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Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal writes in support of drug smuggler

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Surrey MP wrote letter in support of drug trafficker
Sukh Dhaliwal stated to U.S. judge that Ranjit Cheema seemed rehabilitated
Kim Bolan, Vancouver Sun
Published: Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Surrey Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal has written to a U.S. District Court judge on official House of Commons stationery in support of convicted international drug trafficker Ranjit Singh Cheema, The Vancouver Sun has learned.

Cheema was sentenced in California this week to five years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiring to smuggle 200 kilograms of heroin from Pakistan to North America in 1998.

The drugs were supposed to be exchanged with cocaine from a Colombian cartel in a deal that was intercepted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Dhaliwal's letter, dated July 9, 2008 and addressed to Judge Stephen V. Wilson, says the Newton-North Delta MP had met Cheema at "community engagements" and that the gangster seemed to be fully rehabilitated after fighting extradition for 10 years.

"He has become an active member of the community, a father and a husband who set down strong roots in Lower Mainland Vancouver area," Dhaliwal said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained from Los Angeles court files. "Just having conversations while participating in public events like sports tournaments, I have no doubt that if he is given support and direction, he will be a strong active member of his community in the years to come."

But police in B.C. strongly disagreed that Cheema changed his ways before his extradition earlier this year, saying he remained a player in organized crime up until he was sent to the U.S. to face charges. In fact, Supt. John Robin, then head of the B.C. Integrated Gang Task Force, told The Sun when Cheema was extradited last January that investigators "have continued to look at him for a variety of organized crime and gang activities and we're continuing to investigate offences that he might be involved in."

"He has been involved in organized crime and gang activity even while he was awaiting extradition," Robin said.

Sgt. Shinder Kirk reiterated Tuesday that the task force still holds the same view of Cheema's long-time involvement in organized crime. "Those sentiments are as true today as they were back in January. Certainly in my experience Mr. Cheema was well known as being involved in the criminal lifestyle, whether that be in gangs or on an individual basis," Kirk said.

Dhaliwal's letter was one of 30 filed by Cheema's lawyers on August 21, 2008, according to the California Central District court registry. All were addressed to Judge Wilson, who sentenced Cheema Monday to 60 months, plus three years of mandatory supervision.

The Liberal MP says in the letter that he was approached by Malkiat Singh Cheema, the 40-year-old trafficker's dad, "to write a letter of recommendation for Mr. Ranjit Singh Cheema, who has pleaded guilty to drug-related crime."

Until his extradition, Ranjit Cheema lived with his wife, daughter and parents in Vancouver South and is not Dhaliwal's constituent.

Dhaliwal did not return repeated calls and e-mails left for him Tuesday. A campaign worker, John Delacourt, later called from Toronto about The Sun's inquiries, saying he would get Dhaliwal to phone.

The MP said in his letter that he had spoken "to many community activists about (Cheema) while he was on parole in Canada, it is my understanding that he had complied with any court order in the past."

Most of Cheema's support letters are from relatives, including his wife, siblings and parents. But two registered non-profit societies operating out of Surrey's Dasmesh Darbar Sikh temple also defended the longtime gangster in letters to the court.

Dasmesh temple president Sudager Singh Sandhu said in his letter, also dated July 9, that he had known Cheema since 1998 when the gangster was "serving food in the kitchen and helping others getting around the temple."

"Ranj has continued serving at the temple until the time of his deportation to the U.S. I strongly feel that Ranj is a changed man and should be granted an opportunity to prove himself," Sandhu said. "This thought is a collective thought on behalf of thousands of members of the temple who attend weekly."

Sandhu also failed to return calls Tuesday. His temple was embroiled in controversy earlier this year when a religious parade it was hosting featured photos of assassins and leaders of designated terrorist groups, who were depicted as martyrs.

A second reference letter using the temple's address was written by Ranjit Singh, who described himself as a director of the Kalgidhar Religious Sikh Society.

Singh also said he had known Cheema for nine years and that "Mr. Cheema was attending and volunteering at the Gurdwara Sahib [holy temple] for almost six and half years except [the] last few months."

"I find him [to be] a kind and honest person who is well-known in our congregation," Singh said.

Cheema claimed in his own letter that he got caught up in the international drug conspiracy only because he was depressed and addicted to drugs after being critically wounded in a 1995 shooting at the Zodiac nightclub in Richmond.

"I started self-medicating and using cocaine. I started hanging out around with the wrong kind of people who were into the lifestyle," he said. "It was around this time that I got into doing a deal with the Pakistanis."

Cheema failed to mention that the person he was with when he was shot, associate Robbie Kandola, was later gunned down by a suspected member of Cheema's crew. He also neglected to say that he was a one-time associate of notorious gangster Bindy Johal, who was also later gunned down. And Cheema left out the fact that he was at a Vancouver wedding reception in 2000 when his bodyguard, Mike Brar, was gunned down in front of him. All the murders remain unsolved.

Cheema avoided prosecution for the most part in Canada, serving a six-month sentence in 1990 after admitting he fired a handgun outside a bar on Southwest Marine Drive because steroids had made him violent. Charges of assault and threatening laid against him in May 2000 were stayed when the alleged victim died.

But Cheema said in his letter that since his 1998 U.S. charge, he had turned his life around, married and had a young daughter.

"I was immediately humbled by the public humiliation of being arrested and incarcerated," Cheema said in his letter to the court. "I ask you to understand the extent to which I have already been punished through home detention, actual detention and having a life in limbo for 11 years. I ask you to return me to my family and my life."

In U.S. court documents, Cheema was named as the head of the drug ring's Canadian arm who had worked for months to bring in $4 million worth of heroin and 4,000 kg of hashish from Pakistan, to exchange with a Colombian cartel for 800 kg of cocaine. For months, the gang held clandestine meetings in Pakistan, Montreal, Vancouver, Los Angeles and Singapore -- some of them monitored by police -- that were all part of the plot.

During an April 1997 Vancouver meeting, court documents say that Cheema told an informant to the DEA "that he had contacts in the Colombian drug trafficking organization operating out of the L.A. area."


Surrey North Delta Leader
Liberal MP Dhaliwal defends letter to U.S. judge
By Kevin Diakiw - Surrey North Delta Leader
Published: September 10, 2008 5:00 PM
Updated: September 11, 2008 1:04 PM

A local MP now regrets not calling police before writing a letter to a U.S. judge, voicing support for an international drug trafficker.

Sukh Dhaliwal, MP for Newton-North Delta, wrote to California District Judge Stephen Wilson on July 9 recommending a chance for the rehabilitation of Ranjit Singh Cheema.

Cheema was sentenced in California this week to five years in prison for conspiring to smuggle 200 kilograms of heroin from Pakistan to North America in 1998.

In letter on Government of Canada letterhead, Dhaliwal explained to the judge he was approached by Cheema's father for help.

Dhaliwal describes Ranjit Cheema, who will one day return to his family in Canada, as man who seems committed to rehabilitation.

"I personally believe, along with tougher laws, rehabilitation is fundamentally essential to make our society, our country, and our planet a better place to live," Dhaliwal writes in the letter.

"I have no doubt that if he (Cheema) is given support and direction, he will be a strong, active member of his community in years to come," Dhaliwal wrote.

"I give my support and recommendation for him to be given a chance to rehabilitate."

However, Cheema was on police radar right up until the time he left the country for trial, according to Sgt. Shinder Kirk with the provincial Integrated Gang Task Force.

"There is still that belief that he was involved in that criminal lifestyle," Kirk told The Leader Wednesday.

That was the belief of police right up until the time Cheema was extradited for trial in the United States.

"Not only for what may have been occurring recently, but also for past occurrences," Kirk said.

Dhaliwal, who is in the middle of a re-election campaign in one of the province's battleground ridings, now regrets not having called the police before writing the letter.

"Certainly, now I'm getting those type of questions. At that time, it did not come to my mind," Dhaliwal said, adding hindsight, he would have called police first.

"Yes, I would have."

One local Conservative is already asking Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion to discipline Dhaliwal for sending the letter.

“It is highly inappropriate for a politician to attempt to influence a judge’s sentencing decision in a criminal case," said Russ Hiebert, Tory MP for South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale.

"Stephane Dion knows there has always been a separation between branches of government and an MP attempting to influence the administration of justice crosses the line."

However, the Liberal Leader said on the campaign trail Wednesday that he acccepts Dhaliwal's'''''s explanation.

"Mr. Dhaliwal asked for the rehabilitation of this man," Dion told reporters. "He was supporting that this man should have a sentence but he was also asking for rehabilitation."

Dhaliwal said Thursday he can't recall sending any other letters of support for people who were facing punishment for serious crimes.

"Not that I recall," Dhaliwal said. "I would remember, (and there has) not been a person like this. I write thousands of letters on other issues."
After reading that, and seeing his past performances, he wouldn't get my vote, not that it matters; as I am not in his riding.  I would also bet that he has a relatively save seat in the next Parliament, due to as TCBF says "Tribalism".