Breakaway LTTE `eastern commander` Karuna alias Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan has pleaded guilty to breaching British immigration laws and will be sentenced by a Crown Court on Friday. He faces a jail term of up to 24 months and/or a fine. Karuna, who was produced before Magistrates Derek Price and Geoff Edwards at the Uxbridge Courts on December 24, pleaded guilty to a charge of violating the UK ID Card Act of 2006. The sentencing is to take place at the Isleworth Crown Court.
Karuna entered the United Kingdom on a diplomatic passport allegedly issued by the Government. Though it bore his picture, his name was given as Kokila Dushmantha Gunawardena who held the designation Director of Wild Life. The British High Commission in Colombo had issued him a visa purportedly to attend a conference on climate change upon the submission of a Third Person Note (TPN) by the Foreign Ministry.
Although it was earlier stated that the passport along with the visa application form and the TPN were sent to the private firm to which the British High Commission in Colombo has outsourced the processing of visa application, British sources say this is not correct. Highly placed British sources said the passport, visa application and the TPN were handed over to the British High Commission but not by the persons from the Foreign Ministry who usually delivers them.
When this issue was raised in Parliament, Deputy Foreign Minister, Hussein Bhaila, denied knowledge of the passport or the TPN. The sentencing on Friday comes amidst reports that the Crown Prosecution Service is studying the possibility of bringing him to justice for alleged crimes committed in Sri Lanka in breach of UN conventions. This is particularly the UN Convention against Torture.
British laws allow offences committed against this Convention anywhere in the world to be tried in British courts. The provision (Section 25 (1) of the UK ID Card Act 2006 under which Karuna pleaded guilty states:
`It is an offence for a person with the requisite intention to have in his possession or under his control: (b) an identity document that was improperly obtained and that he knows or believes to have been improperly obtained or (c) an Contd. from identity document that relates to someone else.` The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Home Office confirmed that Karuna had pleaded guilty when he was produced in court for violating the 2006 Act.
If Karuna is sentenced to imprisonment which seems very likely, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is expected to spend the coming months in sifting evidence and trying to construct a case against him probably under the Convention against Torture which provides a hugely wide- ranging definition of torture in Part 1 Article 1 of the convention. Although commonly referred to as the Convention against Torture its full title covers `other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.`
Karuna who was arrested last November is believed to have sought asylum in Britain when taken into custody. He was living with his wife and family in affluent Kensington at the time of his arrest. He had entered Britain in September last year. A Home Office spokesman told the Sunday Times that seeking asylum did not necessarily mean a person could not be returned to his or her country.
`The 1951 Refugee Convention allows us to exclude persons from the protection of asylum where there are serious reasons for considering that an individual has committed a serious crime or other acts which make him or her undeserving of international protection.` `The Convention also provides that in some circumstances persons can be returned to the country of origin even though they may have a well-founded fear of persecution there,` the spokesman said.
Authoritative British sources said that while Karuna serves out his expected sentence, the CPS would examine whether charges could be framed against him. The basis of their study would be what Karuna has told investigators from immigration, Metropolitan Police and British intelligence during his detention at an immigration centre and evidence that has been gathered from several other sources relating to Karuna`s activities before and after he defected from the LTTE.
British authorities are aware that Karuna was brought to the airport for his flight to UK in a closed car that drove to the tarmac. He was taken on board the aircraft by an airport official. Authoritative sources said that the diplomatic passport carried by Karuna (under an assumed name but with his photograph sans the familiar moustache) was examined both in Colombo and in the UK by experts who had pronounced it to be a genuine Sri Lankan passport. If Karuna gets the maximum sentence of 24 months then the Crown Prosecution Service has that much time to file charges.