Pak memo panel sets Feb 9 deadline for Ijaz to depose

The Pakistani judicial panel probing the memo scandal gave Mansoor Ijaz the deadline of Feb 9 to depose.

Islamabad: The Pakistani judicial panel
probing the memo scandal on Tuesday gave the controversial American
businessman Mansoor Ijaz a final opportunity to depose before
it on February 9 after the star witness failed to appear for
the second time citing security concerns.

The three-judge commission appointed by the Supreme
Court issued the direction after Interior Minister Rehman
Malik appeared before the commission this afternoon and gave
an assurance that full security would be provided to the
businessman, the central figurer in the memo scandal that
sparked a political crisis in the country.

In messages sent through this lawyer Akram Sheikh, the
Pakistani American cited security concerns as his reason for
not coming to Pakistan.

After Malik`s assurance, the panel gave Sheikh 30
minutes to consult Ijaz and ascertain whether he would come to

Sheikh subsequently informed the panel that Ijaz had
said he would not come to the country due to security

Sheikh said Ijaz had "no confidence" in Malik and
allegedly feared that he would be killed at the Interior
Minister`s hands.

Ijaz has blamed the Pakistani government of orchestrating
a memo, which he delivered to the US last year, seeking
American help to stave off a possible military coup following
the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May last year. The
Pakistani government has denied any involvement.

Reacting to Sheikh`s claims, Balochistan High Court Chief
Justice Qazi Faez Eesa, the head of the commission, said if
Ijaz was not in the mood to come to Pakistan, the panel too
would not "run after him".

The panel told Sheikh to inform Ijaz that he was being
given a final opportunity to depose at the next hearing
on February 9. Eesa said if Ijaz failed to appear at the next hearing,
the panel would take up a petition filed by Husain Haqqani,
the former envoy to the US.

Haqqani`s petition called on the commission to withdraw
Ijaz`s right to record his statement as he had failed to
respond to repeated summons from the panel.

Eesa also told Ijaz`s lawyer that the commission could
opt to finalise its report on existing evidence if Ijaz failed
to appear.

Responding to Sheikh`s suggestion that the statement be
recorded via video conferencing, Eesa said such a move would
lead to problems in the cross-examination of Ijaz.

The commission decided to approach the Supreme Court to
extend the time given to it to finalise its report.

After announcing its constitution last month, the apex
court had given the panel four weeks to submit its report.

Ijaz, who made public the alleged memo that has created a
storm in Pakistan`s political circles, has failed to make two
scheduled appearances before the commission.

He was initially asked to appear on January 16.

After he failed to come to Pakistan, the commission
acceded to his request for more time and asked him to depose
on January 24.

Earlier in the day, the commission summoned Interior
Minister Malik after Sheikh alleged that Ijaz was receiving
threats from government officials and he was not satisfied
with the security to be provided by the Interior Ministry.

Sheikh insisted that the Army should be the focal
organisation for Ijaz`s security.

Malik assured the commission that he would provide
complete and foolproof security to Ijaz.

Malik told the panel he would not include Ijaz in the
Exit Control List, an Interior Ministry document with names
of all persons barred from travelling out of Pakistan. The Interior Minister said the media had misquoted his
remarks about Ijaz. Though adequate arrangements had been made
for Ijaz`s security, he had complicated matters by demanding
that an Army battalion should be deployed to guard him, Malik

Malik presented to the commission an official
notification on the security arrangements, which said police,
Pakistan Rangers and Frontier Corps personnel and an Army
officer would be deployed to protect Ijaz.

The lawyers of several persons who filed petitions on the
memo issue in the Supreme Court, including PML-N chief Nawaz
Sharif, supported Sheikh`s call for the commission to record
Ijaz`s statement in London or Zurich.

However, Zahid Bokhari, the counsel for former envoy
Haqqani, said Ijaz had insulted the commission by refusing to
come to Pakistan to testify.

Bokhari told reporters that Ijaz should be held in
contempt of the commission for failing to appear before it
several times.

Haqqani was forced to resign after Ijaz made public the
alleged memo that had sought US help to prevent a feared coup
in Pakistan after the killing of bin Laden.

Ijaz claimed he had drafted and delivered the memo to
the US military on Haqqani`s instructions, a charge denied by
the government.