21 jailed in France for extorting money to fund LTTE war in SL

The court also ruled that the Tamil Coordinating Committee of France, known as the CCTF, which was identified as the "legal front" of the LTTE in that country, be dissolved, the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Among the 21 convicted is the head of the CCTF and the LTTE leader in France, Nadarajah Mathinthiran alias 'Parithi', who was sentenced to the maximum 7-year imprisonment for extorting USD 7.5 million from the Tamil community under a 'special collect' conducted in 2006.

The court further pronounced on Monday that Parithi was in regular contact with the LTTE's international head Manivannan alias 'Castro', the ministry statement said. The financial head of the CCTF 'Jeya' was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment, while the CCTF's propaganda head 'Mehtha" got 5 years with 18 months suspended.

The rest of the LTTE activists, most of them members of the CCTF and involved in extortion and money collection from the Tamil community, got sentences ranging from 4 years to six months, including the suspended terms.

The 21 accused were arrested by the French anti-terrorist police in raids conducted in and around Paris in April and September 2007 and May 2008. The arrests had been made following a lengthy investigation carried out over a period of more than one year, the ministry said in the statement.

The court pronounced that those convicted were closely linked with the CCTF, the French wing of the LTTE, and were involved in racketeering to collect funds from the Tamil community for the LTTE war in Sri Lanka. The ruling said that there was sufficient evidence to "prove the connection" between the CCTF and the LTTE, rejecting the defence argument that the CCTF was a sports/cultural organisation of Tamils collecting money for humanitarian assistance for the community in Sri Lanka.

The court also ruled that there was a direct link between the receipts issued for money collected and "authorisation" given to Tamils to visit families living in areas dominated by the LTTE, while relatives of non-payers faced LTTE reprisals. The court, while ruling that there was not sufficient evidence to prove "physical use of force" by the collectors, however, said that there was an "apparent climate of pressure" exercised on the Tamil community, the ministry statement said.

According to witnesses heard during the investigation that preceded the trial, it was sufficient for the collectors to mention they were from the LTTE for the people to pay out of fear.

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