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United States v. Thavaraja

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

January 23, 2014

UNITED STATES of America, Appellant,
Pratheepan THAVARAJA, fka Fnu Lnu, aka Thambi Sampras, aka Steeban, aka Thavarajah Pratheepan, aka Raja Pratheepan, Defendant-Appellee.

Argued: Sept. 17, 2013.

Page 254

Alexander Solomon, Assistant United States Attorney (Peter A. Norling, Assistant United States Attorney, on the brief), for Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Brooklyn, N.Y., for Appellant.

Michael H. Sporn, Law Office of Michael H. Sporn, New York, N.Y., and William J. Stampur, Hurwitz Stampur & Roth, New York, N.Y., for Defendant-Appellee.

Page 255

Before WALKER, LIVINGSTON, and CHIN, Circuit Judges.

CHIN, Circuit Judge:

Defendant-appellee Pratheepan Thavaraja, a Sri Lankan native, was the principal procurement officer for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (" LTTE" ), a foreign terrorist organization. He was detained in Indonesia and extradited to the United States in 2007. In June 2009, he pled guilty to conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and conspiracy to bribe public officials. The district court (Dearie, J .) sentenced him principally to 108 months' imprisonment, a substantial downward variation from the Guidelines range. The Government challenges the substantive reasonableness of the sentence, contending that the sentence was unreasonably low. We affirm.


A. The Facts

The facts are largely undisputed and are summarized as follows:

1. The LTTE

Sri Lanka became an independent state in 1948, following the end of British colonial rule. The Sinhalese Buddhist majority took control, and in the years since the Sri Lankan government has purportedly engaged in systematic oppression of the Tamils, a minority group residing primarily in the north and east parts of the country.

Formed in 1976, the LTTE is a militant separatist group in northern Sri Lanka that sought to establish an independent Tamil state. It opposed the Sri Lankan government's alleged persecution of the Tamils. The LTTE engaged in civil war with the Sri Lankan government, employing a significant military operation, including an army of some 10,000 soldiers as well as air and naval forces. The LTTE perpetrated acts of violence in Sri Lanka and India, including suicide bombings and assassinations. A military offensive by the Sri Lankan government in 2009 effectively eradicated the LTTE's presence in Sri Lanka.

As the district court found, the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government thus were engaged in an " ongoing civil war," with apparent " serious human rights violations on both sides of the conflict."

In 1997, pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1189, the State Department designated the LTTE a " foreign terrorist organization," after finding that the LTTE was (1) a " foreign organization," (2) " engaged in terrorist activity," which (3) " threatens the security of United States nationals or the national security of the United States." 8 U.S.C. § 1189(a)(1); see also Foreign Terrorist Organizations, U.S. Dep't of State, www. state. gov/ j/ ct/ rls/ other/ des/ 123085. htm (last visited Jan. 23, 2014) (listing LTTE since 1997). The LTTE filed a petition to review this designation. The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit denied the petition. See People's Mojahedin Org. of Iran v. U.S. Dep't of State, 182 F.3d 17 (D.C.Cir.1999).[1]

Page 256

2. The Crimes

Pratheepan [2] was the principal procurement officer for the LTTE from 2002 to 2006. At the direction of the LTTE leadership, he purchased at least $20 million worth of military-grade weapons (including anti-aircraft guns, rocket launchers, and explosives) and materials used to make suicide bombs. Weapons with serial numbers matching those in Pratheepan's purchase orders were discovered among weapon caches confiscated from the LTTE by the Sri Lankan government.

Pratheepan also played a role in a scheme to bribe State Department officials to remove the LTTE from the foreign terrorist organization list. He relayed messages between the LTTE leadership and operatives in the United States who were arranging the bribe with undercover government agents.

3. Pratheepan's Personal History

Pratheepan was born on November 7, 1974 in a Tamil neighborhood in Sri Lanka. He was raised during a time of civil war and was regularly subjected to violence, bombings, and intimidation as a result of the conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. He attended high school in his hometown until he was 14-years old, when his school was destroyed. He and his family were frequently forced to flee their homes to refugee camps during military attacks. At one point he returned to his village to find that dozens of people— including friends and acquaintances— had been killed and that many buildings had been destroyed.

At 21-years old, Pratheepan moved to England, where he was granted political refugee status. He attended school and earned a bachelor's degree in engineering, a certification in English proficiency, and a teacher's certificate. He was employed as a college lecturer in Mansfield, England from 2000 to 2002. In 2002, after seven years in England as a political refugee, Pratheepan returned to his parents' ...

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