Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Feds eye seizure of Tamil property under anti-terror act

Stewart Bell, National Post
Published: Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The government took the first steps Tuesday toward taking over property in Ontario and Quebec that it says is controlled by a terrorist group involved in South Asia's longest-running civil war.

Federal prosecutors in Toronto and Montreal filed applications in the Federal Court of Canada saying they were seeking the forfeiture of the property of the World Tamil Movement, an outlawed terrorist organization.

It is the first time the government has used the forfeiture provision of the Anti-Terrorism Act, which allows the Attorney General to seize "property owned or controlled by or on behalf of a terrorist group."

The list of items the government wants to strip from the World Tamil Movement of Ontario and World Tamil Movement of Quebec fills 300 pages and includes everything from bank accounts to golf shirts bearing the Tamil Tigers emblem.

If it is successful, the government would be allowed to keep the items or sell them and use the proceeds either to compensate victims of terrorist activities or fund anti-terrorism initiatives.

But the court must first approve the forfeitures and a lawyer representing the Montreal branch of the World Tamil Movement said his clients deny any terrorist affiliation and intend to challenge the government's case.

"Needless to say the WTM maintains that ‘we have never been terrorist financiers and we believe even that the whole system is of doubtful constitutionality,'" Steven Slimovitch said. "So there's no question that this is going to be a long process."

The WTM was formed in 1986 to represent Canada's large population of ethnic Tamils from Sri Lanka, many of whom had fled the civil war between government forces and the separatist Tamil Tigers guerrillas.

Last June, the government placed the World Tamil Movement on its official list of terrorist entities, calling it a "front" for the Tamil Tigers rebels and accusing it of using threats and intimidation to finance the Sri Lankan civil war.

That decision effectively put the WTM out of business, but nine months later the government has begun the process to strip the group of its property. The court filing is addressed to WTM President Sitta Sittampalam, Secretary Raveendran Thambapillai, Treasurer Jega Ramasamy, Treasurer Panchalingam Paramananthan, and the TD and CIBC banks, among others.

RCMP counter-terrorism officers searched the World Tamil Movement offices in Canada in 2006 and seized: Tamil Tigers paraphernalia; a letter from Tamil Tigers leader Velupillai Prabhakaran asking for $3-million; a letter from the Tamil Tigers procurement wing asking for money for artillery; and Elections Canada voter lists with the Tamil names highlighted.

According to RCMP reports filed in court since the raids, the investigators also uncovered a terrorist-financing operation that was targeting Tamil Canadians for donations, sometimes using pressure tactics.

The main fundraising method was a pre-authorized payment scheme in which Tamils were asked to sign forms allowing the World Tamil Movement to make monthly withdrawals from their bank accounts, police said.

The WTM took in $763,000 a year using the scheme. In a single day in 2005, it withdrew $64,000 from 1,528 bank accounts. "Significant evidence of terrorist financing was found," the RCMP wrote, "including pre-authorized loan forms, well-organized ledger and receipt books formatted by postal code, indicating names of contributors and collectors, and large quantities of LTTE propaganda materials, and merchandise."

The RCMP was able to trace $3-million worth of bank transfers that occurred between 2002 and 2006 from the WTM accounts in Canada to overseas accounts, most of them linked to the Tamil Tigers.

"The bank records seized...demonstrate that the World Tamil Movement has developed an elaborate machine like entity that moves throughout Greater Toronto collecting funds with extreme proficiency," the RCMP said, adding the setup was "congruent with the money laundering techniques often employed by organized crime."

Tuesday, several hundred demonstrators stood outside the United States Consulate in Toronto, some waving Tamil Tigers flags. An ad for the protest said its purpose was to urge President Barack Obama to "save Tamil people."

Canada has pledged $4.5-million in humanitarian assistance and called for a ceasefire to safeguard the tens of thousands of civilians currently caught in the war zone amid intense fighting between the two sides but Sri Lanka has said it will not comply.

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