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28 February 2024

Memogate witness won't visit Pakistan to testify


A star witness asked to appear by Pakistani judges investigating a major scandal implicating the government wants to record his statement abroad rather than visit Pakistan, his lawyer said Monday.

American businessman Mansoor Ijaz has implicated President Asif Ali Zardari in a secret memo seeking US help to curb the power of the military, allegedly fearing an army coup after Osama bin Laden was killed in May.

But his Pakistani lawyer Akram Sheikh on Monday told reporters that his client was reluctant to visit the nuclear-armed country, fearing that he would be detained indefinitely.

"It seems like a well-orchestrated trap to hold Mr Ijaz indefinitely in Pakistan after his deposition before the commission," Sheikh said, adding that his client had requested that his testimony be recorded in London or Zurich.

"Mr. Ijaz refuses to walk knowingly into the trap being laid by the government and waits to speak the truth of this case," he told reporters.

In an op-ed piece written in the Financial Times on October 10, Ijaz alleged that a senior Pakistani diplomat telephoned him asking for help because Zardari needed to communicate an urgent message to the Americans.

The scandal, known as "memogate", has already cost the job of Zardari's close aide and former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani -- who has denied any involvement in the affair.

Ijaz's lawyer said that his client fears that the evidence can be destroyed by the Pakistan government if he hands it over to them.

"Mr. Ijaz has a concrete fear that electronic evidence in the memo case can be completely destroyed," Sheikh said, adding that Ijaz had also declined to appear before a parliamentary committee separately probing the memo issue.

"The committee can't summon a foreign national and could instead, after taking an appointment from Mr. Mansoor, record his statement in London or Zurich or use his testimony he gives to the commission."

ISI chief lieutenant general Ahmad Shuja Pasha said last month that Ijaz had enough evidence to back up his allegations and called for a "forensic examination" of the memo.

The court probe puts fresh pressure on Zardari, who visited Dubai in December over health fears, with most observers expecting early elections sometime this year.

Tensions between the army and government soared over the memo, allegedly delivered to then US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, in May and first made public by Ijaz in October.

The current civilian administration headed by Zardari has lurched from crisis to crisis since coming to power in 2008 following elections held a month after the assassination of his wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.