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Tuesday, 10 July, 2001, 14:08 GMT 15:08 UK
Arms dealer's release bid
Peter Bleach and prison officers
Peter Bleach: Not optimistic about being freed
An arms dealer serving a life sentence in an Indian jail will find out next week if he is to be freed.

Peter Bleach has been in a Calcutta prison for more than five years for his part in dropping a huge consignment of weapons from an aircraft over the Purulia district of West Bengal state in December 1995.

Mr Bleach says that since five Russian pilots convicted along with him on the same charges were released after pressure from Moscow, his continued detention is illegal and discriminatory.

However, a letter to his mother who lives near Scarborough, Yorkshire, suggests that Mr Bleach is not optimistic about securing his release.

A representative of the Foreign Office contacted Oceana Bleach to update her on the British Vice Consul in Calcutta's visit to her son.

Peter Bleach
Bleach has spent more than five years in jail
Writing to his mother, the Foreign Office said Mr Bleach's case had been raised by the high commissioner in Delhi and by Ben Bradshaw, the minister responsible for India.

But while Mr Bleach said he appreciated the government's efforts, he believes the Central Bureau of Investigation wants him to remain in jail.

The Indian Supreme Court has given the country's government until 16 July to offer its opinion on whether Mr Bleach should be freed.

If the deadline passes without contact from the government, the Supreme Court will make its own decision on Mr Bleach's future.

Remission granted

A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office said: "We still continue to do everything we can to get the Indian authorities to look at Mr Bleach's case and we have asked for him to be released.

"We feel he is being discriminated against because his co-accused have already been released."

The five Russian aircrew who were freed from an Indian jail last year have already appealed to India's president for the release of Mr Bleach.

The crew were granted remission on the remainder of their life sentences by President Narayanan.

The arms and ammunition were dropped over West Bengal in 1995.

Hunger strike threat

Later the plane, with Bleach and the others onboard, was intercepted and forced to land in Bombay.

The destination of the arms remains unclear to this day.

At the trial, where all six pleaded their innocence, the prosecution said that Bleach was the key conspirator.

Britain has interpreted the actual judgement as showing that the court found them all to be equally involved.

It is on this basis that it claims Bleach is being discriminated against by being kept in jail.

Bleach said in February he would go on hunger strike, but he has not carried out his threat.

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See also:

30 Mar 01 | South Asia
Fresh appeal for British arms dealer
05 Mar 01 | South Asia
Jailed Briton's hunger strike threat
08 Dec 00 | South Asia
Plea to India over jailed Briton
22 Jul 00 | South Asia
India pardons arms drop crew
24 Apr 00 | South Asia
India arms case reopened
02 Feb 00 | South Asia
Briton gets life in India arms case
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