VANCOUVER — The legal tussle over a multimillion-dollar legal bill between the B.C. government and a man acquitted in the Air India bombings is headed for Canada’s highest court.
The Supreme Court of Canada said Thursday it will hear an appeal by the province over documents it seized in connection to the assets and liabilities of Ripudaman Singh Malik.
In March 2005, a B.C. Supreme Court judge acquitted Malik and co-accused Ajaib Singh Bagri in the 1985 bombings of two separate Air India flights that killed a total of 331 people.
Prior to the start of the trial in 2003, the B.C. government signed an agreement with the millionaire businessman to pay the costs of his defence team up front. Malik was to repay the government the cost of his 11-member team.
He hasn’t, despite government demands dating back to December 2005.
Malik is suing the Crown for malicious prosecution, and launched legal action in 2007 arguing that he shouldn’t have to pay if his allegations prove true in court. He also claimed the deal he made with the province to repay his legal fees was made under duress.
The Crown then launched its own court action alleging Malik and his family members conspired to defraud the Crown by hiding his assets and disguising his net worth.
A B.C. Supreme Court judge not only ruled Malik had to pay the $5.2 million with interest, but that the Crown could search properties connected to Malik looking for documentation of his assets and liabilities.
Malik and three of his family members named in the court action appealed the decision to allow the search, and earlier this year three judges from B.C.’s Court of Appeal unanimously overturned the search decision.
By then, government lawyers had already searched Malik’s home, his business and his son’s law office and carried away documents or computers relating to the case.
The provincial appeal court panel directed that all those documents and computer images be returned.
“In my opinion, the admissible evidence did not establish a strong . . . case of fraud or show a real possibility the defendants will destroy any incriminating documents that may be in their possession,” B.C. Appeal Court Justice David Tysoe said in his written reasons.
B.C. Attorney General Mike de Jong said Thursday that the high court decision to hear the case won’t impede their efforts to collect the money, which continue.
“None of this relates to the confirmed debt amount of $5.8 million,” he said, referring to the original $5.2 million plus interest.
But he said the government wants to keep the documents that were seized in the search as proof that Malik can pay, as he has been ordered to do by a B.C. court.
“The Crown believes there is material there that is relevant to the collection action,” de Jong said.
Malik’s lawyer didn’t response to a request for an interview.
In 2000, Malik was charged in connection to the 1985 bombing. During a bail hearing, the businessman claimed he and his wife had a net worth of about $11.6 million.
A year later, he went to the government for help in funding his legal costs, saying he couldn’t fund his defence because his assets couldn’t be readily liquidated.
Only one man has ever been convicted for his part in the Air India bombings.
Inderjit Singh Reyat was convicted of manslaughter in the bombing that killed two Japanese baggage handlers. Then in 2003, he pleaded guilty to manslaughter in connection to supplying the bomb parts that blew up Flight 182 off the coast of Ireland, killing all 329 people on board.
Reyat still faces a perjury charge in connection to the testimony he gave at the trial of Malik and Bagri. He was released on strict bail conditions in July 2008.
It’s believed the plot against the airline was devised by militant extremists in British Columbia in retaliation for the Indian government’s 1984 attack on Sikhism’s holiest shrine, the Golden Temple.
After the two men were acquitted the federal government announced that former Supreme Court justice John Major would lead an inquiry into the investigation surrounding the bombing.
The 17-month inquiry, which wrapped up in February 2008, heard the investigation was hampered by a turf war between RCMP and Canada’s Security Intelligence Service.
The final report hasn’t been released yet.