Fearing arrest, Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz, the central figure in the memo scandal, today said he would not visit Islamabad to depose before a judicial panel probing the matter and wants his testimony to be recorded either in London or Zurich.
Ijaz, who triggered a confrontation between Pakistan's civilian government and the powerful military by making public a secret memo that sought the US help to stave off a feared coup in Pakistan last year, said in a statement that he was willing to depose before the Supreme Court-appointed commission in London or Zurich.
In a statement released through his lawyer Akram Sheikh, Ijaz said he had been given "no assurance" by any person on behalf of Pakistan government to ward off his apprehensions regarding his security.
"It seems like a well-orchestrated trap to hold Mansoor Ijaz indefinitely in Pakistan after his deposition before the commission. Therefore, Mansoor Ijaz has decided to make a request to the commission to record his statement in strict compliance with the order of the Supreme Court of Pakistan... in London or Zurich," Sheikh told the media.
Ijaz had earlier failed to make a scheduled appearance before the three-judge commission on January 16. The commission then asked him to appear before it on January 24. Ijaz and his lawyer have repeatedly demanded that the Pakistan army be deployed to protect the businessman whenever he arrived in Pakistan.
The statement from Ijaz ended speculation about his appearance before the judicial commission tomorrow.
Doubts persisted as to whether Ijaz would travel to Pakistan despite his numerous assertions that he intended to testify before the commission.
Ijaz decided to ask the commission to record his statement outside Pakistan after reviewing security arrangements for his planned visit this morning, Sheikh said.
The lawyer said he had informed Ijaz of "fundamental changes" in the security arrangements, which he claimed were a "stark violation" of the commission's orders issued on January 9 and 16.
Sheikh further claimed that even the Pakistan army had backed out on assurances regarding the provision of security to Ijaz.
He claimed these assurances were given during a meeting of the army's Corps Commander held on January 12.
The Islamabad Police chief had met Sheikh to discuss the security arrangements for Ijaz, the lawyer said.
Deputy Inspector General of Police Mujibur Rehman was made the focal person for these arrangements and police officials had said that they would seek assistance from the armed forces only if it was necessary, Sheikh said.
Days before Ijaz's planned visit to Pakistan, the Parliamentary Committee on National Security, which too is investigating the memo scandal, had issued a summons to Ijaz to appear before it on January 26.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik said if the parliamentary panel desire, Ijaz's name could be included in the Exit Control List, a document containing the names of persons barred from travelling out of Pakistan.
Referring to these developments, lawyer Akram Sheikh said Ijaz was "not willing to fall in the trap laid by the government" and appear before the parliamentary panel.
Legal experts had advised Ijaz that the parliamentary committee could not summon a foreigner, Sheikh said.
Ijaz had decided that the parliamentary panel too could record his statement in London or Zurich or use any testimony he gives to the judicial commission, Sheikh said.
Sheikh made contradictory statements while explaining Ijaz's decision not to come to Pakistan.
Months after Ijaz triggered one of the worst standoffs between the civilian government and the military in recent years, Sheikh claimed that the businessman did not "want to create tensions between Pakistan's state institutions" and that he did not "desire any confrontation" between them.
"Ijaz decided in Pakistan's best interests that his statement should be recorded outside Pakistan. He is not a criminal that he has to appear before a court... He offered to cooperate on a voluntary basis and no court or commission has the powers to summon a foreigner," he said.
The Supreme Court accepted demands from the army and intelligence chiefs to order an independent probe into the memo issue and set up the judicial commission.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who dismissed the memo as a "piece of paper" and Ijaz as a person with "no credibility", has been insisting that the scandal should be investigated by the parliamentary panel.
Pakistan's former envoy to the US, Husain Haqqani, was forced to quit after the memo became public.
Some analysts have contended that Haqqani was the actual target of the scandal due to his strained relations with the military.