Jane's intelligence review says LTTE controls a portion of
Montreal's USD 1b drug trade
(By: Walter Jayawardhana)
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 Prof. G H Peiris, 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
The 'Golden Triangle' is one of Asia's two main
illicit opium producing areas of 350,000 square kilometres 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 organised 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.
Prof. G.H.Peiris, 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 travellers) 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. "muleing")."
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 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 liberalisation in the late 1970s, for instance, increased the
range of goods which the smugglers could convey to the protected Indian
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
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 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
"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
Karaiyar fishing 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 organise 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 organisation. It already
possessed the means to obtain heroin from sub-continental sources of
supply. It now acquired the capacity to mobilise 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."
Prof. 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
synthesised 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
mobilise 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-ordinated 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
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. 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 LTTE 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.
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.
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