The eight-week Swiss trial of 13 financiers accused of funnelling money to the Sri Lankan Tamil separatist group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) has cost CHF3.79 million ($4 million). The verdict is now expected in June.
The trial of the Tamil Tiger leaders in Switzerland ended Wednesday in Bellinzona. The verdict is expected to be handed down on June 14 by the Federal Criminal Court. Citing the multi-million-franc cost of the trial, Jean-Pierre Garbade, lawyer for the defendants, contested the fact that his clients would have to pay the sum if they were convicted.
The whole process was set in motion in 2009 when the Office of the Attorney General launched an investigation against “unknown persons” for extortion, coercion, money laundering and organised crime.
Then, in 2011, a vast sting operation across various Swiss cantons resulted in the arrest of several suspects who were later released. A year later, a delegation from the Office of the Attorney General and the Federal Office of Police travelled to Sri Lanka to interview around 15 witnesses.
The accused are from Switzerland, Germany and Sri Lanka and are charged with funnelling more than CH15 million to the LTTE between 1999 and 2009. Some are former members of the World Tamil Coordinating Committee (WTCC), which represented the LTTE in Switzerland until 2009, and include its founder, his deputy and the person in charge of finances.
During the trial, federal prosecutor Juliette Noto presented the LTTE as a movement "whose effectiveness inspired al-Qaeda”. Showing a picture of the WTCC leader behind a heavy machine gun, as well as images of child soldiers, she listed the crimes attributed to the Tigers. She said that the accused were fully aware that they were supporting and funding the LTTE and that they used threats to coerce money from the Tamil diaspora.
For its part, the defence stressed the legitimacy of the Tigers' fight against an oppressive regime. They sought to convince the court that the funds raised by the WTCC from the Tamil diaspora were primarily for humanitarian causes. They also accused the Attorney General of instigating the trial at the behest of the European Union.
After eight weeks, both sides outlined their positions regarding the final outcome. The prosecutor wants a six-and-a-half-year prison term for the WTCC’s finance manager and five years for the WTCC president, his deputy, as well as the organisation’s treasurer. Two of the accused who arranged loans from Bank Now (owned by Credit Suisse) on false pretences – which were then allegedly funnelled to the LTTE – are expected to serve a four-and three-year prison term respectively. The prosecution also called for the remaining defendants – creators of financial structures, collectors of funds and an employee of Bank Now – to serve prison terms ranging from three years to 18 months.
The defence pleaded acquittal and compensation for the defendants.
Around 50,000 people from Sri Lanka live in Switzerland, mostly ethnic Tamils who fled the island’s 30-year civil war that ended in 2009. Many applied for Swiss citizenship and as of 2016 there were slightly more than 28,000 people with Sri Lankan citizenship residing in Switzerland. In 2016, the Swiss government announced it would apply more stringent criteria for granting Sri Lankan nationals refugee status.