Haneef released as charges dropped
Former terror suspect Mohamed Haneef leaves Wolston Correctional Centre in
Brisbane this evening.
Photo: Channel Seven
The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) today dropped a
terror charge against the Indian doctor.
Commonwealth prosecutors in Brisbane Magistrate's Court
this afternoon withdrew the charge of supporting a terrorist
organisation, following a review of the case by commonwealth
DPP Damian Bugg.
Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews then said Dr Haneef
would be released from custody and held in residential
detention pending a decision on his visa, which has been
Dr Haneef was accompanied by immigration officials when
he left the correctional centre in a blue van in the middle
of a three-vehicle convoy.
Dr Haneef's solicitor Peter Russo said he had "no idea"
where his client would be taken.
Dr Haneef lived in a Southport apartment until before
being charged but the unit manager tonight told AAP his
lease expired on Wednesday due to rental arrears.
"He's officially no longer a tenant here,'' the Gold
Coast apartment manager, Steve Boscher, said.
"I don't want to seem like some kind of arsehole but his lease has run out here."
Mr Bosher said the unit was "uninhabitable" after damage caused by two police searches.
"The unit is still being cleaned and needs to be
repainted and recarpeted," he said.
Mr Bosher said Dr Haneef's belongings from the Gold Coast unit had been placed in storage.
The decision means Dr Haneef will not be detained at an immigration detention centre until Mr Andrews changes his decision.
"I am taking the precaution of seeking the advice from the highest law officer in the Commonwealth, namely the Solicitor-General, as to whether or not there are any implications for my [visa] decision,'' Mr Andrews said.
"I have to act according to my responsibilities under the migration legislation.
"My decision, at the moment, stands."
Mr Andrews originally revoked the visa on character grounds after Dr Haneef was charged.
The truth is finally out, Dr Haneef's wife says
The wife Dr Haneef said she was extremely pleased the charges had been dropped and that the "truth has come out".
"I am extremely happy that finally the day has come when the truth has come out," she said outside her parents' house in the southern Indian city of Bangalore.
"It wouldn't have been possible without their help and intervention."
Free to move
Mr Andrews said Dr Haneef would be free to move about in the community.
"He's not stuck in his unit, can I assure you of that,'' Mr Andrews said.
"Residential detention means the place in which he is residing is that unit.
"What I'm saying by that decision is that I'm not proposing to keep him in immigration detention, namely Villawood or some similar facility.
"That means that he has to reside at an agreed place, he's free to actually move about in the community, but as a matter of legal principle he is still formally ... in detention."
The Gold Coast Hospital, where Dr Haneef was working before his arrest, said he remained suspended without pay because he does not have a work visa.
Mr Andrew said Dr Haneef will be required to report to the Immigration Department every day by phone.
"The reporting obligations I envisage will be that he reports to the department of immigration by telephone once a day and that every few days or once a week he reports in person," he said.
"They won't be overly onerous but they will be conditions that do take into account that there should be a reporting mechanism in place."
Mr Andrews said Dr Haneef would not immediately get his passport back.
"No, as far as I understand his passport hasn't been returned, and nor would it be returned unless there is some change in relation to his immigration status, namely that his visa was reinstated,'' he said.
But he left open the possibility that Dr Haneef's visa could be returned.
"That's a matter for the legal adviser in this regard," he said.
"If they came to the conclusion that there was some material change to the basis of my decision as a matter of legal principle, because of the decision of the DPP, well then obviously one doesn't have legal advisers for nothing."
Mr Andrews said he was being "cautious" in seeking updated advice from the Solicitor-General.
Mr Andrews said it was too early for compensation for Dr Haneef to be considered because police investigations were continuing.
"That's not an issue that in my view arises, it certainly doesn't arise at this stage, because of two things," he said.
PM distances Government from collapse
Prime Minister John Howard has distanced his Government from the dramatic collapse of the case against Dr Haneef.
Mr Howard, who is in Bali, said it was up to Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty and federal Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Damian Bugg, QC, to explain what had happened.
"Bearing in mind that the detention of the man was undertaken by the police, and not at the request or direction or encouragement of the government, and the case was prepared and presented by the DPP, I think that the right thing now is for those two men to explain the process, and explain the reasons,'' he told reporters in Bali.
"Prime ministers don't conduct prosecutions, nor do attorneys-general - directors of public prosecutions do.''
'A mistake has been made': DPP
DPP Bugg said: "On my view of this matter a mistake has been made ... I will now take further steps to inquire how that mistake occurred."
Speaking during a joint press conference with AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty, Mr Bugg said one of his prosecutors had put two errors of fact before the court. Mr Bugg appeared to accept DPP responsibility for one, but blamed the AFP for the second.
"The first related to the SIM card and was based on a misunderstanding of the facts," he said.
"The second related to the residence of Dr Haneef in the UK and was based on incorrect material provided by the AFP."
Mr Bugg dismissed suggestion that he should resign over the issue.
"No, because I don't think that I have done anything wrong,'' Mr Bugg said.
"I have put in safeguards, I am still confident about those safeguards and for me to resign when the task I've just performed was still open would have been stupid.
"I would rather stay around and make the decision and stay in for the hard yards."
No reasonable prospect of conviction
Earlier, Prosecutor A.J. MacSporran told the Magistrates Court that there would be "no reasonable prospect of a conviction of Dr Haneef being secured".
One was that Dr Haneef's SIM card had been found in a burning jeep at Glasgow Airport when, in fact, it had been found in the possession of the brother of a terrorism suspect in Liverpool.
Magistrate Wendy Cull ruled that the charges against Dr Haneef be dismissed.
Dr Haneef was not in court. He is being held in Wolston Correctional Centre.
His fate, including whether he will be allowed to stay in Australia, or be deported, is still unknown.
Commissioner Keelty: no apology
AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty issued a statement confirming the withdrawal of the charge of providing support to a terrorist organisation against Dr Mohamed Haneef.
Mr Keelty said the federal police acted upon advice from the DPP when it charged Dr Haneef on 13 July and "now accepts the DPP's latest decision''.
"The AFP acted on the advice of the DPP that there was sufficient evidence to charge Dr Haneef and now accepts the subsequent decision by the DPP to withdraw the charge," Mr Keelty said.
"This remains an ongoing investigation. It is a complex and painstaking process and the AFP will continue to work with its UK colleagues to fully explore the evidence and establish the facts."
"Above all, we have a responsibility to ensure the safety and security of the Australian community."
Mr Keelty said he had constantly emphasised the presumption of innocence needed to be maintained throughout this matter and reiterated his support for investigators.
Mr Keelty defended his agency's handling of the case, and did not rule out further charges against Haneef.
Asked by a journalist whether the case had been a fiasco, Mr Keelty said: "They are your words, not mine.
"The AFP has acted professionally, thoroughly and lawfully throughout this investigation and my officers and staff have my full confidence and support," he said.
Keelty said he believed the AFP had acted "at all times appropriately and within the bounds of the law''.
"We have done our job well in this instance, we have done our job professionally."
Mr Keelty insisted the police investigation had been thorough and he made no apology.
"The organisation and the investigation team in
particular has worked to a deadline to achieve those ends,
and at the same time meeting some of the obligations that we
have at an international level to provide some answers back
to the UK," he said.
Asked if he would rule out further charges, Mr Keelty said: "The investigation is continuing.
"Our obligation is to protect the Australian community against any threat of a terrorist event and that is our job. Our job at the moment is to investigate with the UK authorities an attempted terrorist attack within the UK.
"Whatever avenues of inquiry that opens up in Australia, we will investigate."
Haneef case won't damage relations with India: Downer
Australia's bilateral relationship with India will not be affected by the Mohamed Haneef case, says Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says.
Mr Downer said he had spoken to the Indian foreign and health ministers about the issue during the past week and although they were interested in the matter, he did not expect the latest developments to harm ties with New Delhi.
"I think our relationship with India is a good and strong relationship and I don't think this will have any bearing on our relationship with India," Mr Downer told reporters in Perth.
"My view about it is that the Indians have the same sort of common law legal system that we have and they understand the procedures."
Solicitor will fight deportation if carried out
Earlier, Dr Haneef's solicitor Peter Russo said if the charge was dropped he would fight any move by Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews to have his client deported.
Dr Haneef's barrister, Stephen Heim, said he would not comment on the dropping of the criminal charge until he officially heard from lawyers for Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews regarding whether the Federal Government still intended to deport Dr Haneef.
"Apparently that's being considered at the moment and we're waiting for advice," he said.
Mr Keelty would not say whether he wanted Haneef to remain in the country while the AFP investigation continued.
"It is also the question of what Dr
Haneef wants to do."
But he said Haneef's arrest and charge could have been avoided had the doctor not tried to return to India.
"The steps that we've taken right from day one in terms of detention were initiated as a result of Dr Haneef attempting to leave the country," Mr Keelty said.
"Had that not occurred, other steps might have followed that would have been quite different."
Mr Keelty refused to say whether Mr Andrews had more information from the DPP about Dr Haneef.
"It's a different standard of test, what the Immigration Minister applies and what the DPP would apply in terms of a prosecution beyond reasonable doubt before a court," he said.
Mr Andrews cancelled Dr Haneef's visa on July 16, just hours after a Brisbane magistrate granted him bail, ensuring the Gold Coast doctor would remain behind bars.
Mr Andrews said earlier today he would stand by his decision.
Mr Russo has lodged an appeal against the decision to cancel the visa in the Brisbane Federal Court and earlier today was adamant the August 8 hearing of the case would go ahead.
- with AAP and AFP