Monday, February 11, 2008

US lawmakers - Tiger lobby links exposed

US: The US Treasury Department’s recent clampdown on the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO) accusing it of raising funds on behalf of the designated terrorist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), has once again thrown the spotlight on the shadowy ‘LTTE lobby’ whose access to powerful US lawmakers helped to legitimise this and other Tiger fronts allowing them to operate without let or hindrance for almost a decade, according to the US based Sri Lankan Express.

Investigations show that TRO operatives and individuals whose addresses or phone numbers are linked to the TRO, regularly made contributions to the campaign funds of the very legislators who have actively promoted the separatist cause and been harshly critical of Sri Lanka’s war on the Tigers.

“TRO passed off its operations as charitable, when in fact it was raising money for a designated terrorist group responsible for heinous acts of terrorism,” said Adam J. Szubin, Director of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), explaining the action taken November 15 to freeze the US held assets of the TRO.

The Treasury said the TRO has raised funds on behalf of the LTTE through a network of “individual representatives” and that it was the preferred conduit of funds from the US to the LTTE.

Since the TRO ‘hung its shingles’ in the US, almost 10 years ago, these individual representatives, many of them successful Tamil professionals, have been the LTTE’s foot soldiers, active in several states, raising funds while establishing and developing political contacts.

As reported by the Associated Press some time ago, the Chicago Tribune had faxed three pages from a federal indictment involving money laundering to a US Congressman’s office which indicated that the trips of two unidentified individuals to Sri Lanka in 2005 were paid with $13,150 laundered through a US bank.

The source of those funds - whether they were raised for ‘charity’ or extorted from the Tamil diaspora - is not known.

But the Congressman revealed to the media that over the years, campaign donations totalling around $5000 had trickled into his campaign fund from Sri Lankan Tamils in the US, some of it may well have been from the TRO’s individual representatives. While the US Treasury has not named them, a clue to the identity of some of these ‘individual representatives’ has been provided by the TRO itself.

Within hours of the tsunami hitting the shores of Sri Lanka on December 26, 2004, a list of phone numbers was provided by the TRO and published on TamilNet, the pro-LTTE website, as its contacts for collecting donations.

With a few exceptions, where unlisted, the numbers were traced to Tamils, one a prominent attorney practising in California who was also a mover in the establishment of the TRO office in Reseda. A campaign contribution of $250 went to another Congressman from one of the individuals traced and a contribution of $500 went from another to yet another Congressman.

The depth and extent of the nexus between US politicians and the LTTE lobby have yet to be unravelled but the evidence points to culpability way beyond the nod US legislators are reputed for giving the Tigers.

A proper investigation into LTTE fund raising will have to factor in the complicity of US lawmakers, especially those who themselves have been recipients of funds made via individual TRO/LTTE operatives.

Daily News