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A-I bombing probe: Malik wants representation

Ripudaman Malik, acquitted in the 1985 bombing case, has pleaded before the A-I probe panel that he be represented at the hearings.

india Updated: Jul 19, 2006 12:26 IST

Ripudaman Singh Malik, acquitted in the 1985 Air-India bombing case, has pleaded before the Commission of Inquiry into the tragedy that he be represented at the hearings so that his reputation is protected.

In a written application for legal standing filed before the Commission presided by retired Supreme Court judge Justice John Major, Malik's counsel said on Tuesday in Ottawa they want to cross-examine witnesses and participate in the hearings.

"It is the only way Malik can confront any evidence that may impugn his character," Malik's lawyer submitted before the Commission.

Malik may request the Commission for some evidence to be heard behind closed doors "where he anticipates prejudice to his reputation or other intimate matters, the lawyer said.

Major is already required, under the inquiry's terms of reference, to hear some evidence in private if it endangers national security as defined by the Federal Government.

Commission counsel Mark Freiman said the Commission would decide on such requests depending upon the facts and circumstances of the case.

"It would be surprising for a public inquiry to go in camera for matters that weren't strictly necessary to be held in private," said Freiman.

In a brief hearing, Justice Major granted legal standing to several organisations including the Federal Government, Air-India and groups representing the families of victims both in Canada and in India.

Justice Major said he would like to hear "every aggrieved person and organisation" while observing that if the aggrieved parties stay away from the hearings entirely, it would be a "disservice" to his work.

Justice Major made it clear that he could not re-try past cases or fix criminal offences on anyone.

"The Commission did not want the inquiry to dwell solely on events now 21 years in the past, but to address issues still relevant in the continuing fight against international terrorism," he said.

Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri were acquitted last year - after a trial that lasted 18 months - of criminal charges stemming from the downing of Air-India Flight 182 by a terrorist bomb off the coast of Ireland in 1985.

The bombing, allegedly to be work of Sikh extremists demanding Khalistan, took the lives of 329 people, most of them people of Indian origin or descent living in Canada.

It was the worst terrorist attack ever mounted from Canadian soil, and the worst involving civil aviation anywhere in the world until the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US.

The acquittals of Malik and Bagri, by a British Columbia judge who concluded the prosecution had not proved its case, sparked outrage among families of the victims.

Justice Major would rule on the request for legal standing, which could allow Malik's counsel and other aggrieved parties to place their submission before the inquiry ordered by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

It is estimated that there were more than 67 people or organisations that had or would like to have legal standing before the Commission.

Justice Major is expected to deliver a report by September 2007.