British arms dealer gets life for Indian terror plot

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The Independent Online

Peter Bleach, a small-time British arms dealer on trial in Calcutta for dropping weapons over West Bengal four years ago, was sentenced to life imprisonment yesterday.

Peter Bleach, a small-time British arms dealer on trial in Calcutta for dropping weapons over West Bengal four years ago, was sentenced to life imprisonment yesterday.

The five-man Latvian crew of the aircraft from which theequipment was parachuted on to property belonging to Ananda Marg, an obscure Hindu sect locked in bitter conflict with the communist government of West Bengal, received the same sentence. Bleach, who represented himself duringthe trial, told the crowded courtroom that he intendedto appeal. "I have respect for the Indian judicial system," he said, "but I cannot understand how a court can pass such a judgment."

There have been persistent rumours that the judge in the case, Justice P K Biswas, has been under pressure from the West Bengal government to return a guilty verdict quickly.

Bleach, 47, from Yorkshire, a former lance corporal in the intelligence corps, told the British intelligence services when he was first approached and claimed he only took part in the drop because he was under the impression he was involved in an officially sanctioned "sting" operation to uncover a terrorist plot.

British military intelligence agrees that Bleach told it of the plan to deliver the arms, but says it told him in strong terms not to get involved.

He and the crew were arrested in Bombay in December 1995 when Indian Air Force planes forced their cargo aircraft to land. Several days earlier the aircraft had dropped the crates containing munitions worth about £220,000, including 300 rifles, 10 rocket launchers, 100 anti-tank grenades and other military goods over Purulia in West Bengal.

Bleach and his Latvian co-accused, who also intend to appeal against their conviction, have been in custody since their arrest.

Judicial sources said yesterday that offenders sentenced to life in India may appeal for clemency after 14 years, and may thereupon be released. But given the glacial pace of Indian justice, they may already have served that length of time before they exhaust the appeal process.

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