Saturday, 8 August 2009

Pathmanathan’s Arrest: Betrayal or Bad Luck or Did the Monthly Payments Stop?

The Global Head of the LTTE, Selvarasa Pathmanathan, known by various aliases such as Kumaran Pathmanathan or just KP, has been arrested and is currently in Sri Lanka, undergoing interrogation. It is unclear as to where exactly he was arrested. Initially it was widely reported that KP was arrested in Bangkok by the Thai police. However, this was denied by the Thai authorities, who admitted that Pathmanathan had visited Thailand many times and have launched an investigation.

Veteran journalist DBS Jeyaraj whose information sources can put any intelligence agency covering Sri Lanka to shame, has two detailed reports on KP’s arrest, which according to Mr. Jeyaraj, took place in Kuala Lumpur. From KL, KP was apparently flown to Thailand where he was handed over to a Sri Lankan team. Do read DBS Jeyaraj’s articles for a blow-by-blow account of KP’s arrest.

Mind you, I’ve seen a Malaysian report which quotes a Thai official who says that KP was arrested in Singapore!

For many decades, KP used to run the LTTE’s overseas operations for smuggling drugs and weapons until he was put to pasture after the ceasefire took effect in 2002. KP had many enemies within the LTTE who accused him of siphoning off funds for himself. KP cleared his name with Prabhakaran, but kept a low profile. He also got married – to a Thai lady. KP was brought out of cold storage a year ago after the LTTE started suffering too many reverses. Given a new name (Selvarasa Pathmanathan, a new title (Plenipotentiary for International Relations) and defacto control over the international operations of the LTTE, KP made a comeback, only to see the LTTE bite the dust and its omniscient leader killed by the Sri Lankan army. Read this DBS Jeyaraj article for full details of how KP was fighting his detractors after Velupillai Prabhakaran’s death and slowly starting to asset his grip over the Tamil Diaspora.

Until very recently, the LTTE ran a vast overseas criminal empire fuelled by the money it collected, forcibly or otherwise, from the Diaspora. Even before Prabhakaran was killed, I had blogged about how Prabhakaran’s death was bound to lead to a violent struggle within the LTTE for the billions of dollars stashed away in various accounts and the vast number of businesses and real estate owned by the LTTE (the “LTTE Treasure”).

How was KP captured?

DBS Jeyaraj reports that “It is widely believed that the arrest was made possible through “inside information” supplied by some members of the LTTE abroad who were opposed to KP donning the tiger leadership mantle after the demise of Supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran.”

I have great respect for DBS Jeyaraj, but I am not fully convinced about his initial assertion that KP’s enemies within the LTTE betrayed him. For one, KP will know almost everything about the overseas operations of the LTTE. If he is in Sri Lankan custody, he is very likely to put all overseas operatives of the LTTE in peril, including his detractors. It is not impossible for the Lankans to have made a deal with some of KP’s enemies. In return for KP, the anti-KP faction may be allowed to walk away with some of the LTTE Treasure. However, there are so many other ways in which KP could have been arrested.

1. The Chinese government may have persuaded the Malaysians and the Thais to arrest and hand over KP to Sri Lanka. Ties between Sri Lanka and China have become very close. China is building a modern port at Hambantota in Southern Sri Lanka. China provided a great deal of assistance to Sri Lanka in its fight against the LTTE. This article by B. Raman throws more light on growing Sino-Lankan ties. China may have decided to pour concrete over its growing friendship by helping the Lankans nab KP. Further, the Chinese have great leverage in Thailand and Malaysia.

2. KP is wanted by India for Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. India could not lay hands on Prabhakaran and give him his just desserts. However, Sonia Gandhi may have instructed RAW to do the ‘needful’ so that KP, one of those involved in planning Rajiv Gandhi’s murder, does not live out the rest of his life in happy retirement.

3. It is obvious that KP must have secured a safe sanctuary in Thailand and Malaysia by bribing local officials. Standards of probity (or corruption) are not very high in either of these countries. Now that the LTTE has been decimated, the local officials who had until now been happy to accept ‘gifts’ and other favours from KP, may have decided to wind up the show and gain some brownie points.

4. It must be remembered that KP talked of continuing the struggle for Eelam, albeit through peaceful means. He was not willing to settle for anything other than independence. He had the LTTE Treasure at his disposal to pursue his objective. The Sri Lankan government knew that unless KP and other senior surviving leaders are apprehended, the LTTE cannot be consigned to the dustbin of history. So, it would have bargained hard with the Thais and the Malays for KP’s live body. In the world of international politics, almost everything is available for a price. The Lankans may have, without assistance from the Chinese or the Indians or even KP’s enemies within the LTTE, managed to persuade the Thais and Malays to give KP up. For a price of course.

In DBS Jeyaraj’s subsequent article, he explains how the Lankan government appointed a very capable military officer, Brigadier (now promoted to Major-General) Udaya Perera, as the Deputy High Commissioner in the Sri Lankan High Commission in KL to work on the ‘KP’ Project. DBS Jeyaraj also refers to a powerful ‘Agency’ protecting KP, until this extraordinary rendition took place. I can only guess who this Agency might be. It is very possible that the end of support by the powerful Agency coincided with some deft footwork by Major-General Udaya Perera.

It remains to be seen if the surviving senior members of the LTTE will fight over the LTTE Treasure. Will the governments of the States where the LTTE Treasure is kept be able to confiscate the LTTE Treasure on the ground that it constitutes stolen property or the proceeds of crime and utilise the money for the reconstruction of the civil war ravaged parts of Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka? I hope so.

No comments: