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The trial of three men charged with plotting the 1985 bombing of an Air-India plane, which killed 329 people, has become embroiled in a dispute over allegations of fraud by a former member of one of the defence legal teams.
British Columbia Attorney General Geoff Plant on Thursday said he is investigating allegations by lawyer Gil McKinnon that the son and daughter of one of the defendants, Inderjit Singh Reyat, had billed for thousands of dollars of work for Reyat's defence team that was never performed.
Plant told reporters that some bills submitted by the defence have not been paid because officials want more explanation of how the money was spent.
Other defence lawyers said on Thursday it was not wrong to hire relatives of defendants to provide support services, such as computer work, for the defence teams, even though most of the multimillion-dollar cost of the defence effort is being funded by the government.
These lawyers would not comment directly on the fraud allegations, but others in the case have previously denied there was any basis to support an ethics complaint filed against Reyat's former lead attorney by McKinnon and others.
It is unusual for complaints of ethical violations among lawyers to be aired in public, and the defence lawyers said they were worried the infighting would be a distraction in the case, which is expected to be among the longest and most complex in Canadian legal history.
Reyat, Ajaib Singh Bagri and Ripudaman Singh Malik are accused of blowing up Air-India Flight 182 off the west coast of Ireland on June 23, 1985, killing 329 people. It was history's deadliest act of civilian aviation sabotage until the September 11 attacks on the United States.
The attack, and a related attempt to destroy another Air-India airliner that accidentally killed two workers at Tokyo's Narita airport on the same day, were allegedly planned by Canadian-based Sikhs as revenge for the Indian Army's storming of the Golden temple in Amritsar in 1984.
Reyat, Bagri and Malik maintain separate legal teams, even though they will be tried at the same time when jury selection begins in March 2003. The case is now in the pretrial hearing stage with the court listening to arguments over what evidence will be allowed.
McKinnon told CBC Radio on Thursday that Reyat's son had acknowledged he had submitted inaccurate bills for two months.
McKinnon and seven other members of Reyat's defence team have resigned from the case and he has filed an ethics complaint against the team's former lead attorney David Martin.
Reyat's new lead attorney, David Gibbons, has previously said he investigated the allegations against Martin - who is still a member of the defence - and found them to be 'not true'.
Michael Code, an attorney for Bagri, said that his legal team has employed Bagri's son-in-law, Jaswinder Singh Parmar, to build a computer data base to allow easier searching of the thousands of pages of transcripts of evidence being presented by prosecutors.
Code said Parmar was the best candidate for the job because he was a computer engineer who already knew the history of the complicated case. "He has lived and breathed this case," Code said following a hearing on Bagri's request for bail.
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