Judicial enquiry into Haneef’s saga begins Wednesday (Lead)

April 29th, 2008 - 9:25 pm ICT by admin  

By Neena Bhandari
Sydney, April 29 (IANS) As the judicial enquiry into the handling of the bungled case against Indian doctor Muhammed Haneef begins Wednesday, his lawyers doubt whether there would be “full and frank cooperation” from some of the key players involved. The review will be carried out by former New South Wales Supreme Court judge Justice John Clarke. He will conduct a one-hour preliminary hearing in Canberra Wednesday afternoon into the circumstances surrounding Haneef’s arrest and detention last year.

Haneef was incarcerated in Australia for three weeks last July after being charged with supporting a terrorist organisation by “recklessly” giving his mobile phone SIM card to people planning the botched London and Glasgow bomb attacks. The charges were later dropped and Haneef returned to his family in Bangalore July 28 last year.

Haneef’s lawyers want Clarke to be given “coercive powers” to force witnesses, including former Australian immigration minister Kevin Andrews and Australian Federal Police (AFP) Chief Mick Keelty, to give evidence.

Both Andrews and Keelty have said they will cooperate with the inquiry and, according to media reports, “are expected to present their evidence in secret”.

Haneef’s lawyers, however, are sceptical. “I do not have confidence that there will be full and frank cooperation from some of the key players,” said Rod Hodgson, a partner with Maurice Blackburn, a leading law firm which will be acting on Haneef’s behalf during the judicial inquiry along with his legal team of Peter Russo and Stephen Keim.

“We don’t have answers to questions we want answered, and are concerned that Mr. Clarke is going to have some trouble getting to the bottom of those matters without being given coercive powers.”

Meanwhile, Haneef’s lawyers have also dismissed claims made in some sections of the media by a former John Howard government source that the AFP did not anticipate Andrews’ decision to cancel Haneef’s visa.

“…..we know that the AFP was in contact with the migration department before the visa was cancelled. They cooked up a scheme between the two of them to cancel the visa in the event that they got an adverse finding in the magistrate’s court,” Hodgson told the Australian Associated Press.

The source had told Fairfax newspapers, publishers among others of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, that the cancellation, which came just hours after Haneef was granted bail by a Brisbane magistrate, had “spoiled the police investigation”.

“If Dr. Haneef had been freed on bail the police would have kept him under surveillance and gathered any evidence that might be out there,” the source was quoted as saying.

According to evidence emerging at the Old Bailey court in London April 11, Haneef was innocent all along, but the AFP and the Commonwealth Director of Prosecutions ignored the evidence to continue his incarceration.

For a failed case that has earned Australia and the former John Howard government bad press not only at home and in India, but across the world.

Taxpayers have also borne a heavy price.

Andrews has spent more than 200,000 Australian dollars ($186,676) on monitoring the media, much of it on the bungled investigation of Haneef, a Senate Estimates Committee was told recently.

The bungled investigation is still costing the tax payer a whopping eight million Australian dollar ($7.4 million). There are nine Australian federal police staff working full time on Haneef’s case.

After the Labour government came to power, the new Immigration Minister Chris Evans had reinstated Haneef’s work visa in December last year. Haneef has earlier said that he would be seeking compensation and is hoping the inquiry will give him a “clean slate” to get on with his life.

Clarke is due to submit his report by Sep 30.

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