Next step you hear something in the media about the Australian government being “tough on terror” (and the media cheer-leaders behind them), remember this:
A Supreme Court judge has attacked the Australian Federal Police for bungling a two-year investigation into three men who sent funds to Sri Lankan Tamil Tiger separatists.
The agents’ action included improperly arresting a suspect and abusing his rights.
The AFP’s mistakes occurred during its 2007 arrest and questioning of Arumugan Rajeevan, who is one of three men who will be sentenced in the Victorian Supreme Court today for providing money to a terrorist organisation.
Federal agents arrested Rajeevan at gunpoint despite having no legal basis to do so. They refused requests from a barrister and lawyer to speak to him during his five-hour voluntary interview, and subjected him to questioning described by Justice Paul Coghlan as ”really well over the top” and ”outrageous”.
The AFP, which was heavily criticised over its handling of another terrorist investigation, into Indian doctor Mohamed Haneef, said it could not comment on the case until the men had been sentenced. However, it is believed the AFP has already made changes to deal with the problems that arose during the Tamil Tigers investigation.
Australian prosecutors last year withdraw all terrorism charges against Rajeevan, Aruran Vinayagamoorthy and Sivarajah Yathavan.
In December, they pleaded guilty to a lesser charge under the charter of the United Nations Act, a federal law that makes it a criminal offence to provide an asset to a terrorist organisation proscribed by either the UN or the Australian government.
In pretrial comments in January last year – which could not be reported at the time – Justice Coghlan said federal agents had ”abused” the rights of Rajeevan.
He said the manner in which Rajeevan was questioned by federal agent Patricia Reynolds was ”beyond any training a proper investigator can have” and a ”fundamental departure from the [proper] principles”.
After hearing a section of the interview, he said: ”The man is being abused … we’ve seen an example of at least half an hour of an interview in which there is an absolute … departure from the principles that would apply [in a normal interview].”
Rajeevan was questioned by Ms Reynolds and another female agent. ”Whether it’s good girl, bad girl, I don’t know, but every time Ms Reynolds comes into it it’s pretty full on,” Justice Coghlan said of the interview. After his criticism, the prosecution decided not to use Mr Rajeevan’s interview as part of its case.
The judge also queried why the AFP did not let barrister Philip Boulton, QC, and lawyer Adam Houda speak to Rajeevan while he was being questioned.
He described as ”frighteningly high handed” Rajeevan’s arrest at gunpoint in 2007 by federal agents and warned police they risked incriminating themselves by testifying about the potentially unlawful arrest.
He said it appeared that federal agents had used their claim that Rajeevan was voluntarily co-operating with them after his improper arrest to afford him ”less rights … than you would have in circumstances that you’re under arrest”.
After federal agents arrested Rajeevan, police realised they didn’t have enough evidence to hold him and told him he would be ”unarrested”.
”The notion that somebody can be arrested unlawfully and then just unarrested at somebody else’s whim is bizarre,” Justice Coghlan said.
The crown has alleged the trio supplied more than $1 million to the Tamil Tigers..