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Man pleads guilty in landmark terrorism financing case

Prapaharan Thambithurai walks towards a waiting car after he was released on bail from jail in Vancouver Tuesday, March 18, 2008. Thambithurai is the first man in Canada to be charged with terrorist financing for his alleged efforts to raise money for the Tamil Tigers.

Richard Lam / The Canadian Press

The federal prosecutor has recommended two years in prison for a man who pleaded guilty Tuesday to collecting money for the Tamil Tigers - Canada's first court case involving fundraising for a banned terrorist group.

Prapaharan Thambithurai, 46, pleaded guilty to raising money for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. In Vancouver, he collected $600 and pledges worth $1,800; altogether, he admitted raising between $2,000 and $3,000 from late 2007 to March 2008 in Canada.

Federal prosecutor Martha Devlin said Tuesday in a submission on sentencing in B.C. Supreme Court that Mr. Thambithurai admitted to police after he was arrested that a portion of the money he raised for Tamil humanitarian aid would go to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eela (LLET), a terrorist group banned in Canada.

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"The thing is, I know, like a 100 per cent is not going to go to the people I'm giving [to] It's going to go somewhere, to LTTE administration or for some reason," he said during a portion of a police interview that Ms. Devlin read out in court.

"Put it this way, my friend," he said during the police interview. "I'm sending my $100 to go back home, okay . . . like 50 per cent may get, may go to Tigers, 50 per cent may go to my people."

Ms. Devlin told the court that Mr. Thambithurai was a street canvasser "at the extreme low end of the continuum of this type of conduct."

However, deterrence and denunciation were paramount in sentencing, she said. "The message which must be sent to likeminded individuals is Canadians cannot, have not and will not tolerate terrorist activities of any kind."

Mr. Justice Robert Powers of the B.C. Supreme Court said he will sentence Mr. Thambithurai on Friday. The maximum sentence for fundraising for a banned terrorist group is 10 years. The law does not set a minimum sentence.

Mr. Thambithurai's lawyer, Richard Peck, proposed a three-year suspended sentence. Mr. Thambithurai, who came to Canada from Sri Lanka in 1988 as a refugee, is now married and has three teenage children. He works as a subcontractor to a satellite installation business in Ontario. Mr. Peck said Mr. Thambithurai had been engaged in humanitarian activities to help the Tamil people for years.

The court case was the first legal test of controversial terrorist financing legislation introduced almost 10 years ago. Mr. Thambithurai was charged in March of 2008.

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During the police interview, he denied working for the Tamil Tigers. He said he was aware that LTTE was a banned organization and it was illegal to collect money on its behalf in Canada. He intended to give the funds to the World Tamil Movement, which was "totally different" than LTTE, he told police. The WTM was not a banned organization at that time.

Moments after pleading guilty, Mr. Thambithurai walked out of the courthouse and told reporters that the LTTE was not really a terrorist organization.

The Sri Lankan government are the terrorists, not the Tamil Tigers, Mr. Thambithurai said. The Sri Lankan government killed more than 100,000 people, compared to "maybe about a thousand" who were killed by the LTTE, he said.

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