At the University of Waterloo, Ramanan Mylvaganam was vice-president of the Tamil Students Association. He earned two graduate degrees and won a coveted work placement at Microsoft Corp.
But in a Brooklyn, N.Y., courtroom on Wednesday, the 35-year-old Canadian computer engineer pleaded guilty to terrorist conspiracy for his role in a plot to supply Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers rebels.
One of six Toronto-area men arrested in 2006 for allegedly providing weapons and equipment to the rebels, also known as the LTTE, he faces up to 15 years imprisonment when he returns to court May 4 for sentencing.
“The defendant conspired to provide sophisticated technological equipment to the LTTE, a foreign terrorist organization that has carried out brutal acts of violence against numerous civilians and elected officials,” U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a statement Wednesday.
The arrests of Mylvaganam and his alleged co-conspirator, Suresh Sriskandarajah, who was president of the University of Waterloo Tamil Students Association, raised concerns about possible abuse by campus groups.
Exclusive: ‘Waterloo Suresh’ fights for a bright future, free from charges of supporting terrorism
An audit of the Tamil student group found no financial irregularities but a review of the university’s work placement program recommended closer monitoring by campus and diplomatic officials of students who conduct their co-ops abroad.
Mr. Sriskandarajah, also known as Waterloo Suresh, had allegedly begun working for the rebels during a co-op placement in Sri Lanka, and Mylvaganam had told a British Columbia company he needed night vision goggles for a fourth year design project at the university.
In announcing the plea, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said the LTTE had carried out roughly 200 suicide bombings and “numerous political assassinations,” including those of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India and the Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa.
But the rebels were revered by a segment of Canada’s ethnic Tamil community, one of the world’s largest, which financially supported the LTTE during its three-decade fight for an independent state for Sri Lanka’s minority Tamils.
The Tigers raised millions in Canada during the conflict, prompting the RCMP to close the main front organization in Toronto, the World Tamil Movement, after an investigation found it was effectively an arm of the rebels.
The Sri Lankan civil war ended in 2009 when the rebels were crushed by government forces, but the cases of Canadians accused of providing support to the armed group continue to make their way through the courts.
The Ontario courts have ordered Mr. Sriskandarajah and Pratheepan Nadarajah, who is accused of trying to buy $1-million worth of missiles and AK-47s, to stand trial in the U.S. but both have appealed their extraditions to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Five others, three of them Canadians, have already pleaded guilty to buying arms for the rebels in a related case. One is a former national president of the Tamil Students Association. Last fall, the three Canadians, who are serving life sentences, signed an open letter from prison acknowledging they were wrong and renouncing political violence.
Mylvaganam’s guilty plea could complicate Mr. Sriskandarajah’s case, since the two are alleged to have conspired together to acquire submarine design software, night vision goggles, computer equipment, electronic components and communications gear.
Born in Sri Lanka, Mylvaganam, who lived in Mississauga, Ont., pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. He was tried in the United States because the offences occurred partly while he was working in Washington state.
His family declined to comment.
“We will use all resources at our disposal to bring terrorist organizations and their supporters to justice,” Ms. Lynch said. Added Janice Fedarcyk, FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge, “Material support here for foreign terrorist organizations can have lethal consequences.”
Prior to his extradition, Mylvaganam wrote an open letter asking for donations to pay his legal bills. He said he was already $150,000 in debt and had sold his house. “Without your help, I cannot effectively defend myself in the U.S. courts,” he wrote.
A CIBC account was opened to collect donations and a Justice for Ramanan page went up on Facebook. “Rest assured that when I am freed, I would be a valuable asset to this very community that has proven to be a safe haven for me and my family,” it quoted him as saying. (National Post)