VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Canadian prosecutors and a lawyer for the only person convicted for the 1985 Air India bombings played coy on Wednesday on whether he would plead guilty to lying about the plot in court.
Inderjit Singh Reyat had been widely expected to plead guilty to perjury on Wednesday, but instead watched via a video link as defense lawyer Ian Donaldson told a court in Vancouver that attorneys needed more time to prepare for trial.
“I‘m not going down that road,” Donaldson said as he deflected reporters’s questions on whether the delay meant Reyat had changed his mind and a possible deal with prosecutors had fallen through.
“I’ve read the media reports (on a guilty plea) and I‘m not going to speculate,” prosecution spokesman Geoff Gaul said.
Reyat pleaded guilty in 2003 to a reduced charge of manslaughter for helping collect materials used to make the bomb that destroyed Air India Flight 182 over the Irish Sea in June 1985, killing all 329 people on board.
The attack is history’s deadliest bombing of a civilian airliner and believed to be the work of Canadian-based militants who were then battling the Indian government for an independent Sikh homeland.
After pleading guilty, Reyat was called as a prosecution witness in the bombing trial of fellow Sikh separatist, Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri.
But Reyat testified he never asked the name of the bomb maker who stayed for several days at his house in Duncan, British Columbia, or what the bomb was intended for.
The court found Malik and Bagri not guilty of murder, but the judge in his ruling described Reyat as an “an unmitigated liar” whose testimony “bordered on the absurd.”
Reyat’s 2003 plea deal did not require him to testify against Malik and Bagri, but he did have to be truthful if called as a witness, prosecutors said at the time.
In charging Reyat with perjury in 2006, investigators said he knew “an awful lot more” than he told the court.
Reyat was sentenced to five years in prison for his role in the Flight 182 bombing and is scheduled to be released from prison on February 9, nearly a month before the next scheduled hearing in his perjury case.
Gaul refused to say if prosecutors will ask the Reyat be held in jail after his manslaughter sentence is completed.
Reyat also spent 10 years in prison for manslaughter for a failed bombing attack on another Air India flight in June 1985 that instead killed two Tokyo airport workers.
Reporting Allan Dowd, Editing by Rob Wilson