Canadian faces human smuggling charges in U.S. after Turks and Caicos prison stint
Srikajamukan Chelliah, 55, is facing human smuggling-related charges in Florida after serving a prison sentence in the Turks and Caicos Islands. (Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force)
TORONTO -- A Canadian man is facing human smuggling charges in the United States after serving a prison sentence in the Turks and Caicos Islands for what authorities there have said may be the most complex criminal case in that country's history.
The Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force (RT&CIPF) said Tuesday that Srikajamukan Chelliah, a Sri Lanka-born Canadian citizen, was flown to the U.S. on Monday following an extradition request from the American government.
Chelliah was arrested in October 2019 when authorities in the Turks and Caicos came upon a sailboat that had entered their waters from Haiti.
The boat was carrying 158 passengers, including 28 Sri Lankans and one Indian who the RT&CIPF says were being smuggled. Chelliah was on the boat too, and soon found himself facing charges of illegal entry and assisting illegal entry.
He pleaded guilty to these offences in June and was sentenced to 14 months in prison, the police said.
Trevor Botting, the commissioner of the RT&CIPF, said in a statement that the investigation into Chelliah and the others on the sailboat "was one of, if not the, largest and most complex criminal investigations ever undertaken" by the agency, also resulting in arrests in Canada, the U.S. and Sri Lanka.
With credit for time already spent in custody, Chelliah's sentence ended not long after his guilty plea, and he was expected to be deported to Canada. That changed in late July, when American authorities requested his extradition to face charges there.
The U.S. Justice Department said Wednesday that it believes Chelliah was planning to take "numerous Sri Lankan aliens" from Turks and Caicos to Canada, via the Bahamas and the U.S., in exchange for money. The group had already made a three-month journey from Sri Lanka when they were found in Turks and Caicos, the department said.
Chelliah, a 55-year-old man who also goes by the name Mohan, will now face charges in Florida including conspiracy to bring aliens to the U.S. and encouraging and inducing aliens to enter the U.S. for financial gain. The Americans' allegations against Chelliah have not been tested in court.
According to the RT&CIPF, Chelliah was previously convicted of human smuggling-related offences in the U.S. in 2003 and 2012.