Another scandal in the army
04th February 2001
By Frederica Jansz
Stunning disclosures reveal that a top army officer sought personal favours from an LTTE cadre who served as a spy for both Sri Lanka's military intelligence as well as for the LTTE while he was resident in Canada. Former media spokesman for the military, Brigadier Sunil Tennakoon, (now a major general and serving in Jaffna,) when serving as deputy director and commanding officer of Sri Lanka's military intelligence unit asked this top LTTE cadre to bring him a washing machine, a doll for his daughter, CDs of Michael Jackson and two wrist watches for his two sons.
An investigation by The Sunday Leader found that LTTE's top spy Kumaravelu Vignarajah alias Nishanthan alias Chandran was first employed by Sri Lanka's military intelligence by the present army commander Gen. Lionel Balagalle when Balagalle was director of the directorate of military intelligence. Kumaravelu was introduced as a banker to Balagalle by Sunil Tennakoon in 1993.
Almost simultaneously as thousands of Lanka's youth laid down their lives on the bloody plains of Jaffna, a member of the army top brass was soliciting personal favours from a high ranking Tiger cadre living in Canada. The army officer concerned in addition used the Tiger as a spy for Sri Lanka's military intelligence arm.
The devastating and dumbfounding details of this disgusting tale of deception, unraveled when Canadian police arrested Kumaravelu Vignaraja who was later tried on eight charges related to an alleged infiltration of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, (RCMP).
The shocking saga only proves to what extent Sri Lanka's civil war has spilled over into Canada. In 1994, on July 7, Balgalle's deputy Lt. Col. Sunil Tennakoon, (he was later promoted to the rank of brigadier and now holds the rank of major general) issued a letter of recommendation in his capacity as commanding officer for military intelligence corps. In this letter Tennakoon stated that Kumaravelu Vignaraja of Avrankal village, in the northern district of Jaffna, was known to him for a long period of time. The letter addressed 'to whom it may concern' claimed that Kumaravelu had been providing very valuable and accurate intelligence to the military which has helped the Sri Lankan security forces conduct many military operations to maintain law and order, and also to bring peace to the country.
This letter, Kumaravelu used, to migrate to Canada and get a job with the Canadian police. His cover in Canada blew when on May 9, 1996, the 37 year old Tamil immigrant was arrested by RCMP detectives and heavily armed Canadian police officers in SWAT fatigues in the parking lot of the Bank of Nova Scotia where Kumaravelu worked as a bank teller. The warrant issued for him that day alleged that Kumaravelu Vignarajah was an area commander of the LTTE, which has established a reputation as one of the world's most feared terrorist organizations. The Canadian police were acting on a tip off when they cornered the spy. Kumaravelu incidentally, was a favourite with both customers and staff at the bank, even winning an award for best employee.
Kumaravelu Vignaraja lived at No. 1, Fountain Head Road, Apartment 1802, Downsview, Ontario, Canada. It is to this address that Maj.Gen. Sunil Tennakoon addressed his letters when he wrote to Kumaravelu.
In 1988, after quitting his job at the Bank of Ceylon in Colombo, Kumaravelu told Lt. Colonel Sunil Tennakoon that Veluppillai Prabhakaran suspected him of being a spy, and asked his help to flee the country. Tennakoon was to soon comply and subsequently wrote the letters of recommendation.
Canadian court records state that Kumaravelu had not only been a Tiger allegedly implicated in bloody violence in Sri Lanka's dirty civil war but was also a Sri Lankan military intelligence informant, playing both sides.
A senior Sri Lankan intelligence officer says that Kumaravelu actively passed on information to the Sri Lankan authorities while being employed in the RCMP. Other sources say that he was also supplying RCMP secrets to the LTTE, which has already been classified as a terrorist organization by the Canadian government.
It is when the Canadian police had raided Kumaravelu's house that they were stunned to find contradictory letters issued by Sri Lanka's military intelligence. The first letter signed by Gen. Sunil Tennakoon and dated August 27, 1993 states that Kumaravelu Vignarajah has been known to the army officer for the last 12 years and is from Iddaikadu, Jaffna. The letter goes on to say that Kumaravelu has been working in the Bank of Ceylon till 1988 and has not had any problems. The colonel further adds that Kumaravelu during his stay in Sri Lanka has not been involved in any of the internal problems and has had a clean record. How the colonel could have made such a statement given the photographic evidence The Sunday Leader has carried today of Kumaravelu's involvement with the LTTE, which undoubtedly Tennakoon was aware of, is an issue that is mind-boggling to say the least.
The plot thickens or rather the deception gets worse. In a second letter dated December 1, 1993, Maj.Gen. Sunil Tennakoon who at the time was a lieutenant colonel, has again signed a letter of recommendation on behalf of Kumaravelu Vignaraja. In this letter, a mere four months after the first one, Tennakoon contradicts his earlier letter of August that year.
The army officer has instead stated that Kumaravelu Vignaraja of Achchuveli South, Achchuveli, has been known to him for the past 10 years and hails from a very respectable family from the village of Achchuveli in the district of Jaffna. In this letter Maj.Gen. Tennakoon in complete contradiction to his first letter states that Vignaraja has no involvement in any anti-government or terrorist activities. He further adds that during his association with Kumaravelu he has found him to be very honest and loyal to the country. This letter probably was to help Kumaravelu secure his job at the Nova Scotia Bank, Ontario.
Another letter on July 4, 1994 (the third one this time) also by Maj.Gen. Sunil Tennakoon states that Kumaravelu Vignaraja is from Avrankal village in the northern district of Jaffna. In this letter, in similar vein to the first, the army officer states that Kumaravelu has been providing very valuable and accurate intelligence to the military intelligence directorate. This information, the general adds has helped Sri Lankan security forces to conduct many military operations to maintain law and order and establish peace in the country. It is this letter which enabled Kumaravelu who was in Canada by this time on the first recommendation, to secure a posting with the Canadian police.
The crowning letter was the personal missive sent to Kumaravelu on November 30, 1993 by Maj. Gen. Tennakoon. Kumaravelu had by this time managed to be accepted as a landed immigrant after making a refugee claim despite the fact that it was common knowledge that Kumaravelu held strong affiliations with the LTTE before he even landed in Canada. Tennakoon no doubt felt that the man's luck was largely due to his letters of recommendation which had been written on official letter heads of the Military Intelligence Directorate, P. O. Box 1585, Colombo.
This is what may have prompted the then colonel into calling for his dues, for the favours he had granted the Tamil Tiger. This letter was addressed to 'My Dear Chandran' (one of the names Kumaravelu used to hide his identity). Apart from mentioning the fact that the situation in Sri Lanka is "a little bad again but that things are under control," this letter also asks for personal gifts for Tennakoon and his family.
What stunned the Canadian police who found the letters, was that the Sri Lankan military intelligence officer running him under Brigadier Balagalle was asking Kumaravelu alias Chandran to bring a semi-automatic washing machine with a drier, a big doll for his daughter, some CDs of Michael Jackson and two wrist watches "(timex cheap ones)" for his two sons. For good measure the colonel has added "I hope I am not bothering you too much." He continues that he hopes Kumaravelu can come to Sri Lanka in January 1994 as planned. He assures the Tamil Tiger agent that he has nothing to worry about in Colombo. Although he says, going to Jaffna is somewhat in doubt and will have to be discussed after his arrival.
Canadian police investigations have since found that Kumaravelu was more than a double agent. In addition to his close relationship with Sri Lanka's top military brass, the Tiger cadre sought out people in the Tamil community in Canada who had money and persuaded them to voluntarily and sometimes involuntarily send money back to the cause in Sri Lanka.
Senior Crown Attorney Stephen Sheriff told a Canadian court that a number of transcripts of intercepted telephone calls found in Kumaravelu's home referred to money.
Kumaravelu Vignaraja began working as a wiretap translator in the summer of 1994 after furnishing two reference letters from the military intelligence directorate and undergoing a RCMP security check. One of the letters furnished at the trial was from Maj. Gen. Sunil Tennakoon which stated that Kumaravelu "has been providing very valuable and accurate intelligence to Sri Lanka's military intelligence which has helped the Lankan forces to conduct many military operations."
Kumaravelu was publicly prosecuted by the Canadian government and sentenced to prison after it was proved that he had passed on classified RCMP information to Sri Lanka. Canadian investigations further revealed that Kumaravelu was an Indian trained Sri Lankan Tamil terrorist who had attacked an IPKF platoon and his photographs appeared on page one and the inside pages of the India Today magazine. Kumaravelu had also allegedly taken the India Today photographer to meet Dhanu who finally assassinated Rajiv Gandhi.
Despite all this the Sri Lankan military intelligence recommended him as a reliable and trustworthy person to the Canadian authorities.
It is unclear whether Kumaravelu's loyalty was to the LTTE or to Sri Lanka's military intelligence. But according to reports, he began his career with the LTTE as a collaborator. According to Canadian court records, Kumaravelu whose LTTE code name was 'Nishanthan' informed the Tigers about the finances of bank clients from whom the rebels then extorted funds. The Tigers apparently were unaware of Kumaravelu's dealings with Sri Lanka's military.
Canadian records state that Kumaravelu was recruited by Sri Lanka's military intelligence as a spy in 1982. The Lankan military came to regard him as a top agent after he confirmed information obtained from a captured Tiger that led to a raid on a major arms cache in Kumaravelu's home town on January 9, 1985. In this raid the LTTE's deputy leader Kittu, was killed, which at the time was a major blow to the guerillas.
Epistle to a Tiger cadre
The letter which Maj.Gen. Sunil Tennakoon wrote to Kumaravelu Vignaraja alias Chandran asking for personal favours from the Tamil Tiger.
My Dear Chandran,
I was so happy to hear from you last week after a long silence. I know that you are quite busy. As you know the situation here is a little bad again. You may have heard the problems already. Anyway things are under control.
As you requested I am attaching another letter. Also I thought I would give you the details about the washing machine. The model is NA 250 H (semi-automatic) make, NATIONAL. Price approx. US$ 195. The semi-automatic with the drier is supposed to be the best. I am quite happy with the semi-automatic one. I do not know whether the price has gone up now. Please bring a big doll for my daughter. Please bring some CDs of Michael Jackson and two wrist watches (timex cheap ones) for my two sons. I hope I am not bothering you too much.
Hope you can come to Sri Lanka as planned in January. You have nothing to worry about Colombo. Your going to JFN we will have to discuss and see. So Chandran there is nothing much to say since I spoke to you over the phone. Hope to see you soon. Shall wind up now. All the best wishes.
Maj. Gen. Tennakoon makes total denial
When contacted by The Sunday Leader Maj.Gen. Sunil D. Tennakoon said he did not know a man by the name of Kumaravelu Vignaraja either in a profe-
ssional or personal capacity. He denied any knowledge of the Tamil Tiger serving as a double agent reiterating that he had heard of the case in Canada but besides that never knew the person concerned.
Maj.Gen. Tennakoon also denied that he had ever written to Kumaravelu asking him to bring personal gifts for him and his family when the spy was scheduled to arrive in Sri Lanka in January 1994. The major general also denied having issued three contradictory letters of recommendation to Kumaravelu which helped the Tiger migrate to Canada and gain employment both with a bank as well as with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.