Air India bomb maker guilty of perjury

VANCOUVER — The only man who ever served time for the deaths of 331 people in the Air India bombings was found guilty of perjury Saturday, a finding that will likely mean he’ll face even more time in prison.

Inderjit Singh Reyat

Inderjit Singh Reyat

VANCOUVER — The only man who ever served time for the deaths of 331 people in the Air India bombings was found guilty of perjury Saturday, a finding that will likely mean he’ll face even more time in prison.

The always stoic Inderjit Singh Reyat showed little emotion as the verdict was read after jurors deliberated for more than 20 hours. He was ordered into custody.

Reyat’s lawyer, Ian Donaldson, had argued Reyat should remain out of custody to prepare for the two-day hearing Nov. 17, saying that neither he nor the Crown had found a case of any Canadian convicted of perjury being detained pending sentencing.

Donaldson said Reyat had “complied impeccably” with his bail conditions since being released from custody in July 2008.

“In two-plus years, there has been no suggestion or hint of any breach at all,” he said. While Reyat lived with his family, police visited him regularly and he attended religious services while awaiting his trial, Donaldson said.

But B.C. Supreme Court Judge Mark McEwan ruled Reyat would be immediately taken into custody.

“My view of it is that Mr. Reyat has been convicted by a jury of a very serious charge,” McEwan said.

“(That) persuades me that the administration of justice is best protected and the reputation of the legal system itself is protected by . . . Mr. Reyat being remanded in custody before the sentencing for which he is presently scheduled.”

Reyat was accused by the Crown of lying repeatedly at the 2003 trial of Ajaib Singh Bagri and Ripudaman Singh Malik, who were charged with mass murder in the bombings. They were acquitted and Reyat was charged with perjury in 2006.

The indictment against Reyat lists 19 instances when he lied during his testimony, but the judge at his perjury trial told jurors they needed to be convinced he lied only once and that the entire jury did not have to agree on when.

Reyat didn’t flinch as a sheriff took him into custody. His son, Didar Reyat, who accompanied him to court for the week-long trial, walked out of the courtroom before his father was taken away.

Donaldson called for a two- to three-year sentence, saying Reyat has already served a total of 25 years behind bars for his two previous convictions related to the Air India bombings.

The maximum sentence for perjury is 14 years.

Crown lawyer Len Doust, who had cross-examined Reyat at the Air India trial and called his testimony “a pack of lies,” said outside court that he was not yet prepared to say what kind of a sentence he would be asking for.

Doust told jurors during the trial that Reyat did not tell the truth under oath to minimize his involvement in two Air India bombings on June 23, 1985, and because he wanted to protect people who were part of the conspiracy.

Air India Flight 182 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Ireland when a suitcase bomb exploded, killing 329 passengers and crew who’d left Montreal for London.

That disaster followed another blast about an hour earlier at Tokyo’s Narita Airport, where two baggage handlers died when a suitcase bomb meant for another Air India flight exploded prematurely.

Reyat has served a 10-year sentence for the Narita bombing and pled guilty in February 2003 to manslaughter in the Air India Flight 182 blast.

The nine women and three men on the jury in Reyat’s perjury trial relied solely on a recording of his testimony from the Air India trial, and no witnesses were called.

In his closing address, Doust told jurors that Reyat deflected questions while he was on the stand and concocted lies that were so blatant, they defied common sense.

Doust said Reyat lied to protect himself from retribution by people he feared and also to protect the two men on trial.

But Reyat’s lawyer, Ian Donaldson, said the Crown failed to prove his client had a motive to lie.

Reyat testified a leader of the Barbara Khalsa, a banned Sikh separatist group, asked him to collect bomb-making material but that he didn’t know what the explosive device would be used for and didn’t ask any questions.

He eventually testified Talwinder Singh Parmar wanted the bomb to blow up something heavy in India and that he agreed to help him because he was upset with the Indian government’s treatment of Sikhs.

During his testimony, Reyat said he didn’t remember the name of a man who stayed at his Duncan, B.C., home for almost a week in early June 1985 and took over bomb-making duties after he failed to satisfy Parmar when the two conducted a test explosion.

Reyat also said that when he heard about the deaths of the 331 people killed in the bombings, he didn’t think his involvement in collecting parts for explosives had anything to do with the disasters.

“If you believe that, I direct you to somebody who’ll sell you a bridge,” Doust said.

Donaldson said his client didn’t remember certain events but that’s because they’d occurred nearly 20 years earlier and few people can recall even significant matters from two decades earlier.

“Where were you when you first heard of the GST?” he said to jurors as an example.

Donaldson also noted that the judge at the Air India trial denied Doust’s request to have Reyat declared a hostile witness after alleging he was lying on the stand.

The Crown maintains Sikhs in British Columbia hatched a plot to bomb government-owned Air India planes after the Indian army stormed the Golden Temple in Amritsar in June 1984.