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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2610

Tamil Tigers Control a Portion of Montréal’s One Billion Dollar Drug Trade - Jane’s Intelligence Review

By Walter Jayawardhana

London, 23 August, ( Citing Royal Canadian Mounted Police sources the Jane’s Intelligence Review said the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) controls portion of US Dollar one billion drug market in the Canadian city of Montreal.

The Jane’s Intelligence Review said that one of the main ways of earning money out of its USD 200-300 million annual income of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is narcotics smuggling using its merchant ships, which also transports illicit arms and explosives which they procure all over the world for a separatist insurgency in the Indian Ocean island of Sri Lanka.

“The LTTE's chief trade in Asia is reportedly heroin trafficking, although no verifiable evidence has been produced. According to G H Peiris at the University of Peradeniya , the LTTE secures the Golden Crescent-Europe route and possibly routes out of the Golden Triangle”, the report said.

The ‘Golden Crescent is the name given to Asia’s principal opium producing area encompassing three nations, Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan whose mountainous areas define the Crescent. In 1991 Afghanistan became the world’s primary opium producer with a yield of 1782 metric tons surpassing Burma which produced 800 metric tons in 2002.

The ‘Golden Triangle’ is one of Asia’s two main illicit opium producing areas of 350,000 square kilometers that envelops the mountains of three countries of mainland South East Asia, Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. Opium is a narcotic drug yielded from the latex from the seed pods of the plant, Papaver Somniferum.

Quoting a US Congressional report the Jane’s Intelligence Report said, “The US Library of Congress stated in its October 2003 report, Nations hospitable to organized crime and terrorism, that the LTTE then alternate their routes involving transportation back to coastal areas of Sri Lanka or Tamil Nadu, where its naval forces can secure smuggling operations.”

The Jane’s Report further said, “Although the LTTE is unlikely to be involved in street-level distribution of heroin, it is possible that LTTE-affiliated street gangs may be involved in lower-level distribution. The RCMP claims that a portion of the USD1 billion drug markets in Montreal is controlled by Sri Lankans connected to the LTTE.”

During the recent taking over of the Thoppigala mountainous area from the LTTE, the last complex of military camps they held , the Sri Lanka Security Forces discovered tons of sacks , nicely packed with dried leaves of Marijuana or Ganja (Cannabis Sativa) indicating their importance for the existence of the separatist group as a money earner.

G.H.Peiris of the Peradeniya University, who has been quoted by the Jane’s Review in its report says in a separate report that the involvement of the LTTE in narcotics transactions take place mainly in two forms: (a) “the bulk delivery of heroin and cannabis from producing areas in Asia via transit points to destinations in consuming countries” and (b) “conveying(as travelers) relatively small consignments of heroin (concealed in personal baggage) from suppliers in Asian countries to intermediary contact persons in the Middle East, North Africa, South Africa and western countries; the operation of drug distribution networks dealing in consuming regions or countries; and, working as couriers between dealers and distributors (i.e. "mulling").”

But he says there does not appear to be any extensive involvement of persons with LTTE associations in drug ‘peddling’ in the retail market. Nor has there been an indication of LTTE participation in opium growing and refining of heroin.

The following are some of his other observations: “contraband trade between India and Sri Lanka has, for long, been a lucrative commercial enterprise, controlled, for the most part, by gangs operating from both sides of Palk Strait. While Velvettiturai (‘VVT’ – a township located along the northern coast of Sri Lanka) is considered to have served as the foremost centre of the smugglers from Sri Lanka, on the Indian side, Madras (Chennai), Tuticorin, Pattukotai, Rameshwaram, Tiruchendur, Ramnad, Nagapatnam, Cochin and a host of smaller localities inhabited by fishing communities have figured prominently among the smuggler bases and hideouts.

“Up to about the mid-1970s, Indo-Sri Lanka contraband consisted mainly of raw opium (abin), fabrics, light consumer goods, coconut oil, spices, and processed foods. Thereafter (over several years), certain transformations in the wider economic milieu had the effect of expanding the scope of clandestine trade between India and Sri Lanka, generating windfall profits especially to those already in the well-established smuggling cartels. The ready availability in Sri Lanka of light manufactures from Japan and the Newly Industrialised Countries following trade liberalization in the late 1970s, for instance, increased the range of goods which the smugglers could convey to the protected Indian market. Again, the increasing demand for heroin in Sri Lanka in the wake of expanding tourism induced the smugglers to establish contact with suppliers as far a-field as Pakistan and metropolitan Mumbai (Bombay), and with delivery destinations as far south as Colombo. At this time, moreover, it became possible for the smuggler gangs to add to their paraphernalia speedboats and other naval equipment, and thus increase their turnover, resistance to coastal surveillance, and their geographical reach.

In 1970, the Sri Lanka police detected among the commodities smuggled into the country, publications espousing an extreme form of pan-Tamilian chauvinism. This, though brought to the notice of the government by a senior police officer (incidentally, a Sri Lanka Tamil), was ignored. Then, by the end of the decade, there was evidence of consignments of arms and explosives trickling into the country. This was also ignored, though, by this time, there were several groups of militants making their presence felt in the Jaffna peninsula.”

“The VVT Township, which could, in many ways, be regarded as the cradle of the LTTE, also remained the main centre of smuggling in the north. Among its special attractions was its cohesive community held together by ties of kinship and caste. There were links between its smugglers, fisher folk and ordinary tradesmen. It is said that there has usually been a spirit of mutual tolerance between its law enforcement officers and its criminals. Persons familiar with the Vvt ethos also recall that there were parts of the town into which outsiders were decidedly not welcome. Its socio-economic milieu portrayed by Hellmann-Rajanayagam (1994) highlights that:

Velvettiturai has since time immemorial been a fishing centre and a harbour famous for smuggling and the audacity of the Karaiyarfishing caste, and as an area where the Karaiyars were particularly well able to hold their own against the high caste Vellalas. This gives one some clues to the caste base of the militant groups, and it can be said that the LTTE is not only one of the few militant groups with a mixed-caste Karaiyar dominated rank-and-file base, but also the only one where Karaiyars are the leaders of the movement.

“It was in VVT of the mid-1970s that the pioneers of Sri Lanka Tamil militancy met frequently to organize their cadres, plan their crimes and chart their political course. Velupillai Prabhakaran, the daredevil "kid brother" (thambi) among the pioneers, already with a few murders and bank robberies to his credit, was a native Karaiyar of VVT. So was Selvaduarai Yogachandran (alias Kuttimani) who, as far back as 1973, had been apprehended by the Sri Lanka Navy while conveying a boatload of explosives. Gopalasamy Mahendrarajah (alias Mahattaya), liquidated by Prabhakaran in 1994 in the course of a power struggle within the LTTE, was also a Karaiyar from VVT. Many others like Yogaratnam Yogi, Balakumar, Thangadurai, Sathasivam Krishnakumar (alias Kittu) and 'KP' Kumaran Padmanathan (alias Tharmalingam Shanmugam, best known for his highly successful international arms procurement operations), were all of the same caste, and all from Vadamaratchi, the area within which VVT is located.

Quite clearly there was, at this stage, a confluence of the firepower and the will-o’-the-wisp skills of the VVT smugglers, and the ruthlessness and fanatical commitment of the militants. It is also easy to understand in retrospect the haughty defiance shown in later times by the Tiger leaders to other prominent Tamil militants and, indeed, towards the entire Vellala elite.”

“The advent of the LTTE to drug trafficking on an intercontinental scale following the convulsions of July 1983 was thus an easy step in its progress as a terrorist organization. It already possessed the means to obtain heroin from sub-continental sources of supply. It now acquired the capacity to mobilize large numbers of obedient conveyers and couriers who, as political refugees, were treated with considerable benevolence in western countries. It had an abundance of paternal goodwill and support of the mainstream political parties of the Sri Lankan Tamils. It had the reassurance of Indian protection. What it now needed was the money and the weaponry for a vastly enhanced insurrectionary effort.”

Peiris in his paper also examined LTTE’s narcotics market in the West: “Among the different forms of LTTE involvement in drug transactions during the 1980s referred to above, it is mainly in respect of "dealing" and "muleing" that there is concrete information extractable from published sources. This information may be synthesized as follows.

“According to authoritative Western analysts, it was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (1979), the Islamic revolution in Iran (1979), and the Iran-Iraq war (1980-90) which disrupted the main ‘traditional’ drug routes between the ‘Golden Crescent’ and Europe. This made the Pakistan-based drug cartels turn to alternative routes of delivery via South Asia. The West Coast of India, along which surveillance was weak, is believed to have provided many safe transit points, with the Indian workforce in West Asia providing a reservoir of couriers. It was evidently in this wider context that the ‘proto-LTTE’ (and smuggler gangs operating in northern Sri Lanka), with the experience they already possessed in contraband operations in South Asia, were drawn into the matrix of transcontinental drug trafficking.

“The heyday of LTTE’s association with drug ‘dealing’ (operation of distribution networks) and ‘muleing’ (providing courier services) in western countries was in the aftermath of the anti-Tamil mob violence in Sri Lanka in July 1983, which initiated a massive exodus of Tamil refugees from the country. While a fairly large proportion of this refugee outflow was formally admitted into Europe and North America as asylum-seekers, there was, concurrently, a large-scale illegal infiltration of Tamil youth from Sri Lanka to the West via the Soviet block and Africa – a process sponsored by several organisations among which the LTTE played a major role.

The LTTE and certain other Tamil militant outfits internationally active at this time were thus able to mobilize the services of a large number of Tamil youth to carry consignments of drugs from Sri Lanka and South India to various destinations, and, in the case of some among them, also serve as couriers after their entry into their intended countries of domicile. It is believed that the performance of such conveyer and courier services was often a repayment for being smuggled out of Sri Lanka. It seems likely that, in the initial stages of this refugee flow, lax surveillance procedures and liberal attitude of the authorities in the host countries towards political refugees facilitated the participation of fairly large numbers of Tamil youth in the drug trade. To some extent, this has persisted in the Nordic countries.

“The first major detection of LTTE-linked drug rings in Europe took place in Italy in September 1984, following the arrest of a Tamil courier on his way to Rome. Well co-coordinated police search operations resulted in the arrest of about 200 Tamils, most of whom were believed to have constituted a Rome-based narcotic distribution network spread over several Italian cities such as Milan, Naples, Acilia, Cetania and Syracuse, and extending into Sicily. The Italian breakthrough activated the drug enforcement agencies elsewhere, leading to the arrest and incarceration of many Sri Lankans associated with the drug trade, and the confiscation of surprisingly large amounts of high-grade heroin. The Swiss police, for example, broke up a drug ring – one that was believed to have links with the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) rather than the LTTE – engaged in cross-border heroin transactions in Switzerland and France. Numerous arrests of Sri Lankan Tamils on drug charges were also reported at this time in Germany, France and the Nordic countries (Table 1). These law enforcement operations resulted in imprisonment and/or deportation, the personal intervention on behalf of the convicts by the then leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) – assassinated by the LTTE a few years later – with the Italian government notwithstanding.

“There has been no published evidence, since the late 1980s, of large-scale organised involvement of Tamil militant groups in the distribution of narcotics in the European market. In fact, the general belief in officialdom appears to be that drug rings associated with the LTTE no longer exist in Europe. Hence, evidently, their exasperation with the Sri Lanka government’s persistence with the charge of drug trafficking against the LTTE.

If the Tiger involvement in the European drug market has, indeed, declined, it could be attributed to several reasons. For instance, some of the major police offensives staged in Italy, Switzerland and France in the mid-1980s against Tamil drug dealers and couriers, are said to have been based on information supplied by rival drug rings, especially those of the Lebanese, Italians and Nigerians, who had been on the European drug scene from earlier times, and for whom the competition from the new Asian intruders had become a source of irritation, if not a serious threat. It is also possible that the law enforcement agencies began to exercise greater vigilance over Tamil refugee groups following the initial discovery of links between them and the narcotics trade and in the context of an increasing global concern over narco-terrorism.

It is likely, moreover, that as a result of an increasingly tarnished political image (a fallout, notably, of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination), on the one hand, and the success of its legitimate enterprises, on the other, the LTTE found it prudent to dissociate itself from the distribution aspects of the drug trade, at least in Europe, where, in any event, it had formidable rivals. In addition, it seems reasonable to speculate that, over the past few years, the LTTE has shifted emphasis from ‘dealing’ and ‘muleing’ in consuming countries to intercontinental bulk transfers of narcotics. More on this presently.

Sri Lanka Tamils still occasionally figure among those associated with the drug trade in Canada. A statement released in 1991 by the Sri Lanka High Commission in Canada referred to a report of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), according to which a part of the billion dollar drug market of Montreal city was controlled by Sri Lankans, who were sending some of the profits to the LTTE. Again, a report prepared in 1995 for the Mackenzie Institute of Toronto estimated (speculatively) that the 134 kilograms of heroin seized globally by various law enforcement agencies from Tamil drug runners the previous year represented only about 7-10 per cent of the probable total volume of such traffic, and that "... Tamil drug runners could be selling around 1,000 kg of heroin a year." The retail market value of such a volume of heroin (at 40 per cent purity) in the West, according to price levels of that time, would have been about US$ 290 million.

- Asian Tribune -

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