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Former gang leader to testify at B.C. trial

VANCOUVER - A former Vancouver-area gang leader who pleaded guilty for his role in a plot that left six people dead, including two innocent bystanders, is expected testify against his former associates — an extraordinary development that has been shrouded by a publication ban for months.

Michael Le pleaded guilty last November to conspiracy to commit murder and was sentenced to 12 years in prison, which was reduced to just three years and one month after credit for time served. A more serious charge of first-degree murder was dropped.

Le, who had been standing trial alongside Matthew Johnston and Cody Haevischer, admitted orchestrating a hit on a rival drug trafficker, which ended with six people shot to death in a highrise condominium in Surrey, B.C., on Oct. 19, 2007.

The public has been told very little about the circumstances of Le's plea — specifically that he had agreed to become a co-operating witness — because of a publication ban imposed when he was sentenced.

The publication ban was lifted Monday, allowing reporters to reveal Le had signed an immunity agreement with Crown prosecutors shortly before entering his plea.

Under the terms of the agreement, Le agreed to testify against Johnston and Haevischer, as well as accused gang leader Jamie Bacon, whose trial is still to come, B.C. Supreme Court Judge Catherine Wedge told court on Monday.

The six victims were shot in what the Crown has alleged was a hit on a rival drug trafficker named Corey Lal.

Another five victims, including 55-year-old fireplace repairman Ed Schellenberg and 22-year-old building resident Chris Mohan, were killed in what the Crown has said was a plan to eliminate potential witnesses.

The Crown's theory has been that Le and Bacon ordered Lal's execution after Lal failed to pay $200,000 in extortion money. The Crown alleges Johnston, Haevischer and a third man went to the highrise complex, where they encountered all six victims.

The Crown applied last week for a publication ban on Le's name.

However, Wedge rejected the application, concluding there were other reasonable ways to protect Le's safety.

Wedge noted Le's involvement in the case and his guilty plea have been the subject of intense media coverage, and simply removing his name at this point would be largely ineffective in protecting him.

"He will be readily identifiable as the person who, until recently, was one of the accused on the indictment," said Wedge.

"There can be no doubt that a focus of cross-examination will be Mr. Le's involvement in the conspiracy to murder and his recent co-operation. Persons with any motivation to harm Mr. Le will undoubtedly know that he is the witness in question."

The trial has been an alphabet soup of witnesses and co-accused.

A man known only as Person X pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 2009. A witness referred to as Person Y recently finished his testimony. And a number of other witnesses can only be identified by their initials.

Person X was originally expected to testify at the trial, but the judge hearing the case ruled his testimony inadmissible after a secret hearing last year.

Le, a Canadian citizen who was born in Vietnam, was charged in May 2009, but by then he had fled to his native Vietnam.

He was arrested the following month in the Philippines, as he arrived at the airport in Manila off a flight from Vietnam. He was extradited to Canada soon after. ___

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