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The Prosecutor v. Selliaha/Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)

Court District Court of The Hague, The Netherlands
Case number 09/748801-09
Decision title Judgment given after full argument on both sides
Decision date 21 October 2011
  • The Public Prosecutor
  • Selliaha
Categories Extortion, Material support to terrorism, Money laundering
Keywords extortion, financing of terrorist group, money laundering
Other countries involved
  • Sri Lanka
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Five men, allegedly members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, a rebel group in Sri Lanka), were brought before the District Court of the Hague (the Netherlands) on charges of, among others, extortion, money laundering, and raising funds for a terrorist organization. The European Union (EU) placed the LTTE on a list of terrorist organizations in 2006. The present judgment was handed down against one of the suspects, identified only as Selliaha, who acted as the LTTE’s overseas bookkeeper.

The five men, including Selliaha, allegedly extorted millions of Euros through blackmails and threats in order to fund the LTTE in Sri Lanka.

The District Court found Selliaha guilty of invlovement with a criminal organization, but not of supporting terrorism. Furthermore, the District Court considered that the conflict in Sri Lanka amounts to a non-international armed conflict, but dismissed a large number of charges on the basis that the Netherlands was not party to the conflict. Moreover, the District Court ruled that the EU’s classification of the LTTE as a banned organization, made the fundraising operations unlawful in the Netherlands.

The District Court acquitted Selliaha of extortion but convicted him of threatening prospective donators. Selliaha was sentenced to 6 years of imprisonment, the longest sentence of the five accused.

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Procedural history

The District Court held examinations on numerous occasions between 4 August 2010 and 21 October 2011. With the exception of one occasion, the Defendant was present and was heard by the District Court (p. 2).

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Related developments

On 16 January 2012, the five men began their appeal against the conviction handed down by the District Court of the Hague (the Netherlands) on 21 October 2011.

See R. Walker, 'Dutch Tamil Tiger Five on Appeal', Radio Netherlands Worldwide, 17 January 2012.

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Legally relevant facts

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was founded in 1976 as a result of the growing discrimination against the Tamil minority by the Singhalese majority in Sri Lanka. The conflict between the two groups escalated into a guerrilla war, where the LTTE’s objective was to gain independence for the Tamil population (p. 5).

The European Union (EU), along with the United States of America and Canada placed the LTTE on the list of terrorist organisations in 2006 (p. 5).

Five men were accused of extortion, money laundering and spreading propaganda in the Netherlands to benefit the LTTE, among other crimes. All five men were of Sri Lankan descent but also possesed had Dutch nationality and were living in the Netherlands (pp. 2-5).

The Defendant in the present case was one of the accused, identified only as Selliaha. He was the LTTE’s bookkeeper, actively participating in meetings of the LTTE, and was a member of the LTTE (pp. 20-24). 

The prosecution’s allegations included that the five men extorted millions of Euros through blackmail and threatening messages in order to fund the LTTE in Sri Lanka. The defense countered that the men were freedom fighters (p. 2 et seq.).

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Core legal questions

  • Can the conflict in Sri Lanka be characterized as an international armed conflict or a non-international armed conflict?
  • Can the Accused be held responsible for crimes committed by the LTTE?
  • What are the legal consequences of the LTTE’s classification by the EU as a terrorist organization? Can an appeal against this classification bar the proceedings?

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Specific legal rules and provisions

  • Articles 46, 83, 83b, 140 and 140a of the Dutch Criminal Code.
  • Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Additional Protocols I and II thereto. 

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Court's holding and analysis

The Court found that, because there was no “racist regime” as defined in Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, there was no international armed conflict. However, the Court found that there was a non-international armed conflict in Sri Lanka, to which Common Article 3 and Additional Protocol II would necessarily apply (p.12-13). 

With regard to most of the crimes alleged to have been committed by the LTTE, the Court found these charges inadmissible. It found that prosecuting those crimes would constitute a violation of Article 6 of Additional Protocol II because the Netherlands was not a party to the conflict. Regarding the alleged crimes in relation to the Dutch Criminal Code, theoretically these could have been justiciable; however, the Court found that the Prosecution provided insufficient evidence regarding this (pp. 13-17). 

Because the LTTE was found on the EU terrorist organization list, certain business transactions with, by or on behalf of the LTTE were per se forbidden under Dutch law. The April 2011 appeal to the Court of First Instance in Luxembourg against the placement of the organization on the list did not affect the placement on the list for the former period, which ran until 26 April 2010 (pp. 6-7).

The Court did not find that the Defendant’s actions rose to the level to satisfy extortion charges, but that people were forced, without threats of violence or the employment of actual violence, to pay (p. 28).

Selliah was sentenced to 6 years of imprisonment. (p. 34)

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Instruments cited

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Related cases

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Additional materials