Verdict due in spring in Air India bombs trial

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Testimony in the case against two Sikhs charged with the 1985 bombing of an Air India Boeing 747 concluded Friday in one of the most exhaustive and expensive trials in Canadian history.

Ripudaman Singh Malik, a 57-year-old millionaire, and Ajaib Singh Bagri, 55, were charged with planting one bomb that exploded June 23, 1985, killing 329 people aboard the jumbo jet, and another bomb that went off an hour earlier at Tokyo’s Narita Airport and killed two baggage handlers.

Bound for India’s capital, New Delhi, Air India Flight 182 originated in Montreal and most of the victims were Canadian. Investigators believed both bombs originated in British Columbia, home to about half of Canada’s 200,000 Sikhs.

Supreme Court Justice Ian Josephson said he will deliver a decision March 16.

The court case opened in April 2003 after an 18-year investigation. The court heard testimony from 115 witnesses in a trial that cost more than $100 million, with $4.8 million spent on a specially built courtroom with bulletproof walls separating spectators and defendants.

The alleged bombmaker, Inderjit Singh Reyat, has pleaded guilty to manslaughter and is in prison.

The case hinges on the testimony of three star witnesses and bomb experts with the prosecution alleging that the bombings were to avenge a bloody 1984 raid by Indian troops on the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar, seat of the Sikh faith.

The complexity of the case contributed to the 17 years needed to bring it to trial. The probe spread to several countries, including Ireland and Japan. Deep rifts in Vancouver’s Sikh community also hindered progress, with violence and intimidation against those perceived to be helping police.

Bagri’s lawyer, Richard Peck, said Friday: “This case has been a trek across a vast expanse of knowledge, experience and law.”

The defense lawyer for Malik, David Crossin, called the case a “logistical nightmare” and said, “It was a long haul, I’m glad it’s over.”

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