MV Sun Sea human-smuggling trial

The Crown began its closing submission at the MV Sun Sea human-smuggling trial Friday, alleging one of the accused not only arranged supplies, accommodation and transport for Sri Lankan Tamil migrants, but was also the owner of the ship.

Kunarobinson Christhurajah, Lesly Emmanuel, Nadarajah Mahendran and Thampeernayagam Rajaratnam have each been charged under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act with organizing the MV Sun Sea’s voyage to Canada. The cargo ship docked in B.C. in August, 2010, carrying 492 Tamils – 380 men, 63 women and 49 children.

The jury trial for the four men began in B.C. Supreme Court in October and closing arguments started Thursday.

Crown prosecutor Charles Hough started his submission Friday and focused on Mr. Christhurajah, whom he characterized as a person of importance during the journey.

Mr. Hough said the manager of an apartment building where Mr. Christhurajah lived in Bangkok testified that he saw him bring in large containers of food and cooking oil. There were so many supplies, Mr. Hough said, that Mr. Christhurajah had to rent a second suite.

The Crown said several Sri Lankans lived in another apartment Mr. Christhurajah had rented, and he also helped arrange transport to the ship.

Mr. Hough said Mr. Christhurajah at one point told a landlord he had a business. The Crown said that company was the owner of the MV Sun Sea in 2010.

“What I submit to you is that if someone has a substantial investment, they are going to do what they can to maximize the return on that investment, or in other words, ensure that the investment succeeds. They’re going to want to take steps to make sure that this business is successful and that it goes off without a hitch,” Mr. Hough said.

“And that would include taking the steps Mr. Christhurajah took in regards to getting the migrants to the ship, and supplies, and so on. So I say that the evidence in this case is consistent with Mr. Christhurajah being the owner of the ship.”

Mr. Hough is expected to complete his submission Monday.

Casey Leggett, Mr. Christhurajah’s lawyer, told the court earlier this week that there is no evidence his client profited financially from the voyage. He argued Mr. Christhurajah provided humanitarian assistance to Tamils fleeing persecution in Sri Lanka, a country ravaged by decades of civil war.

Vicki Williams, counsel for Mr. Rajaratnam, also delivered her closing argument Friday and told the jury the Crown has not proven her client’s guilt. She challenged the testimony of two migrants who said they had contact with Mr. Rajaratnam and argued he had been wrongly identified.

Ms. Williams said the section under which her client has been charged does not apply in three instances: when it involves humanitarian aid, when asylum-seekers are providing mutual assistance, and when a person is aiding a family member.

She noted Mr. Rajaratnam had five family members on the MV Sun Sea: his father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in law and two cousins.

Mr. Hough told the jury he would address the exemptions that apply under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act on Monday.

The Crown has alleged Mr. Rajaratnam and Mr. Mahendran, who are Canadian and were not on board the ship, acted as agents and helped organize the trip.

Mr. Emmanuel served as the captain, but testified he was only supposed to be a passenger. He said the initial crew, made up of Thai nationals, fled before the voyage began and other passengers asked him to fill in because he had marine experience.

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