US Senator’s accusation sparks angry Customs reaction
Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation plot bared

Courtesy The Island 013-03-2005 by Shamindra Ferdinando

The Customs has bared a deliberate LTTE bid to disgrace the Sri Lanka government after a US Senator accused the government of unjustly taxing the urgently required tsunami relief equipment channelled through the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO), an LTTE front.

Customs had initiated a high-level investigation immediately after Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar raised this with Finance Secretary P. B. Jayasundera.

Authoritative sources said that Sri Lanka High Commissioner Devinda Subasinghe had written to Kadirgamar after receiving a complaint from the furious politician, who had underscored the unfairness in levying taxes on relief items.

"We wouldn’t have even heard of this if the Senator had not raised this," a senior government official said, adding, "This is probably not an isolated case. This has also brought to light clandestine TRO operations in the US despite the LTTE being a proscribed organisation.

The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan during his recent visit here had talks with senior TRO representatives.

The TRO had received 20 water purification plants from a US based church group. According to the ongoing investigation, the TRO despite having the facility to clear the equipment through the specially created tsunami relief clearing channel had opted to pay taxes.

"They could have easily cleared the consignment without paying a cent," another official said. But the TRO had cleared the consignment through the normal route prompting the Customs to charge Rs. 27,000 (280 US dollars) as taxes.

But the TRO had forwarded falsified documents to claim US$ 10,000 US from the US donor on the basis that the Sri Lanka Customs had unfairly taxed the relief consignment. They had made representations to the Sri Lankan embassy in Washington through the Senator triggering a probe that had bared the LTTE plot.

The TRO’s clearing agent had been detained. Authorities are expected to investigate the possibility of the group making previous bogus claims on the strength of false documents.

A senior official said that the LTTE was bringing the government into disrepute while making money. He expressed concern over the TRO success in raising substantial amounts of funds overseas that would ultimately be diverted to the ongoing arms buying spree, particularly to strengthen the Sea Tigers decimated by the recent tsunami.



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