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Aus orders probe into Haneef episode

Australian Govt has launched a judicial inquiry into the handling of a failed terrorism case against him last year.
IANS | By Neena Bhandari, Melbourne
UPDATED ON MAR 13, 2008 09:11 PM IST

Indian doctor Muhammed Haneef can look forward to justice, as Australia's Kevin Rudd-led Labor government kept its word and on Thursday launched a judicial inquiry into the handling of a failed terrorism case against him last year.

Former New South Wales Supreme Court justice John Clarke will carry out a review of the case.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland said Haneef will be asked to give evidence at the inquiry and Clarke has offered to travel to India to meet him. The report is due by September end.

McClelland told the media that the agencies involved in Haneef's case have admitted to failures. He said, "What we want to ensure is that they are functioning at their absolute best both individually and collectively."

"Certainly, we believe that this inquiry and recommendations flowing from it will be of assistance in ensuring that that occurs," he added.

The 27-year-old doctor from India was charged with recklessly providing support to a terrorist organisation by giving his mobile phone SIM card to his cousin Sabeel Ahmed, one of the men accused in the botched British bomb attacks in July 2007.

Former immigration minister Kevin Andrews cancelled Haneef's work visa, just hours after a magistrate granted him bail July 16, 2007, ensuring his continued incarceration.

The charges against Haneef were dropped and the former Gold Coast registrar returned home to Bangalore last year.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans had reinstated his visa in December 2007 after the Labor government came to power.

McClelland said the Haneef case had undermined public confidence in Australia's anti-terror laws, and the inquiry would ensure security agencies learned any necessary lessons.

There were embarrassing faux pas made in the case, and Andrews and Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty drew flak for their handling of the case.

Clarke told the media, "Obviously, it would be preferable to talk with him (Andrews), but I have no coercive powers."

Andrews has agreed to cooperate with a judicial inquiry even though his coalition colleague has called the probe a political stunt.

Andrews told reporters, "I will be available to meet with Clarke and to assist him in his inquiry." The former immigration minister said he had revoked Haneef's visa on character test grounds as they stood at the time based on a brief of evidence provided by the AFP.

"I make no apology for having acted in the national interest and having acted in a way that put the safety and security of Australians first," he told reporters.

Liberal Party Senator George Brandis, the coalition's legal affairs spokesman, told reporters: "The genesis of this inquiry is a political inquiry. It is a shocking thing for an attorney-general in executing a political stunt to raise the question and so cast doubt upon public confidence in Australia's counter-terrorism laws."

While Keelty has defended the AFP and other agencies' role in the Haneef investigation, he has also pledged to help the inquiry.

Haneef's lawyer Peter Russo has told the media, "He was fairly happy to hear about (the inquiry) and he is looking forward to speaking to myself and the rest of the legal team over the weekend."

Russo indicated that his client had told him he was happy to meet with Clarke, whether in India or Australia.

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