"THE crucial piece of evidence against the terrorism suspect Mohamed Haneef - that his mobile phone SIM card was found at the scene of a British car bombing - is wrong, the Australian Federal Police have admitted.
The revelation has cast a fresh cloud over police handling of the Haneef case, with scathing criticism coming from Peter Faris, a QC who has been an ardent supporter of anti-terrorism laws, and the Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie, expressing concern.
Federal police sources said yesterday it had been confirmed the SIM card was not found at the scene of the Glasgow Airport attack, as prosecutors had alleged during Haneef's bail hearing last weekend.
It was found in the possession of one of Haneef's cousins, Sabeel Ahmed, hundreds of kilometres away in Liverpool. The sources said they had been aware of the error for some time, but no attempt was made to correct the public record.
In Britain, a source close to the investigation confirmed the SIM card was found in Liverpool, and said the Australian police were considered a laughing stock by Britain's Metropolitan Police for allowing "such a major cock-up" to happen. "Australian police have got their wires crossed. This is very embarrassing for them. The police here are laughing at the Australian police, saying, 'What on earth have they done?' [Haneef] is clearly more of a political case than a police case."
The Herald has learnt that the prosecutor at the Brisbane bail hearing, Clive Porritt, of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, even gave the court an explanation when defence lawyers asked why Haneef would have provided his SIM card if he knew it was planned to be used for the purposes of terrorism.
Mr Porritt responded that it had been intended the SIM card would be destroyed in the planned explosion when a Jeep Cherokee was rammed into the doors of at Glasgow Airport.
A spokeswoman for the DPP, asked if Mr Porritt had provided wrong information on the SIM card to the bail hearing, responded: "It is not appropriate for us to comment on matters before the court."
In Bangalore, India, Haneef's wife, Firdous Arshiya, was visited by a junior minister from the Ministry of External Affairs, who assured her the Indian Government would try to ensure that her husband received justice.
"Every day I hear of some new problem that my husband is facing in Australia," she said. "That is why I met the minister to ask that the Indian Government put more pressure on the Australian Government."The Minister for Immigration, Kevin Andrews, said yesterday none of the revelations would affect his decision to cancel Haneef's visa. That decision was made after Haneef was granted bail, with the minister ordering his indefinite incarceration in a detention centre.
"The minister is not reviewing his decision to cancel Dr Haneef's visa. Nothing that has been reported in the media alters his decision, which was made after advice from the AFP and was based on a broader range of information than was provided to the magistrate in the bail hearing."
However, there are suggestions Mr Andrews relied partially on other inaccurate information, contained in a federal police affidavit, when he cancelled Haneef's work visa.
The affidavit said that Haneef offered "no particular reason" for buying a one-way ticket from Brisbane to India.
However, a leaked transcript of a police interview shows Haneef explaining that his father-in-law had bought the one-way ticket for him because he had limited funds.
The affidavit also suggests Haneef admitted to having lived at a British address with the second cousins who are now being prosecuted there. But the interview transcript shows he denied living at the house at the same time.
The Federal Police Commissioner, Mick Keelty, said information given by the AFP and other sources to Mr Andrews was an "entirely separate matter" to the criminal prosecution of Haneef, with different grounds of evidence. Mr Keelty declined to answer a series of written questions from the Herald on the SIM card evidence, or the information provided to the minister.
He was asked: - Was the suggestion that the SIM card was found in the Jeep crucial to Haneef being charged? - When did police learn that the card was not in the Jeep? - Did that discovery alter his view on Haneef being charged? - If not, what evidence had police relied on? - Did he acknowledge that the bail magistrate and Mr Andrews were given incorrect information about Haneef; and - Would he consider dropping the charges?
The federal police came under ferocious attack from Dr Faris, a former head of the National Crime Authority.
The evidence mistake was a "shocking mess-up" that jeopardised the prosecution's case, he said
"You can't get something that's so central so wrong," Dr Faris told ABC radio.
"I think this is fast approaching the situation where there is not a reasonable prospect of a conviction unless there's some other evidence that we don't know about."
Dr Faris said the case showed the federal police were "way out of their depth".
Mr Keelty said Dr Faris should "keep his comments to himself". It was up to the courts to evaluate evidence.
"Submissions are made to courts every other day ... They are not evidence; they are submissions. And we need to let the court determine the value of what has been put before it."
But Mr Beattie said inconsistencies in official statements had not been properly explained, and he called on the Prime Minister, John Howard, to clarify the situation.
Until key questions were answered people would feel uneasy "and a little bit embarrassed" about the impact of the case on Australia's reputation.
"The reality is we are not mushrooms, and we shouldn't be treated like that."
Court documents released yesterday confirmed Dr Haneef would face up to 15 years imprisonment if convicted.
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