VANCOUVER (Reuters) - A Canadian man already convicted of involvement in the world’s deadliest bombing of an airliner was sentenced on Friday to nine years jail for lying when he told a court he did not know details of the bombing conspiracy.
Inderjit Singh Reyat’s claims of remorse for his role in the 1985 bombing of an Air India airliner, which killed 329 people, “ring hollow” because of his refusal to tell what he knows, British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Mark McEwan said.
“In the witness box, Mr. Reyat behaved like a man still committed to a cause which treated hundreds of men, women and children as expendable,” McEwan said in sentencing Reyat for perjury.
Air India Flight 182 was destroyed by a suitcase bomb off the coast of Ireland in June 1985 en route from Canada to India via London.
Canadian and Indian police have long alleged the bombing was conducted by Sikh extremists living in Western Canada as revenge on India for its deadly storming of Sikhism’s Golden Temple in Amritsar in 1984.
Police say the plotters planned to destroy another Air India jet over the Pacific Ocean at the same time, but that suitcase bomb instead exploded in Japan’s Narita airport, killing two baggage handlers.
Reyat pleaded guilty in 2003 to a reduced charge of helping to build the Flight 182 bomb, and later that year was called by prosecutors as a witness at the trial of Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajiab Singh Bagri, who were also accused of plotting the bombing.
Reyat testified that he never learned details of the plot, and did not know the name of a man who spent a week at Reyat’s home in Duncan, British Columbia, building the explosive devices.
Malik and Bagri were found not guilty. Reyat is the only person convicted in connection with either the Flight 182 bombing or the Narita bombing.
McEwan said it was impossible to know if Malik and Bagri would have been convicted if Reyat had cooperated with prosecutors, but police and the victims’ relatives said they believe they would have been.
“He was a witness for the prosecutors and he totally lied under oath. It is not OK in a crime like this... and Mr. Reyat has a huge burden,” said Perviz Madon, whose husband died when Flight 182 was destroyed.
Most of the victims were Canadians traveling to India to visit relatives, and the attack remains history’s deadliest bombing of a civilian airliner.
Reyat could have received up to 14 years in prison, but his sentence was the longest ever for perjury in Canada. With credit for time already spent in jail, he will likely spend just over 7-1/2 years behind bars.
Reyat was not the only member of the plot to have told investigators they were willing to cooperate, and then changed their minds, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) official said.
“The perjury of Reyat was of the most despicable kind. Perjury specifically designed to protect his equally cowardly co-conspirators,” RCMP Deputy Commissioner Gary Bass said.
Police say the investigation into the attacks remains active. But the probe has been dogged by controversy from its early stages with key evidence destroyed as investigators from different organizations failed to cooperate with each other.
The Canadian government formally apologized last June to families of the Air India victims, saying authorities failed to act on information that could have prevented the attack or catch those responsible.
Reporting Allan Dowd, editing by Peter Galloway