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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 May 2007, 07:36 GMT 08:36 UK
Tamil charities 'fail to monitor funds'
By Debabani Majumdar
BBC News, London

Nagendram Seevaratnam
Mr Seevaratnam says he recently met top rebel leaders
The Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora in the UK donates tens of thousands of pounds every year for relief efforts for conflict-ravaged areas in the country.

But authorities are concerned that some of these funds end up in the hands of the Tamil Tiger rebels (LTTE).

Nagendram Seevaratnam, 70, the founder of the London-based charity, Sivayogam Trust, was suspended in March, after a 21-month probe by the Charity Commission following complaints of its alleged links to the rebels.

The rebels are fighting for a separate homeland for the country's 3.1m-strong Tamil population following decades of alleged discrimination by the majority Sinhalese.

The trust, which also runs Armulmihu Hindu temple in Tooting, south London, funds five orphanages in Sri Lanka, two of which are in the rebel-controlled areas of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu, which the trust says are under investigation.

The commission said it was concerned "about the potential impact on the charity of alleged links with the LTTE" and that "the trustees may not be taking reasonable and adequate steps to monitor the use of the charity's funds" in Sri Lanka.

"We have restricted payments from the charity's bank accounts as a temporary and protective measure. The charity is therefore prevented from sending funds overseas."

Funds 'not monitored'

The LTTE, which stands for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, have categorically denied allegations that funds for charities end up in their coffers.

Mr Seevaratnam admits he was a senior member of the rebel group and made "substantial financial contribution" to them personally until he was suspended from it in 1990.

But he admitted meeting some top rebel leaders in 2004.

"I have visited twice, during which time I met few senior LTTE members, not as a trustee but as a relative.

Internally displaced children
The ongoing violence and Asian tsunami has displaced thousands

"After 1990 when they suspended me, they have stopped talking to me, even if they are my brothers ... I've no connection with them whatsoever," he said.

Mr Seevaratnam insisted the trust's records were properly audited but agreed it is not possible to monitor the orphanages' spending.

The Sivayogam Trust has categorically denied having any links with the LTTE.

A spokesman for the trust said the orphanages it funds have not received any money since the end of March, which has forced two orphanages, located in government-controlled areas, to contemplate moving about 120 children to rehabilitation centres.

'Heavily fortified bunkers'

Maxwell Keegel, spokesman for the Sri Lankan High Commission in London, said access to the rebel-held territories are extremely restricted, hence all funds or aid for humanitarian purposes were sent through charities that function there.

"We have very good information that a lot of these funds do not get used for humanitarian purposes.

"The proof is not there in black and white but the question is how the funds have been utilised and spent on the projects identified," he said.

A Tamil tiger rebel on patrol
Police say its difficult to prove LTTE's involvement in scams

After the military wrested eastern areas from the rebels, which had received funds from the world over after the Asian tsunami, the government was "shocked" to find "heavily fortified bunkers".

"None of the so-called humanitarian projects they [LTTE] had funded have come to light. God knows where all the money went... this is a good eye-opener," Mr Keegel said.

In the past the Charity Commission has received similar complaints about some other charities.

In September 2000 the commission launched an inquiry after similar allegations against the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO).

It found evidence of "mismanagement", "little or no financial control" and no explanation for "funds received from the US and Canada".

Subsequently the commission took over the management and having failed to find suitable new trustees, its funds were transferred to a new independent charity and the TRO was removed from the register in August 2005.

No definite link

In 2005 a case officer was appointed to look into similar allegations against another charity, White Pigeon, but no formal probe was launched.

Sathiya Moorthy, the charity's chairman, said: "White Pigeon has been cleared. They looked into the charity's accounts and activities."

The UK has listed the LTTE as a terrorist organisation since 2000, while the European Union banned it in 2006.

But much of this ban seems to be on paper, Mr Keegel said.

Human Rights Watch also found rebels intimidate and coerce the Tamil diaspora to 'donate' funds, a claim which has been vehemently denied by the LTTE.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police's Specialist Crime Desk said they monitor individuals or groups who allegedly provide financial support to terrorists.

"But in many cases it is impossible to provide a substantial level of proof that the money was intended for terrorist purposes," said a spokesman.

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