The District Court of Eastern District Court of New York Friday freed Kandasamy Karunakaran who was arrested five years ago and charged with providing material support to Liberation Tigers designated as a "Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO)" in the U.S. Judge Raymond Dearie noting that "this is not a garden variety terrorism case," and adding that "[w]e have to pull back that emblazoned banner of terrorism and look at the case specifically," signaled a likely softening of zealous prosecution of material support to organizations that has a history of resisting oppressive States accused of committing genocide.
A U.S. prosecutor argued Friday that as the top US representative for the Tamil Tigers, Karunakaran deserved the maximum 20 years for raising money for a separatist group that earned the State Department’s terrorist designation.
In the letter submitted to the Court during sentencing, Karunakaran’s attorney Ross said, Karunakaran "grew up in and was directly affected by the brutal regime in Sri Lanka and it is clear that his actions, while not excusable, were motivated by a deeply felt desire to help the community he loved.
Ross added his client, who had been given asylum in the US in 1980, belonged to an ethnic community that had been targeted for years for genocide by Sri Lanka’s ethnic majority.
"I simply want to express my remorse," Karunakaran told the judge before he was sentenced. "I was raised in a country where my family lived in constant fear. My intent was only to help my people."
Karunakaran and others were tied to a covert campaign to raise and launder millions of dollars through a charity front organization. Prosecutors had accused him of personally raising millions of dollars for the Tamil Tigers, and that he went to Sri Lanka to meet with rebel commanders, AP reported.
"But Dearie said it was a stretch to say the former cab driver had a leadership role, and that he believed Karunakaran was involved in humanitarian – not military – aid for Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority," AP added.
Judge Dearie’s decision follows the release of another high-profile Tamil, Dr Murugesu Vinayagamoorthy, a British doctor who was incarcerated on material support charges after serving nearly four years in remand.
A former University of Waterloo student, Ramanan Mylvaganam, has also pleaded guilty in the New York district court on material support charges and waiting sentencing hearing Monday (14th May).
Legal sources in Washington said the precedent setting Karunakaran case may augur well for Mylvaganam receiving a light sentence from Judge Dearie who, legal sources add, has grasped the context of Sri Lanka civil war surprisingly well and has probed deeply the prosecution attorneys on Sri Lanka’s complicity in crimes against Tamils.