The brother of a top Australian cricketer was charged by police Tuesday for framing a love rival as the author of a hit list that sparked a major counterterrorism investigation.
Arsalan Khawaja, 39 — brother of leading test batsman Usman — is due to appear in court on charges of forgery and attempting to pervert justice.
For months he appears to have convinced Australian police that his 26-year-old university colleague Mohamed Kamer Nizamdeen was embroiled in a plot to kill then prime minister Malcom Turnbull.
The Sri Lankan-born PhD student spent a month in solitary confinement at a remote super-secure prison, where he was questioned about targets, not just including Australia's then leader, but reportedly the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the city's iconic Opera House.
Nizamdeen was eventually released in September, when police figured out the script did not match his handwriting. The charges were later dropped.
“What we will be alleging is that he (Nizamdeen) was set up in a planned and calculated manner. Motivated, in part, by a personal grievance,” New South Wales assistant commissioner Mick Willing told reporters.
Willing added that police believe Khawaja orchestrated the set up and may have been motivated by a dispute over a woman.
“We will allege that that is part of the process. But as you can appreciate, the matter is before the court, so we can't go into much detail,” said Willing.
Australian police now say they “regret” arresting Nizamdeen.
“In relation to the charging and the subsequent dropping of the charge against the Sri Lankan citizen, we have offered, and have paid his court costs,” Willing said.
“We regret the circumstances which led to him being charged and the time he subsequently spent in custody.” Willing confirmed there is no ongoing threat to the community.
Nizamdeen is seeking further damages from authorities and has since returned to Sri Lanka.
“What authorities have done to this young man is absolutely unforgivable,” his lawyer Moustafa Kheir said after the charges were dropped in October. “It's a terrible experience. He is a young man that has done everything right in life. And he has gone through supermax jail — unforgivable circumstances.”
Nizamdeen's exact relationship with Khawaja has not been stated by police.
Pakistan-born Australian batsman Usman Khawaja, who is due to make a return from injury this Thursday against India in the first of a four match series, made a brief statement calling for privacy while the case ran its course.
“This is a matter for police to deal with. Out of respect for the process it would be inappropriate for me to make any further comment,” he said.