Australian Tamil Congress, A Terrorist Front ?
By Camelia Nathaniel
Australian Tamil Congress (ATC), LTTE’s premier front in Australia, was designated as a terrorist entity under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373. The ATC is also listed as a terrorist organisation by the Terrorist Research & Analysis Consortium (TRAC). Like the previous LTTE fronts, ATC too built an Australia-wide network with chapters in South Australia, Western Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and in Queensland. The key focus of the ATC is on lobbying Australian parliamentarians, Tamil Diaspora, and host population against Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan government.
To advance LTTE’s goal of separatism, ATC joined other LTTE fronts to politicise, radicalise and mobilise the Tamil communities overseas. ATC focus is Australia. In addition to organizing cultural events, dinners and other fund raisers, ATC disseminated misinformation and disinformation about Sri Lanka. A hallmark of LTTE propaganda is the use of the term “genocide,” a very act the LTTE engaged in by driving out the Muslims and Sinhalese by systematically killing village after village.
As stated on the Australian Tamil Congress website: “As part of an international Tamil human rights and political organisation dedicated to generating change through ‘Collective Global Tamil’ action to institute and educate people on Tamils’ right to survival and self-determination, and to promote the safety, welfare, economic development of Tamils worldwide; and to teach the lessons of the Tamil Genocide in Sri Lanka for future generations.”
In keeping with the central LTTE mandate, ATC too planned
• To unite all existing Tamil organisations in Australia.
• To urge the UN to conduct an international investigation into alleged war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan government.
• To boycott Sri Lankan Cricket
The LTTE influence and impact on countries hosting Tamil communities including Australia was evident when Brett Mason, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs in Australia wrote a letter to the ATC saying that Australia will continue to urge Sri Lanka to ensure that all allegations of serious international crimes committed by both sides to the conflict are investigated and prosecuted in a transparent and independent manner. The letter was a response to queries by the ATC about Australia’s policy on engagement with Sri Lanka. If there are international investigations, among those identified for investigations will include LTTE cadres and activists with the ATC.
Like leaders and members of other LTTE fronts, ATC too never criticised Velupillai Prabhakaran for spearheading a 30-year-long campaign of terror. ATC did not condemn the LTTE violence including its deliberate attacks against civilians. The lingo of ATC is not different from the lingo of other LTTE fronts. A directing figure of ATC, Dr Bala Vigneswaran mentioned in a speech that there are two nations that exist in the island of Sri Lanka. The ATC and its members advanced a separatist ideology and believe in creating a separate state of “Tamil Eelam.” As ATC leaders are members are unrepentant, they seek to revive the conflict in Sri Lanka.
Compared to the funds raised by other LTTE fronts in Australia during the Sri Lankan conflict, the ATC financial capacity is limited. With the LTTE losing its capacity to intimidate Tamils overseas after LTTE in Sri Lanka was defeated, most Tamils did not wish to contribute to the LTTE. The ATC earns money from donations given to them by supporters in Australia. Donations were also made through their official website. People who become members of the ATC paid a membership fee. The fees vary as follows:
- Ordinary Member: AUD $100
- Life Member: AUD $2000
- Sponsor Member: AUD $5000
- Associate Member: AUD$50
Members can also donate as much as they like to the “ATC Growth Fund” if they opt to.
Funds are also raised during events conducted by the ATC, such as their co-presentation of “The Sound of Silence” on June 2, 2011. Another joint event held by the ATC and the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) that raised funds was the event on “Accountability in Sri Lanka: Seeking Common Justice in the Commonwealth”, where tickets were sold at AUD$30 for adults and AUD$15 for students. Expected income of AUS $ 100,000 is for special strategic initiatives. The ATC hopes to raise this and other funds by accumulating a membership of 5,000 and other fund raising.
The Global Tamil Forum until the designation of GTF and ATC as terrorist fronts under UNSCR 1373, worked closely with each other. On October 20, 2011, the ATC hosted the “International Conference on Human Rights” along with the Global Tamil Forum (GTF), which talked about “Accountability in Sri Lanka and Common Justice in the Commonwealth”. Like other LTTE fronts, the ATC claims to be the national body for Tamils in Australia and have not condemned the LTTE for its role in ethnic cleansing, massacring civilians, bombing public places, and conducting suicide attacks. The ATC have shown their support for terrorism on their website itself, asking supporters to “remember our heroes” who “fought bravely to the end”. It also states that it is the ATC’s and other organisations’ job to “carry on the struggle to fulfill the aspirations of the Tamil people left in Sri Lanka.”
ATC leadership includes;
(1) Dr Raj. T. Rajeswaran – Founding Member/Chairman, Australian Tamil Congress
When the Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, went for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth in 2011, Raj Rajeswaran, on behalf of the Australian Tamil Congress (ATC) released a statement which said: “We don’t want him here. We are really upset that the Commonwealth countries are not making enough effort to stop Sri Lanka from coming, given the seriousness of these accusations.’’
(2) Varuni Balachandar – Executive Officer, Australian Tamil Congress
(3) Dr Sam Pari/Sambhavi Parimalanathan – Executive Officer for Public Relations and National Spokesperson, Australian Tamil Congress
SL kneejerk reaction
The Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) queried Sam Pari after the Sri Lankan government had declared the ATC as one of the 15 “foreign terrorist entities” in March 2014. She angrily denied that the ATC was a terrorist group and stated; “The Australian Tamil Congress believes that this is kneejerk reaction by the Sri Lankan Government in response to the successfully adopted United Nations Human Rights Council resolution on Sri Lanka, which was passed last Thursday the 27th of March.”
Sam Pari is a member of the LTTE. Although she denies it, the LTTE application form of Dr Pari, which she filled in her own handwriting and provided a photograph, was recovered from a LTTE repository by Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Defence.
(3) Dr Sittampalam (Raga) Ragavan
In an interview, Sittampalam (Raga) Ragavan shared his view on Sri Lanka’s labelling of the ATC as a terrorist organisation. He claimed that this was the Sri Lankan’s move to discredit and sever the ties that the ATC have with the local politicians.
Ragavan said that the ATC is not funding terrorism and that this is very well known to the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). According to him, the Sri Lankan government just looks foolish in the eyes of the international community.
(4) Dr. Bala Vigneswaran
Bala Vigneswaran spoke at an event in Australia on behalf of the Australian Tamil Congress (ATC). In his speech, he stated that there were two nations that exist in the island of Sri Lanka. This of course refers to what the LTTE and other pro-LTTE supporters call ‘Tamil Eelam”, which was a separate Tamil state comprising the Northern and Eastern parts of the island.
Vigneswaran also released a statement on behalf of the ATC when they attempted to boycott Sri Lanka Cricket and stop the Boxing Day match between Sri Lanka and Australia from proceeding. “We as Tamil Australians enjoy a good game of cricket and appreciate that Boxing Day cricket is a great Australian tradition that we all cherish. We reiterate that any support for boycott call is neither against the players of the Sri Lankan team nor against any Australian interest in this great game, but to highlight the fact that the attempted engagement by the international community to bring peace and reconciliation to the nation has not brought about any tangible changes to the dismal rule of law, good governance and the practice of true democracy in Sri Lanka and that the country is dangerously sliding towards a lawless state.”
(5) Saradha (Sarah) Nathan
After the designation of ATC as a terrorist entity, many Australian Tamils have publicly distanced themselves away from ATC. Nonetheless, a few dozen diehard LTTE activists continue to work with the ATC. The multiple LTTE fronts operating in Australia are (1) the Australian Tamil Congress, engaged in lobbying government, academics, NGOs; (2) Tamil Youth Organisation, engaged in demonstrations, and public meetings including celebrating the suicide and non suicide terrorists; (3) the Tamil Coordinating Committee, engaged in terrorist fund raising, procurement, and supporting revival of terrorism including attacks.
Today, less than 10 percent of the Tamil community support the LTTE. Compared to the period when the Sri Lankan security forces and the LTTE fought, most Tamils who advocated and supported a mono ethnic Tamil state have realised the futility of violence. Furthermore, the end of the Sri Lankan conflict witnessed the grip on the public of the LTTE international network diminish. Nonetheless, a few dozen fanatical supporters and members of the LTTE staff the LTTE fronts in Australia. Those Australian citizens and residents radicalised by LTTE propaganda joined either one or several fronts.
Filled with passionate support for the LTTE and its attacks, they expressed hate for the Government and non-Tamil Sri Lankan communities. For example, a Sri Lankan Tamil Aran Mylvaganam in Australia joined multiple LTTE fronts, the Australian Tamil Congress, engaged in lobbying, Tamil Youth Organisation, engaged in demonstrations, and celebrating the dead terrorists, and the Tamil Coordinating Committee, engaged in terrorist fund raising, procurement, and supporting attacks. The multiple membership of Aran Mylvaganam demonstrated how the terrorist supporters and sympathizers moved between front organisations with specialist functions to advance LTTE’s agenda.
The LTTE in Australia raised about half a million Australian dollars every year. Although the LTTE directing figures claimed that the money is for humanitarian purposes, such as Tsunami relief and other charitable projects, the money was largely used to procure weapons from North Korea and dual use technologies from Australia. Key operatives of the LTTE flew to Hong Kong and China and to Southeast Asia, notably to Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand with bulk cash.
Huge cash withdrawals
According to Australian government, $1.05 million in cash was withdrawn from the Tamil Coordination Committee account between 2001 and 2005. The senior LTTE activist in Australia Vinayagamoorthy operating under Thillainadarajah Jeyakumar alias Tillai Jeyakumar, the then LTTE chief in Australia, deposited $526,000 in his bank account between August 2001 and November 2005, during which time he appeared to have been jobless. Most of that money was withdrawn in cash and 24 international fund transfers totaling $240,000 were deposited in Malaysian bank accounts.
These Malaysian accounts were maintained by the Malaysian branch of the LTTE that engaged in buying weapons from North Korea. The Malaysian LTTE front organisation, the World Tamil Relief Fund, manipulated the accounts mostly for procuring Chinese weapons from North Korea. Working directly under the then LTTE international chief Selvarasa Pathmanathan alias Kumaran Pathmanthan alias KP, Tillai Jeyakumar appointed the LTTE branch chief in Malaysia.
Australia was a key centre for the LTTE to procure supplies to support its land, air and sea attacks, including attacks against civilians. In addition to training to fly, technologies procured by the LTTE include plane kits, mini helicopters, remote control devices, boat designs, and other marine capabilities. After several years of monitoring, the Australian government arrested two LTTE activists in Melbourne. The Australian Federal Police charged Aruran Vinayagamoorthy, 33, of Mt Waverley, and Sivarajah Yathavan, 36, of Vermont South for working for the Melbourne-based Tamil Coordination Committee, the LTTE front engaged in raising funds and procuring supplies. Although the LTTE was not listed as a proscribed terrorist organisation in Australia, it is illegal to fund and support the LTTE
The Commonwealth prosecutor Mark Dean SC said that senior LTTE activist Vinayagamoorthy spent $97,000 on 3,500 electronic transmitters between September 2003 and October 2005. Furthermore, between 2005 and 2006, he bought about 70 remote control devices similar to ones used in terrorism attacks in Sri Lanka. Yathavan and LTTE chief in Australia Thilal Jeyakumar bought for $126,000 185 hydraulic steering units similar to those used by the LTTE to mount attacks on Sri Lanka’s naval and commercial vessels. Despite overwhelming evidence, during interviews with the police the LTTE activists denied links between the Tamil Coordinating Committee and the LTTE.
The Australian arrests in May 2007 were spurred by the FBI in the US arresting LTTE procurement cell in August 2006. The procurement cell consisted of LTTE activists from the Canadian Tamil Congress and the Tamil Youth Organization. The former Canadian Tamil Congress Director of Communications Sahilal Sabaratnam was arrested on Long Island in New York attempting to purchase and export ten SA-18 heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles and launchers, 500 AK-47s, and other military equipment.
Sahilal operated together with his brother-in-law Thani Thanigasalam who headed the cell and Satha Sarachandran, President of the Tamil Youth Organization (TYO) Canada of the LTTE (2003-2005) and a member of the Canadian Tamil Congress.
Both the Canadian Tamil Congress and the Australian Tamil Congress are constituent members of the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) led by Father S.J. Emmanuel, an LTTE ideologue. The Australian Tamil Congress (ATC) is modeled on the Canadian Tamil Congress that engaged in terrorist propaganda, fund raising and procurement. In addition to the Canadian Tamil Congress, also designated as a terrorist entity, ATC maintained links with the Global Tamil Forum, another UNSCR 1373 designated terrorist front. The ATC was created in August 2009, within three months of LTTE’s defeat in May 2009. ATC is staffed by members of existing LTTE fronts in Australia that engaged in terrorist support activities.
Australia served as a very important support base for LTTE activities for nearly three decades. Since the mid-1980s, Australia notably Melbourne and Sydney, served as a support base for terrorist propaganda, fund raising and procurement. At the recommendation of N. Seevaratnam, the first LTTE international accountant, the then LTTE international chief KP travelled to Australia in the mid 1980s and appointed Tillai Jeyakumar as his representative. A native of Vannarpannai in Jaffna, Tillai started to support the LTTE after the riots of July 1983 triggered by a LTTE ambush on the Sri Lanka army. In Australia, a few Tamils came forward to raise funds for Tamil militant group especially after statements from India made them feel that New Delhi will support the creation of an independent Tamil State. Although others activists worked for the LTTE and other Tamil militant groups in Australia, Tillai Jeyakumar was the choice of the LTTE.
Since Tillai was appointed the first head of the LTTE branch in Australia, the LTTE consolidated its influence Australia wide. Gradually, Tillai built a network not only in Australia and New Zealand but also in the Pacific. He enjoyed the title of head of the Tamil Coordinating Committee in the Asia Pacific, where he functioned as deputy to KP traveling from Hong Kong and China to Malaysia and Indonesia. Tillai and his Australia based associates met with Prabhakaran and built the trust of the LTTE leader. Although Castro took over international operations in December 2002 replacing KP, Tillai Jeyakumar remained until he died of a heart attack at the age of 54 on March 29, 2007 at his home in Melbourne, when the Australian Federal Police, Australian Security and Intelligence Organization and the Australian Security Intelligence Service commenced investigations.
Working with their foreign security and intelligence services, Australian government had collected intelligence and evidence to prosecute Tillai and his staff. Tillai was aware of the threat and was under severe mental pressure when he died. His Malaysian wife, Yoga, did not see eye to eye with Tillai on his support for violence. The LTTE organised a funeral where a few hundred Tamils from across Australia and New Zealand filed past Jeyakumar’s body held in Melbourne on April 3, 2007. They included an Australian parliamentarian, who visited the funeral home, thinking that he was paying respects to a member of his constituency. However, at the very moment an Australian parliamentarian walked in, he was deeply embarrassed when a LTTE flag was draped over the body and a photograph was taken. Savvy at exploiting such moments to gain publicity, the LTTE took several photographs and sent them to the LTTE HQ in Wanni. In addition to decorating the venue with typical LTTE colours, red and yellow roses, both LTTE cadres and activists stood guard.
While Castro remained in the background, the head of the LTTE’s political wing, S. P. Tamilselvan lit the ceremonial flame in the Wanni. The LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, conferred the Maamaniathar (Great Human) award on Tillai confirming his service to the LTTE. The award is given to only a few LTTE leaders, members, supporters and agents. A LTTE newspaper reported: “Praising him as the leading force behind the Australian Tamils Co-ordinating Committee for the last two decades, Mr. Pirapaharan credited Mr. Jeyakumar with uniting Australian Tamils towards supporting the Tamil Eelam struggle.”
Full text of Prabhakaran’s speech: “We have lost today a great human being who worked relentlessly to support our struggle, leading the Australian Tamils Coordinating Committee for the last 20 years. The whole of the Tamil Nation is mourning his death.
“Jeyakumar was a cultured human being. Honest and unselfish, he dedicated his life to serve his people. He was soft spoken and had exemplary qualities. His innocent smile captivated all who came to know him.
“Jeyakumar was a patriot. Although he was based in Australia, he continued to deeply love the land of his birth. He strongly felt that the oppressive Sinhala leadership will never willingly offer a just solution to the Tamil people. His experiences convinced him that a separate state is the only way open to the Tamil people to live in peace with honour. His deep knowledge of our struggle, and clear vision for the future lit the flame of liberation in his consciousness.
“Across the oceans, beyond several continents, away from his homeland, Jeyakumar contributed the maximum possible by an expatriate Tamil towards the liberation of his homeland. He understood the political climate and the need to obey the law of the land of his adopted country and functioned diligently within this framework.
“He united the Australian Tamils to provide moral support and help to the people in his homeland. He set up institutional structures that will continue to strengthen Diaspora engagement with the destiny of Tamil people in Northeast. “Recognizing Jeyakumar’s love for his land and his people, and his services to his community, I take great pleasure in awarding the Maamanithar title to him. “Death never destroys great men who lived to uphold truthful goals. They will forever live in the psyche of the Tamil Nation.”
The Australasian Federation of Tamil Associations (AFTA), the LTTE umbrella organisation that engaged in lobbying the Australian, New Zealand and other regional governments said, “Salutes Maamanithar Jeyakumar’s selfless contribution to the Eelam Tamil cause and takes a pledge to continue to work for justice to achieve lasting peace in Sri Lanka. Mr. Jeyakumar selflessly worked to mobilise the Tamils in the Australasian region since 1983 to increase the awareness of the wider Australian and New Zealand Communities, particularly the parliamentarians and the NGO community of the conflict in Sri Lanka and has worked tirelessly to alleviate the terrible sufferings of the Tamils in Sri Lanka caused by the brutal oppression of the successive Sri Lankan Governments.”
Had Tillai Jayakumar not died of a heart attack, he would have been prosecuted. However, the Australian legal framework was weak and he may have been released on a light sentence. After the TCC was labelled as a terrorist front, the LTTE created several fronts including the Australian Tamil Congress (ATC). In addition to new faces, ATC was staffed by members and supporters of previous LTTE fronts. They included office bearers and supporters of the Tamil Youth Organization led by Dr Sam Pari, Australasian Federation of Tamil Association led by Ana Pararajasingham, the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization led by Jay Maheswaran.