By EUGENE BINGHAM
An internationally wanted arms trader involved in one of the world's most feared guerrilla organisations slipped into New Zealand without being noticed by authorities.
The mysterious financier of the Tamil Tigers, Kumaran Padmanathan, known as "KP", visited the country to bolster business connections in Auckland, the Weekend Herald can reveal.
Supporters of the Tamil Tigers say they are freedom fighters, but Governments around the world have labelled them terrorists.
New Zealand may soon include them on a list of banned organisations to be compiled in response to the American-led war on terrorism.
Inclusion of the Tamil Tigers on the list would make it illegal to raise money or recruit for the group in New Zealand.
Intelligence agencies believe KP has front companies in New Zealand associated with the Sri Lankan rebel group's fundraising and weapons-procurement operations.
He has eluded authorities for 10 years, using multiple passports and identities to move through Asia and Europe.
Indian authorities investigating his financial dealings came to New Zealand last year to probe his connections here and interviewed three men associated with him.
One of the men is a relative.
A leading authority on the Tigers, Dr Rohan Gunaratna, of St Andrews University in Scotland, said KP's visit was important.
"He does not visit places just for fun," said Dr Gunaratna.
KP's business activities in New Zealand are one example of the involvement of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in this country uncovered in a Weekend Herald investigation.
Pamphlets obtained in Auckland suggest the LTTE is raising money through front organisations in New Zealand. Leaders of the 5000-strong Tamil community in New Zealand say the documents are anti-Tamil propaganda.
"The Sri Lankan Government has tried to use propaganda ... to get rid of the Tamil organisations," said the president of the NZ Tamil Society, George Arulanantham.
"We morally support the LTTE, but we are not collecting money for any armed struggle."
The pamphlets, distributed among the Tamil community in Auckland, called on families to donate money to help equip the Tigers with ammunition and arms to defeat the Sri Lankan military.
"If all the Tamils living around the world donate $100 per year or $10 per month towards the Thayagam cause, this will give enough money to buy 200 tanks, 20 sub-boats, 20 jet fighters, 20 SAM missile launchers, 20 helicopter gunships - sufficient hardware to liberate your homeland," said one of the pamphlets.
"There is a misconception amongst some migrant Tamils that the liberators of the Tamil homeland are blood-hungry warriors and they should have found a solution by negotiations with the Sri Lankan Government.
"As history tells us, in the past 30 years no minority ethnic group in any part of the world has achieved a homeland without showing their power of might."
International branding of the LTTE as terrorists comes as Sri Lanka has embarked on a new peace process.
Since Christmas, both sides have observed a ceasefire for the first time in seven years and Norwegian peace negotiators have begun talks.