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Reyat's Former Lawyer Convicted of Witness Tampering
By ROBERT MATAS
The Globe and Mail, Vancouver, Apr. 9, 2005
Photo: Kuldip Singh Chaggar
Vancouver lawyer Kuldip Singh Chaggar was convicted in Seattle yesterday of witness tampering for threatening a woman arrested in a cocaine-smuggling case.
'This crime struck [at] the heart of the justice system,' United States Attorney John McKay said after the judge delivered his verdict in the five-day trial.
'The Department of Justice is pleased that the court's verdict made clear that the improper attempts to influence witnesses in federal criminal cases will not be tolerated,' he said.
Mr. Chaggar, who drew attention for his vigorous defence of Air-India terrorist Inderjit Singh Reyat in the 1990s, was convicted for speaking to Sunita Vartia, a 20-year old British Columbia woman who agreed to co-operate with U.S. prosecutors after she was caught with others in Washington state with 51 kilograms of cocaine worth $1.5-million.
Mr. Chaggar, 43, had been retained to represent one of the others in the group but he was not licensed to practise in Washington.
U.S. authorities portrayed Mr. Chaggar, who is married and has one child, as 'a consigliere of sorts' to a gang of drug traffickers acting on behalf of an organization operating in Canada.
The court was told he met with Ms. Vartia on Sept. 13 while she was incarcerated. The meeting took place without the knowledge of Ms. Vartia's lawyer.
Ms. Vartia said Mr. Chaggar urged her to change her testimony and, if she did not, she and her family would not have a place to hide. She said he told her to say she thought she was smuggling illegal immigrants, not drugs.
Mr. Chaggar denied that he threatened the woman or told her to change her testimony. In his defence, the court was told that Mr. Chaggar was an overzealous lawyer trying to help someone unhappy with her lawyer.
'This case constituted an egregious violation by an officer of the court,' said Rodney Benson, a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The conviction carries a maximum prison term of 10 years. Mr. Chaggar is to be sentenced in August.
Mr. Chaggar was a prosecutor in England before moving to British Columbia in the early 1990s. He represented Mr. Reyat before the National Parole Board in the mid-1990s.
Mr. Reyat had another lawyer when he agreed to plead guilty to manslaughter in the Air-India case. The R.C.M.P. have said that Mr. Reyat would have co-operated with police years earlier if not for Mr. Chaggar's involvement.
Since his arrest, Mr. Chaggar has received widespread support from members of the Sikh community in B.C. and Ontario, who have vouched for his integrity.