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Charismatic 'thug': Witnesses disparage man accused of trying to orchestrate radio host's murder

Author
Craig Kapitan,
Publish Date
Thu, 7 Sep 2023, 8:45PM
A man with name suppression is on trial in the High Court at Auckland, accused of orchestrating the attempted murder of radio host Harnek Singh. Photo / Jason Oxenham
A man with name suppression is on trial in the High Court at Auckland, accused of orchestrating the attempted murder of radio host Harnek Singh. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Charismatic 'thug': Witnesses disparage man accused of trying to orchestrate radio host's murder

Author
Craig Kapitan,
Publish Date
Thu, 7 Sep 2023, 8:45PM

In 2015, as controversial Auckland radio host Harnek Singh was set to debate a visiting American Sikhism scholar at a local temple, young bodybuilder Avtar Singh went to Bunnings Warehouse and bought an axe.

“I’m not proud of that moment,” the now 30-year-old testified today, explaining that he had been “brainwashed” by an older, charismatic man who had taken him under his wing and convinced him the radio host needed to be “shut down”.

“To tell you the truth, [that axe] was either to hurt Harnek or someone who was around him at that time,” he sheepishly acknowledged to jurors in the High Court at Auckland, explaining that the immature, half-baked plan was quickly thwarted after a friend noticed the weapon in his pants and told him to leave it in the car.

About five years later, on a night in December 2020, the radio host became the victim of a more successful attack by a group of strangers who rammed his ute near his Wattle Downs home and stabbed him dozens of times - fracturing his skull and nearly causing him to bleed to death.

Prosecutors allege the attack was orchestrated by a man with name suppression currently on trial for attempted murder - the same man whom Avtar Singh cited as inspiration for his flirtation with political violence.

The man with name suppression is joined in the dock by four co-defendants: Jobanpreet Singh, who is accused of directly participating in the attack inside the radio host’s vehicle; Jagraj Singh and Gurbinder Singh, who allegedly followed Harnek Singh home in a Toyota Prius, offering encouragement or support to the attackers; and Sukhpreet Singh, who is charged with accessory after the fact for allegedly welcoming two of the attackers into his home after the incident.

Their trial began yesterday.

Gurbinder Singh, left, and Sukhpreet Singh are two of the five men on trial in the High Court at Auckland in relation to the alleged attempted murder of radio host Harnek Singh. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Gurbinder Singh, left, and Sukhpreet Singh are two of the five men on trial in the High Court at Auckland in relation to the alleged attempted murder of radio host Harnek Singh. Photo / Jason Oxenham

During cross-examination of Avtar Singh and another witness today, lawyer Dale Dufty, who represents the man with name suppression, suggested his client had no connection at all to either alleged attack plan.

 “[He] didn’t tell you to buy the axe, did he?” Dufty asked.

“In actions, kinda,” the witness replied. “Directly, no. But indirectly, yep.”

Dufty responded: “Are you saying you were somehow manipulated into buying the axe and using it?”

The witness’ voice raised as he repeated that he had been young and stupid, and that he had been taken under the wing of a man who was “hinting on a constant basis that something needed to be done, [the radio host] needed to be dealt with”. A direct order wasn’t necessary, he said, comparing the man to a mafioso in his ability to make things happen without saying it directly. Dufty rubbished the description as “a bunch of nonsense”.

Eventually, the witness said, their relationship broke down after he realised the defendant wasn’t a healthy influence.

“He’s a thug,” the man surmised.

Auckland radio host Harnek Singh was stabbed in his driveway in Wattle Downs in December 2020.

Auckland radio host Harnek Singh was stabbed in his driveway in Wattle Downs in December 2020.

But Dufty suggested it was the other way around, describing him as an “angry young man” who had no problem finding violence on his own. The man disagreed, stating that - aside from the near miss with the radio host in 2015 - he has only ever used a weapon against another person in self-defence.

The defence lawyer also butted heads today with another witness who said the man with name suppression explicitly tried to recruit him to attack the radio host a week before the 2020 incident.

“He wants me to kill him,” Baljinder Singh, 42, said of an alleged meeting with the defendant in a parked car a week before Harnek Singh’s near-death experience. “I say, ‘No, I’m not doing it.’”

Dufty noted, however, that his testimony varied in parts from his three prior police statements - all of which also varied at times.

“I was scared on the first statement,” the man said repeatedly, explaining that he initially left out some facts.

In one of the police statements, he described the interaction as more of an insinuation than a direct request.

“[He] said Harnek had been talking a lot of shit on the radio ... which is not acceptable,” the witness previously told police. “[He said], ‘We want to do something about it and sort it out. Can you help us?’

Jobanpreet Singh is on trial in the High Court at Auckland. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Jobanpreet Singh is on trial in the High Court at Auckland. Photo / Jason Oxenham

“I took from what he said that he wanted me to help kill him. He didn’t use those words but I believe this is what he meant.”

The witness agreed with Dufty when he suggested: “Saying ‘just kill him’ is a lot different from saying, ‘We want you to do something about it and sort it out.’”

In another police statement, the man said the defendant had indicated the attack would involve a man on a motorbike with a gun and another man in a stolen car who would run Harnek Singh’s vehicle off the road.

Jagraj Singh is on trial in the High Court at Auckland, accused of aiding or encouraging the attempted murder of radio host Harnek Singh. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Jagraj Singh is on trial in the High Court at Auckland, accused of aiding or encouraging the attempted murder of radio host Harnek Singh. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Like the other witness, Baljinder Singh has since had a falling out with the defendant.

“You have made up your evidence so that you can get back at [him],” the lawyer suggested, dismissing his testimony about the car park meetup as a “fantasy”.

 “I’m saying everything the truth,” the witness responded. “I’m saying the truth from my heart.”

Justice Mark Woolford adjourned the trial for tomorrow. It will resume on Monday.

Craig Kapitan is an Auckland-based journalist covering courts and justice. He joined the Herald in 2021 and has reported on courts since 2002 in three newsrooms in the US and New Zealand.

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