THE HAGUE (Reuters) - A Dutch court sentenced five ethnic Tamil men on Friday to up to six years in jail for helping finance Tamil Tiger (LTTE) guerrillas with millions of euros in their ultimately failed campaign for an independent homeland in Sri Lanka.
Prosecutors accused the five men, all of whom now have Dutch citizenship, of extorting money from the Sri Lankan diaspora in the Netherlands while also engaging in money laundering and the spread of propaganda.
The court in The Hague ruled that the five men were aware of the fact that the LTTE was on an international terrorist list and that their activities were illegal in the European Union.
“The verdict is contradictory and we are going to appeal,” said defence lawyer Victor Koppe. He is also representing the LTTE at the European Court of Justice in a bid to have the organisation removed from the list of banned terrorist groups.
Sri Lankan government forces crushed the decades-long Tamil Tiger insurgency in May 2009.
The LTTE emerged as the most ruthless of several militant Sri Lankan Tamil groups that sprang up in the late 1970s to fight what they called discrimination and political sidelining by successive post-independence governments in Sri Lanka, all of them led and dominated by the majority Sinhalese people.
After a devastating tsunami hit Sri Lanka in 2004, the LTTE diverted millions of dollars raised on humanitarian grounds to rearming ahead of a resumption of conflict in mid-2006.
A wife of one of the dependents who did not want to be named said she felt sad. “We were trying to help our people. My husband was sending humanitarian aid to people in Sri Lanka. “How can you sentence someone for trying to help people.”
Since the demise of the Tamil insurgency in 2009, overseas LTTE wings have split into three factions and begun fighting over control of the assets, security officials say.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fought for more than three decades to create a separate nation for Sri Lanka’s minority Tamils in the Indian Ocean island’s north and east.
At the height of its powers, the LTTE was collecting between $200 million and $300 million a year from extortion of Sri Lankan Tamils living mainly in Europe, Canada and Australia, credit card fraud, gun and drug smuggling and innocuously-named charities which diverted the funds to military operations.
Sri Lanka’s government has lobbied nations with significant Sri Lankan Tamil populations to crack down on illegal activities by LTTE operatives, and has often blasted Western nations for turning a blind eye to LTTE activities on their soil.
One LTTE practice was to demand a minimum monthly payment from each Sri Lankan Tamil living abroad and threatening harm to their family living in Sri Lanka if they did not comply.
So far, the United States, Canada, Australia, Italy and France have brought criminal cases against LTTE operatives.
Reporting By Ivana Sekularac and Aaron Gray-Block; Editing by Myra MacDonald