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Air India bomber appeals perjury conviction

india Updated: Jun 15, 2012 11:17 IST
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A court of appeal in British Columbia heard an appeal Thursday from the only person convicted in the 1985 Air India bombing that killed 329 people off the coast of Ireland.

Inderjit Singh Reyat received nine years imprisonment in 2011 for lying at the 2003 trial of Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri, who have since been acquitted of mass murder and conspiracy charges.

Reyat was convicted on one count of perjury that he lied 19 times during the Malik-Bagri trial.

Most of the instances of lying in the single charge deal with Reyat's insistence under oath at Malik and Bagri's trial in 2003 that he did not remember details of the bombing plot or the name of a man involved.

Reyat had pleaded guilty to manslaughter as part of a plea deal during the trial. He'd already served a 10-year sentence for the same-day deaths of two Tokyo baggage handlers who were killed when a bomb-laden suitcase meant for another Air India plane exploded prematurely.

The court heard his appeal Thursday but gave no date on when a decision will be announced.

Reyat's lawyer, Ian Donaldson, told three British Columbia Court of Appeal judges that each juror only had to find that Reyat had lied in one of the 19 instances in order to convict.

He said it created too many routes to a guilty verdict and violated the concept of juror unanimity.

"When the verdict is a general verdict and the basis of that verdict is impossible to discern, it must be set aside," Donaldson said. Justice Anne MacKenzie called Donaldson's argument speculative.

Prosecutor Len Doust said the instances of lying were part of one continuous action in Reyat's testimony.

He said if Reyat had lied one or more out of the 19 instances, "then he must have known more about the conspiracy than he said in his testimony." Doust told the appeal court the perjury trial judge was satisfied each of the 19 instances had been proven. Doust expected the court to reserve its decision.

The Montreal-to-Heathrow, London Flight 182 disappeared from radar off the Irish coast June 23, 1985 when a bomb exploded killing all on board. The bombings were the world's deadliest terrorist strike before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and Canada's worst case of mass murder.

Police allegedly watched Reyat near his Vancouver Island community of Duncan testing explosives in nearby forests with Talwinder Singh Parmar 18 days before the bombings.

In acquitting Malik and Bagri, BC Supreme Court trial judge Ian Josephson called Reyat an "unmitigated liar." Josephson called Parmar the bombing mastermind in his ruling acquitting Malik and Bagri.

Prior to his being shot to death by Indian police in 1992, Parmar was leader of the extremist Babbar Khalsa group. The group advocated the creation of a Sikh state of Khalistan in India's Punjab region.

Malik, Bagri and Reyat were alleged to have ties to the Babbar Khalsa. At Malik and Bagri's trial, Reyat denied knowing the group's purpose or that Parmar was the leader. That denial became one of the specifics on the perjury indictment.

Prosecutors maintained the bombing was revenge by Sikh separatists for a deadly 1984 raid by Indian forces on the Golden Temple at Amritsar, Sikhism's holiest site.