Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Secret policemen's bill: $7.5m

MORE than 600 security officials around the nation have worked on the Mohamed Haneef case and the related British bombings in an investigation which cost more than $7.5 million, collected 300 witness statements and examined 349 forensic samples.

And the result so far: one charge against the doctor that was dropped within a fortnight.

As the Australian Federal Police Commissioner, Mick Keelty ran through the figures yesterday, he was quick to point out that - seven months after the Indian-born doctor was arrested, interrogated, charged and released - the investigation is continuing.

He said there was no need to change any practices within his force, even as the Government prepares to launch a judicial inquiry to try to unravel the error-ridden saga and prevent its repetition. "We have reviewed the Haneef matter as a matter of course and there is nothing that has arisen out of those reviews that required us to alter our policies or alter our approaches to those investigations," Mr Keelty told a Senate estimates hearing.

At its peak, Mr Keelty revealed, the investigation involved 249 AFP officers, 225 Queensland police, 54 WA police, 40 NSW police, four police and 15 other officers from the Northern Territory, Tasmania and other agencies, six translators, six Customs officers, and two British police.

They executed 22 search warrants, 16 telephone intercepts, six surveillance devices and seized 623 gigabytes of computer data - and racked up a $1.6 million overtime bill.

Mr Keelty said he was awaiting the results of an inquiry into the co-operation between federal agencies - which he initiated - but welcomed the judicial inquiry and would act on any recommendations.

"We have absolutely nothing to hide," he said.

Mr Keelty, who initially defended the charge against Dr Haneef but later said he had told prosecutors not to proceed, has strenuously denied any wrongdoing by the AFP and blamed the media for creating a perception that police lacked "street smarts" and had failed in the case.

"It is a full-time job trying to correct the media," he said.

The Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, said yesterday that he was still finalising plans for the judicial inquiry.

"The impact on ongoing national security operations is a factor being taken into account in arrangements for the inquiry," a spokesman, Adam Sims, said.

But the Opposition said the inquiry was premature and should be called off.

"The AFP still regards this as a very serious matter," the shadow attorney-general, George Brandis, said.

"It is extraordinary that the Government would set up an inquiry into a pending investigation without interfering with the AFP's capability."

Mr Keelty indicated he did not think Dr Haneef - who returned to his home in India after his work visa was revoked - had a case for compensation.

Mr McClelland separately ruled out compensating or apologising to the Sydney medical student Izhar Ul-Haque, who a Supreme Court judge said had been kidnapped by ASIO officers. The conduct of ASIO in the case of Mr ul-Haque, who was cleared of terrorism charges, is being reviewed by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Ian Carnell.

The Greens senator Kerry Nettle said Mr Keelty "has learnt little from this saga apart from a desire to shut down media scrutiny".

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