The Web Sri Lanka In Focus

Thursday, 31 January 2008

Scam may have link to Tamil Tigers: cops

'They're obviously supporters'
The Toronto Sun

Fraud investigators suspect a group of four who swiped account information from British bank cards of swindling victims out of about $250,000.

But Toronto Police are also trying to determine if there's a link between the international scam and the Tamil Tigers. Police found posters supporting the rebel group, which has been locked in a decades-old battle with Sri Lanka for independence.

"They're obviously supporters of the group," said Det. Scott Wittemore of 42 Division.


He said calendars and posters were found in the homes of two suspects.

"That's the next question we're going to have to investigate," he said. "My suspicions are that money will be going there, but it's going to take us months to track that."

The four suspects, two from London, England, face 83 charges, including belonging to a criminal organization, an offence developed to combat organized crime groups.

"We feel that we've met the threshold," Wittemore said. "I mean, it's not like a group of school kids saying, 'Let's go and rob whatever.' I think we have a strong case, but it will be up to a judge."

Wittemore said a patrolling cruiser spotted the suspects' vehicle go through a stop sign Monday in the Brimley Rd. and Brimwood Blvd. area.


The uniformed officers then found 41 gift cards, raising suspicions of a fraud scheme. Police discovered that the magnetic strip on the back of the cards contained debit card information of legitimate bank customers from Britain.

Police raided a Markham hotel room on Woodbine Ave. and an Ellesmere Rd. home after the car was stopped.

Investigators seized two laptop computers, computer memory sticks, reader and writer hardware, travel documents and passports issued to the suspects, a pinhole camera device, $25,000 in Canadian $20 bills and receipts for money transfers to people in the U.K. In total, 88 bogus ATM cards were seized.

Pratheepan Thambu, 22, and Lojanand Srianandan, 27, both of Toronto, and Sethukavalar Saravanabavan, 35, and Kirubakaran Selvanayagam Pillai, 38, of London, England, are to appear in a Scarborough court Friday.


Police explore Tamil link in fraud probe

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

A routine traffic stop has sparked a widening police probe of a debit-card fraud that may have funnelled funds to the outlawed Tamil Tigers.

After a visiting motorist failed to halt at a stop sign Monday, police in Scarborough's 42 Division searched his rented vehicle and found plastic cards carrying the debit data of bank customers in the United Kingdom.

Now four men face multiple charges of attempting to loot bank accounts in Britain. The four - two of them visitors from Britain and two of them Toronto residents - are all of Sri Lankan origin.

For now, the alleged scam is being treated as a relatively straightforward effort to steal tens of thousands of dollars from British bank-card holders via the international network of bank-teller machines.

But lead investigator Detective Scott Whittemore said yesterday that in visits to two Scarborough homes, police discovered calendars and posters promoting and lauding Sri Lanka's insurgent Tamil Tigers, a group outlawed in Canada.

And while voicing support for the group is not an offence, providing it with material support has been illegal since April of last year, when Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day announced that the Tamil Tigers had been added to Ottawa's list of proscribed terrorist groups.

The United States and the European Union have similarly blacklisted the organization.

Police are investigating whether any of the four men has financial ties to the Tigers. If the alleged fraud was intended to benefit the Tigers, it would not be the first time crime-derived funds have been funnelled to the group, but such connections are always hard to prove, Det. Whittemore said.

The four men were arrested when their rented car ran a stop sign and was examined. Police discovered 42 plastic bank cards in the car, and dozens more cards were found when police later raided a Brampton hotel and a home on Scarborough's Ellesmere Road.

And while it was unclear how much money was actually stolen, $25,000 in Canadian $20 bills was found in the raids, along with two laptop computers, computer memory sticks and hardware, pinhole cameras and passports and travel documents.

The four men will appear in court tomorrow for a bail hearing.

Canada's Tamil community numbers more than 200,000 people, two-thirds of whom live in the Toronto area. In their homeland, Sri Lanka, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have been locked in a war with the state in a conflict that has claimed at least 60,000 lives since 1972.

The Canadian Tamil Congress rejects suggestions the Tigers play any role in terrorism. But two days after last year's announcement outlawing the Tigers, RCMP raided the Montreal office of the World Tamil Movement, allegedly a front for Tiger fund-raising.

And in March of last year, a report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch went further than merely asserting that Canadian money is fuelling the insurgency. The report stated that in Toronto, Tamils acting on behalf of the Tigers have committed widespread extortion and intimidation against their compatriots.

"Families were typically pressed for between $2,500 and $5,000," the report's authors wrote, "while some businesses were asked for up to $100,000."

The CTC denounced the Human Rights Watch findings, calling them methodologically flawed and flat-out wrong.