Cong. Danny Davis (D-7th) said Wednesday he did not know that a trip he took to the Asian country of Sri Lanka was apparently paid for with laundered money from a terrorist group until the story broke two weeks ago in a Chicago newspaper.
The Chicago Tribune reported Aug. 24 and 28 that money linked to Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a group listed on the federal government’s list of known terrorist organizations, paid for Davis’ trip this past spring.
Davis and an aide visited Sri Lanka from March 30 to April 5 in 2005 to tour ongoing relief efforts in areas ravaged by the 2004 tsunami that hit the coastlines of South and Southeast Asia, including Sri Lanka. Davis said he went at the request of Sri Lankan constituents in his 7th Congressional District, which includes Oak Park and the West Side.
As reported by the Tribune, the LTTE, also known as the Tamil Tigers, a Sri Lankan separatist group at war with its country’s government, paid about $13,000 for Davis’ trip. Davis has said that, to his knowledge, his trip was paid for by the Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America, a Hickory Hills-based group representing Sri Lankans living in America.
According to Davis, an individual with ties to the Tamil Sangams and the Tamil Tigers was one of 11 arrested two weeks ago by U.S. law enforcement officials on charges of bribery, money-laundering, arms procurement and conspiracy to aid the Tamil Tigers.
Davis said he discovered through the FBI that “people we interacted with” were caught trying to bribe a federal official in an attempt to get the Tamil Tigers removed from the government’s terrorist list. Some of the money that was laundered paid for the trip, Davis said.
Among the 11 arrested was Murugesu Vinayagamoorthy, a London physician who met with Davis on Aug. 19 to discuss Sri Lankan issues, according to the Tribune. Davis did not name Vinayagamoorthy as the suspect accused of bribing the official.
“It seems that there was some kind of conspiracy that the FBI may have uncovered, suggesting people we interacted with were involved in this, and tried to bribe an official,” he said.
“Apparently, some of the money used for our trip was laundered.”
Davis, however, has not been accused of any wrongdoing and is not under investigation. He noted that any overseas trip by a U.S. official linked to a terrorist group would come under scrutiny.
Davis, though, said neither he nor anyone on his staff were aware that any money from a terrorist organization was used to pay for his trip until the story broke in the Chicago Tribune. On Wednesday, Davis said he first learned of the charges when a Tribune reporter called his West Side office before the paper’s Aug. 24 story. The Tribune followed up with another story four days later on Aug. 28. On Aug. 25, the paper wrote a scathing editorial concerning the trip and politicians, such as Davis, who take “junkets,” or trips taken by government officials and paid for with public funds.
Davis said the trip was public and that “there was nothing secretive about the trip.”
He said some of his Sri Lankan constituents urged him to visit the country. As reported by the Chicago Tribune, the U.S. Census shows 44 people in the 7th Congressional District who identify themselves as Sri Lankan or part Sri Lankan.
“All we know is that we took an 18-hour plane ride to the country, and a 6 1/2-hour bus ride on some tough roads around the country,” Davis said.
Sri Lanka has been embroiled in an on-and-off-again civil war for the last 20 years. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has been fighting against the government for an independent state. The Tamil Tigers want to create an independent state called Tamil Eelam. Warring was briefly interrupted by the tsunami of 2004.