TAMIL TIGERS

NOVEMBER 23 2009 19:04h

French court jails Tamil Tigers for extortion

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The toughest sentence of seven years in was given to Nadaraja Matinthiran, whom the court heard was the leader of the LTTE.

A French court on Monday jailed 21 Tamil Tiger militants convicted of extorting millions of euros from the Tamil diaspora in France to fund their armed campaign in Sri Lanka.

The toughest sentence of seven years in was given to Nadaraja Matinthiran, whom the court heard was the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) organisation in France.

Matinthiran was accused of extorting some five million euros (7.4 million dollars) from France's 75,000-strong Tamil community, many of them refugees from the conflict in their homeland.

The court also ordered that the Coordinating Committee of Tamils-France be dismantled after ruling that it was a front for the LTTE, which is on the European Union's list of terror groups.

The alleged Tamil leader in France and the 20 other defendants appeared in court for the sentencing along with family members and a large contingent from the Tamil community, among the biggest in Europe.

Two more LTTE members were given four years in prison and a third six years, while the others received sentences ranging from three and a half years to six months suspended. One defendant was acquitted.

The defendants were convicted of having pressured Tamil families in Paris and the surrounding area to provide funds to support the LTTE's armed campaign in Sri Lanka.

Most of the suspects were arrested in April 2007 and charged with criminal conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism, financing of terrorism or racketeering to finance terrorism.

Experts believe the Tamil Tigers exert a controlling influence over the diaspora, in many cases levying a "revolutionary tax" based on household size and income.

Sri Lankan government forces overran the Tigers' last jungle holdout in the northeast in May, ending their four-decade struggle for an independent Tamil homeland, one of Asia's longest-running ethnic conflicts.