US Senators 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 wouldnt 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 TROs 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.