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Haneef to leave for India tonight

Australian television stations have reported that Indian doctor Mohamed Haneef is preparing to fly out of the country in the next few hours.

world Updated: Jul 28, 2007 16:25 IST
David McMahon

Australian television stations have reported that Indian doctor Mohamed Haneef is preparing to fly out of the country in the next few hours.

Despite being granted his freedom on Friday evening, Haneef remained in legal limbo at an undisclosed location for 24 hours, immediately after his release. He then waited for a decision by Federal Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews, who was to rule on whether or not to reinstate Haneef’s work visa.

His lawyer, Peter Russo, told the media on Saturday that his client was relieved to be out of jail but was homesick and pining for his family in Bangalore. He said Haneef’s first words to him after his dramatic release on Friday were: "Thank you, thank you, thank you Peter."

It emerged on Saturday that after his release Haneef was interviewed for two hours by Immigration authorities before being taken to a secret address. After nearly three weeks in custody, he dined on a special Indian meal bought for him by his relative, Imran Siddiqui, who arrived in Australia from Bangalore last weekend.

As expected, Russo revealed that he had received many expressions of interest from media organizations keen to obtain an exclusive interview with Haneef. He said no decision had been made on this issue.

Russo said Haneef cannot work until the Immigration Department completes its review into the decision to revoke his visa. “With his visa being cancelled, he doesn't actually probably have a job, so he'd just be sitting around here until that could get organised," he said.

He confirmed that a decoy was used to trick reporters when Haneef was released from jail last night. It was also reported on Saturday that a decoy vehicle containing an Indian man dressed to look like Haneef left the Wolston Correctional Centre and led reporters towards the Gold Coast, even as the real Haneef was driven out of jail separately.

There is still no sign of an apology from Canberra or from the Australian Federal Police (AFP), but Prime Minister John Howard on Saturday laid the blame for the bungled prosecution firmly at the feet of the AFP and Damien Bugg QC, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions..

Howard said AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty and the DPP must explain the process and reasons behind the dropping of charges against Haneef. He also continued to support his Immigration Minister's decision to revoke Haneef's visa.

Andrews said he would seek further advice from the Commonwealth Solicitor-General about whether he would need to reverse his decision to cancel Haneef's visa.

Only the DPP was willing to admit a blunder, but Bugg refused to resign over the Haneef case. Mistakes are embarrassing -- you're embarrassed if you do something wrong," he said. "We are all human. I'm disappointed that it's happened and I will first thing next week try and obtain a better understanding of how it came about."

Meanwhile, documents and property taken from Haneef’s Gold Coast unit by AFP officers have been returned to him. Russo said it will take a long time to go through every scrap of paper to make sure nothing is missing.

Civil libertarians on Saturday said any inquiry into the bungled prosecution should focus squarely on the actions of Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock and Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews.

Federal Labor has called for a judicial review of the Director of Public Prosecutions while the Greens say there should be a Royal Commission.

But the calls for an inquiry have been rejected by Ruddock. "I think we've already seen from the comments of the DPP the basis upon which he's come to the conclusion he has," he said. "I don't know what a review or a Senate inquiry would add to that."

In the wake of Haneef’s release, the father of convicted terrorism supporter David Hicks on Saturday told an anti-war forum in Brisbane that the Indian doctor's case was similar to that of his son's in some ways.

Terry Hicks warned the road remained tough for the Indian doctor. "After five years of David's incarceration, I have learned to be cynical of some of these laws," Hicks said. "You start to see the discrepancy of how they can change things about to suit themselves.

"Once you get into situations like that, regardless of whether you are guilty or innocent, they will try and find you guilty at all costs, regardless of whether the evidence has been thrown out. I think Dr Haneef is still in for a pretty traumatic time."