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Sri Lanka money laundering Swiss prosecutor takes Tamil investigation abroad

Switzerland is home to some 42,000 Tamils


The Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office will take its investigation into suspected money laundering by 12 members of the Swiss Tamil Tigers (LTTE) to the Netherlands and Sri Lanka, it was reported on Sunday.

The NZZ am Sonntag newspaper reported that in the Netherlands, Swiss prosecutors planned to interview the LTTE finace head who is imprisoned there. In Sri Lanka, prosecutors will question some 25 people from senior ranks of the Tamil Tigers, some of whom are currently imprisoned.

Jeannette Balmer, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office, told the paper the aim of the investigations, due to take place in autumn, was to strengthen a money laundering case against 12 Swiss Tamils.

“It's to prove that the Swiss branch of the global LTTE knowingly and willingly misused money from illegally obtained loans to inject it into the international finance circuit of the organisation,” Balmer said.

The prosecutor’s office suspects that the Tamils used fake payslips or Sri Lankans resident in Switzerland to obtain loans of between SFr70,000 – 100,000 ($73,000 - 104,000). Once obtained, the cash was couriered to Sri Lanka where it was laundered locally and eventually used to finance the purchase of weapons during the civil war, the prosecutor believes.

The investigations in Sri Lanka come after the Swiss Prosecutor’s Office made an official request to Sri Lankan authorities in 2011, which was granted.

After being at war with the Tamil Tigers for some 25 years, the Sri Lankan government is keen for criminal convictions of Tamils.

However, under the terms of the agreement with Sri Lankan authorities – which Swiss authorities fear would otherwise assert undue pressure on witnesses – the interrogations will take place in the presence of Swiss lawyers only.

The usual Sri Lankan method of hearings based on a questionnaire will not occur and no Sri Lankan authorities will present during the interrogations.

The three-decade civil war in Sri Lanka ended in May 2009 after Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and the last of his soldiers made their final stand against the Sri Lankan army. Casualties among the Tamil civilian population trapped in the disputed Vanni enclave shocked the world. 

A 2011 United Nations-sponsored report on Sri Lanka said there was "credible evidence" the military killed thousands of civilians at the end of the civil war. The report also found the Tamil Tiger separatists used civilians as human shields as troops closed in on their final positions.  

The report concluded that the government’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, which has investigated the end of the conflict in response to international pressure, was "deeply flawed".

Swiss Tamils

Switzerland is home to around 42,000 Tamils, of which around 15,000 have obtained Swiss citizenship. One third of the Sri Lankans with permanent residence or Swiss citizenship were born in Switzerland. 

The Tamils first came to Switzerland as refugees in the 1980s after the civil war started.

They were the first dark-skinned people to immigrate to the country in large numbers, and were slow finding acceptance among the Swiss population at large. Tamils recall experiencing racist abuse in public places.

They have since have won respect by their habits of hard work and their family orientation.

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