The Dutch judiciary says that Tamil Tiger leaders in the Netherlands have played a prominent role in financing the civil war in Sri Lanka. The 10,000 Tamils in the Netherlands, police say, were under the iron grip of the guerilla group.
Marcel Haenen (NRC Handelsblad) Read part 1
‘Operation Koninck’ has been described by the judiciary as very complex and elaborate. Some 90 witnesses have been heard, dozens of house searches have been conducted, and numerous documents, photos, computers, CDs and DVDs have been obtained. Detectives from the Crime Investigation Department have gathered 120 files on the case with a wren branded on them (wren in Dutch is winterkoning, the basis for the name of the operation). The judiciary now has large quantities of propaganda material such as films, books and calendars honouring Tamils who have gone on suicide missions. The digital material is particularly plentiful with the Dutch authorities possessing around 6,000 gigabytes worth of information.
More material is expected to be obtained in the coming weeks. At the request of the Netherlands, Norway will be carrying out house searches at the home of a Tamil with the code name Nediyavan. According to officials, he is one of the LTTE’s new leaders. On Wednesday a Dutch investigative team, along with lawyers of the suspects in the Netherlands, will travel to Oslo to interrogate Nediyavan.
The Dutch magistrates and lawyers are also to travel to the US to interrogate, among others, Pratheepan T. This man has settled a plea bargain deal with the US authorities by admitting that he has purchased weapons for the Tigers. Information from Pratheepan T’s computer apparently revealed that Ramachandran from the Netherlands had cooperated with Pratheepan in the weapon purchases.
Next month, the Dutch plan to interrogate 13 witnesses in Sri Lanka. The Dutch authorities are currently negotiating with Sri Lankan Attorney General Mohan Peiris to get permission to speak with former and current LTTE members. The Dutch also aim to interrogate Kumaran Pathmanabhan, or KP, who is a detained former LTTE leader.
Fight for freedom
The lawyers for the two main suspects – Victor Koppe for Srirangam and Hester Seton for Ramachandran – assert that the Dutch judiciary has been very one-sided in its LTTE investigation. The public prosecution’s office, Koppe says, is insufficiently aware of the political dimensions in the criminal investigation into the Tamils in the Netherlands. In Sri Lanka, Koppe explains, people speak of a fight for freedom of the Tamils against the Sri Lankan state. He accuses the Dutch judiciary of reducing this complex political situation to a plain, simplistic terrorism problem, which undermines the inferior position of the Tamils in Sri Lanka.
Koppe further stresses that the struggle towards an independent Tamil Eelam is a political conviction which is guaranteed as a fundamental right, and thus could not be a basis for criminal proceedings. The Netherlands, he says, does not recognise the superior right of the victor. Thus, the lawyer says that it would also be wrong to cooperate with the Sri Lankan authorities in the investigation. He pointed out that the Sri Lankan government has a very poor record in upholding human rights.
Koppe, at the request of the LTTE, filed an appeal last month at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg to counter the decision by the EU to place the LTTE on the list of terrorist organisations. This decision has frustrated the Tamils’ right for self determination. In turn, the petition is one more proof for the Dutch judiciary of the continued existence of the Tamil Tigers. The request before the European Court formally comes from the LTTE’s European political subdivision, which claims that it uses only non-violent means. This claim, however, has been met with a great deal of scepticism given the group’s extremely violent history.
Koppe compares the assessment on the situation in Sri Lanka to those in Egypt and Libya. It is fascinating, he says, that Libyan groups which fight against their state get immediate political, military and emotional support. Koppe questions why the Tamils do not get the same kind of support. Why, he continues, does the Tamil question only come into the limelight when it has to do with criminal proceedings against the Tamil Tigers?
Hester Seton, Ramachandran’s lawyer, finds it objectionable that the judiciary assumes that all the money gathered by the Tamils was meant for armed struggle. Seton points out that Tamils have also gathered funds for tsunami victims or the rebuilding of schools.
The lawyers accuse the judiciary of criminalising all Dutch Tamils. Municipalities are already informed about the activities of the Tamils even before any criminal court case has officially started. That, to put it mildly, is premature, Seton says. Municipalities have been informed by the police about the investigation, and have been warned about giving permission for Tamil gatherings since these occasions are supposedly often used to hold LTTE fundraisers.
Administrative documents reveal that ‘support money’ has been received from municipalities, the police say, fearing that LTTE dummy organisations may have received municipal subsidies.
Detectives also say that there is a network of 21 Tamil schools in the Netherlands where the armed Tamil struggle is glorified.
‘Operation Koninck’ has sent shockwaves through the Dutch Tamil community. Some 600 Tamil families in February received a letter, personally written by investigative team leader Gert van Doorn. Your name has been found on one or more lists as a contributor to Tamil organisations, the letter says. Van Doorn explains that these are dummy organisations for the LTTE. Deliberate contribution towards such organisations could lead to investigation and criminal proceedings, the police officer warns.
Only a few Tamil gatherings have taken place in the past months. The websites of Tamil organisations in the Netherlands have been taken off the air. On the annual Tamil heroes’ celebration of Maveerar Naal, held on November 27th in Almere, there were hardly any remarks from the LTTE, detectives ascertained. In the past, this celebration was a markedly Tiger occasion.
It has been problematic for the police to gather witness testimonies amongst the Tamil community. Witnesses continue to be scared to give testimonies, or go back to the police and revoke previous statements, the judiciary said earlier this year. The NRC daily also did not succeed in speaking to Tamils. Seton believes that the Tamil community’s fear and suspicion towards the media is too great right now. She further says that Tamils are also limiting contact amongst each other. Tamils in the Netherlands are even afraid to make normal phone calls, worried that their conversation would be tapped.