Sri Lanka arms plot

Indonesian general sentenced for his role in deal

July 11, 2008|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,Sun Reporter

A retired Indonesian Marine Corps general was sentenced yesterday to 30 months in prison for orchestrating a deal in Baltimore to smuggle hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of high-tech weapons to rebels in Sri Lanka whom the U.S. government considers terrorists.

Erick Wotulo, 61, whom authorities considered the mastermind of the operation, is to be deported after serving his sentence in federal prison, according to the ruling by U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake.

Authorities who conducted a three-year investigation of the deals said undercover FBI agents posed as weapons dealers, put up a Singapore arms broker in a four-star Inner Harbor hotel, arranged for him to attend religious services at a mosque in Laurel and invited him to test-fire machine guns at a Harford County firing range.

The FBI's ruse led representatives of Sri Lankan insurgents to transfer $700,000 to the undercover agents as a down payment for millions of dollars in military-grade hardware, including sniper rifles, submachine guns, night-vision goggles and grenade launchers. The dealers also inquired about buying unmanned air vehicles and surface-to-air missiles.

According to prosecutors, Wotulo and several cohorts conspired in 2006 to export the restricted material on behalf of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, known as the Tamil Tigers, a rebel group that has conducted a long, violent struggle against the Sri Lankan government to establish an independent Tamil state. The State Department labeled the Tamil Tigers a foreign terrorist organization in 1997. The paramilitary organization cannot legally raise money or buy sensitive military equipment in the United States.

"Terrorists must not be permitted to use the United States as a source of funding or equipment," Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a statement after the sentencing. "We will continue to utilize all possible means to prevent terrorism, including undercover operations targeting people who attempt to obtain munitions in violation of our laws."

Wotulo's lawyer, Gregg Bernstein, did not respond yesterday to messages seeking comment.

Central to the plan to acquire arms and munitions for the Tamil Tigers was the Aug. 2, 2006, transfer of $250,000 into a bank account in Maryland, prosecutors said. The next month, they said, two of Wotulo's associates, Haniffa Bin Osman and Thirunavukarasu Varatharasa, arrived in Saipan to meet with undercover officers and inspect the weapons that had been ordered for the Tamil Tigers.

An additional $452,000 payment for the weapons was made on Sept. 28, 2006, prosecutors said. The next day, Varatharasa, Wotulo and Bin Osman met with undercover officers in Guam and were arrested.

Another associate, Haji Subandi, 71, a citizen of Indonesia, was sentenced in December to 37 months in prison for his role in the conspiracy, as well as for two counts of money laundering and attempted exportation of arms and munitions. Varatharasa, 36, who is Sri Lankan, was sentenced to 57 months in prison for conspiracy and attempted arms exportation. Bin Osman, 55, from Singapore is scheduled to be sentenced in August on conspiracy and money laundering charges.

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