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Sri Lankan Tamil pleads guilty in the second arms smuggling sting operation case


By Walter Jayawardhana

Thiruvanakarasu Varatharajah, the only Sri Lankan charged in the second string operation case filed in a Maryland courts pleaded guilty to the charges that he tried to smuggle weapons to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

One of six accused in this case the Sri Lankan Tamil was the last person to plead guilty and all others, four Indonesian arms dealers and a Singaporean arms dealer pleaded guilty earlier.

The Justice Department announced the pleading of the accused to coincide with Asst State Secretary Bouchers visit to Sri Lanka.

Vartharasa faces a total of 25 years in a federal jail in the United States for the two charges- fifteen years for conspire to supply material support for a foreign terrorist group, and 10 years for trying to export weapons and ammunition.

The US Federal Judge Catherine Blake did not announce a date for the sentencing.

The five other Asians and Vartharasa were charged after being caught in a sting operation by the FBI for trying to buy arms from an undercover fictitious company.

In this second successful sting operation involving the Tamil Tigers conducted by the US federal government, Federal Agents arrested the five Asian buyers and one Sri Lankan Tamil for trying to buy US Dollars 900,000 dollars worth of surface to air missiles and other sophisticated military weapons for Sri Lanka’s separatist terrorists, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Apart from the missiles, the LTTE brokers were trying to buy grenade launchers, submachine guns, sniper rifles and night vision goggles.

The accused were negotiating with a bogus company put up by the US to buy surface to air missiles and other weapons, "an arsenal of U.S. military hardware — enough to inflict serious casualties on any military force, let alone a civilian population," a US official said after the arrests.

One of the suspects who was arrested as a result of this sting operation, one Haniffa bin Osman of Singapore traveled to the United States in July last year and stayed in a Baltimore Four Star hotel in the city’s inner harbor, dining and wining with the officials, US officials revealed.

At one point the arms buyer for the LTTE, Haniffa bin Osman was taken to a police firing range at Havre de Grace, in the US state of Maryland, close to Baltimore and was allowed to test fire some weapons he was planning to buy but the police had surreptitiously removed the signs that indicated that it was a police firing range before his arrival, officials said.

U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said the suspects were arrested Sept.28 2006 and the next day in Guam, where they had met with undercover agents to finalize the delivery of the weapons to the LTTE. Guam is an island that belongs to the United States. "It’s our commitment to make sure we do everything we can not only to make sure that terrorists don’t attack us in the United States, but terrorists do not find any support here in the United States for their activities overseas," Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said at a news conference later.

According to court papers the Singapoerean, Osman, (55), and Indonesian nationals Erick Wotulo,(60), and Haji Subandi, (69) were accused of conspiring to provide material support to a terrorist organization, conspiring to export arms without a required State Department license and money laundering. A related criminal complaint filed in Guam charges Thirunavukarasu Varatharasa (36), a citizen of Sri Lanka, as a participant in the alleged conspiracy to export arms. He was to finally inspect the weapons for the LTTE before the final payments were to be made.

Subandi was also charged in a separate complaint, along with two other Indonesian nationals, with conspiring to ship state-of the-art night vision goggles to Indonesia without the necessary State Department approvals. Authorities said Subandi described the other defendants — Reinhard Rusli, 34, and Helmi Soedirdja, 33 — as his financial partners in that transaction.

The accused initially appeared in a Federal court in Guam and later transferred to Baltimore.

The Indonesian, Hadji Subandi presented himself as a broker and he corresponded with the bogus undercover business put up by the operation on a regular basis beginning in March 2004 in an effort to procure military equipment and technology for potential buyers in Sri Lanka and Indonesia, the indictment unsealed on Friday accused.

But those papers did not indicate how those contacts began, and did not provide details about the bogus company.

The indictment further said, but in April, 2006, Subandi e-mailed the undercover business about a possible purchase of weapons that he said were for the Tamil Tigers. In May, Subandi identified Wotulo, an Indonesian and Osman, a Singaporean as Tamil Tiger representatives who would be involved in the transaction.

In an e-mail to the agents May 26 2006 Wotulo identified himself as a retired Indonesian Marine Corps general and informed, "I understand this business is dangerous, also extraordinary, high risk." The indictment said Wotulu later told the agents that "the chief" of the LTTE had requested that he and Osman travel to Baltimore — though, in the end, only Osman allegedly did so.

In Baltimore, late in July, Osman told the agents that although he was helping the terrorist group obtain arms, he was not himself a member.

According to court papers Osman was expecting a second order worth 15 million dollars if the first one was successfully delivered to the Tamil terrorist group. The 900,000 dollars worth of weapons were to be delivered in the international waters of the Indian Ocean to the LTTE the court papers said.

The complaint against the Sri Lanka Tamil, Varatharasa said, in Maryland, Osman told undercover agents that Varatharasa would inspect the weaponry before it would be accepted by the rebel group.

On Aug. 2 2006, the bogus business set up for undercover purposes received a $250,00 deposit from a bank in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia by a wire transfer the indictment revealed.

The court papers further said Osman and Varatharasa met with the undercover agents in Guam last Monday. Then and the next day, they finalized the transaction, inspecting the shipment and arranging for another $450,000 to be transferred as further payment.

Indonesian Haji Subandi, 69, pleaded guilty to the charges on March 8, and faces a maximum penalty of 15 years for conspiracy and 20 years for each of two counts of money laundering, as well as 10 years for attempted exportation of arms.

Wotulo and Osman both pleaded guilty and face maximum sentences of 15 years in prison for conspiracy and 20 years for money laundering. Two other Indonesians also pleaded guilty, and all will be sentenced in the coming weeks.

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May 11, 2007 - Posted by | International News

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