHF5 million. The accused will have to pay part of their lawyers’ expenses provided they have the financial means to do so.
During the eight-week trial, which opened in January and closed in March, the federal prosecutor requested sentences of up to six-and-a-half years in prison. The proceedings cost CHF3.8 million ($3.85 million).
The 13 defendants – 12 Tamils or Swiss citizens of Tamil origin plus one German – were accused of participating in or supporting a criminal organisation, fraud, forgery, money laundering and extortion.
During her indictment, Juliette Noto, a federal prosecutor, described a sophisticated system used by the WTCC to raise funds largely for armed struggle from the Tamil community in Switzerland. The Tamil community in Switzerland was systematically registered and its ability to pay assessed. Families who refused to pay were threatened, she said.
Noto cast the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE), who are represented in Switzerland by the WTCC, as a violent movement “whose effectiveness inspired Al-Qaeda”. Showing a picture of the WTCC leader behind a machine gun and images of child soldiers, she enumerated the attacks and crimes attributed to the Tamil Tigers. The prosecutor sought to demonstrate the informed involvement of the accused in supporting and funding the LTTE.
In their pleadings, the defence invoked the legitimacy of the Tigers’ struggle against the Sri Lankan government’s repression of the Tamil minority. They argued that the money collected in Switzerland by the accused for the WTCC was mainly used for humanitarian purposes. The defence also challenged the prosecution of the accused at a time when Tiger resistance was collapsing in Sri Lanka.
During the hearings, the accused spoke at length about the repression suffered in Sri Lanka and the atrocities committed by the security forces. They kept silent when asked about their specific involvement.
The Tamil Tigers fought the Sri Lankan government from 1983 until its defeat in 2009. The movement claimed independence from northern Ceylon, populated mostly by Tamils. This conflict caused the death of some 100,000 people.
Swiss Tamil Tiger trial has cost over $4 million
The eight-week Swiss trial of 13 financiers accused of funnelling money to the Sri Lankan Tamil separatist group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) has cost CHF3.79 million ($4 million). The verdict is now expected in June.
The trial of the Tamil Tiger leaders in Switzerland ended Wednesday in Bellinzona. The verdict is expected to be handed down on June 14 by the Federal Criminal Court. Citing the multi-million-franc cost of the trial, Jean-Pierre Garbade, lawyer for the defendants, contested the fact that his clients would have to pay the sum if they were convicted.
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.
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. Many applied for Swiss citizenship and as of 2016 there were slightly more than 28,000 people with Sri Lankan citizenship residing in Switzerland. In 2016, the Swiss government announced it would apply more stringent criteria for granting Sri Lankan nationals refugee status.