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RAWALPINDI, Jan 7: After US lobbyist Mark Siegel, a key witness in the Benazir Bhutto murder case, refused to come to Pakistan due to security concerns, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on Monday requested the anti-terrorism court here to allow him to testify through video conferencing.

Chaudhry Habibur Rehman, the ATC judge, on December 15 had summoned Mr Siegel on January 5. However, the same day the special public prosecutor had explained that the notice could not be delivered to Mr Siegel.

In his statement recorded before FIA’s joint investigation team constituted to probe the assassination in 2009, Mr Siegel had accused former President Pervez Musharraf of extending threats to Ms Bhutto regarding her safety and security in Pakistan.

According to the statement, Mr Siegel claimed that on September 25, 2007, in his presence at the office of Congressman Tom Lantos in Washington Ms Bhutto received a telephone call which she described as a very ‘bad call’ from Pervez Musharraf.

The statement said the former military ruler had warned her that “her safety depends on the state of their (Musharraf and Benazir’s) relationship”.

Mr Siegel alleged that Musharraf had also warned Ms Bhutto that her security would only be guaranteed if she returned to Pakistan after the 2008 general elections.

According to Mr Siegel, Ms Bhutto sent him an email on October 26, 2007, in which she expressed her sense of insecurity.

She also said if something would happen to her, she would hold Musharraf responsible for that, apart from individuals mentioned in her letter to Musharraf on October 16, 2007.

In the October 16 letter, Ms Bhutto named Brigadier Ejaz Shah (a former ISI official and then director general of Intelligence Bureau), Lt-Gen (retired) Hameed Gul (director general of Military Intelligence under Gen Ziaul Haq and director general ISI during Bhutto’s first tenure as prime minister) and Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, incumbent deputy prime minister.

On Monday, FIA special public prosecutor Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali submitted an application to the ATC for recording the testimony of Mr Siegel through video conferencing.

According to the application, “Mr Siegel has shown serious apprehension regarding his security in Pakistan and requested for recording his statement through modern devices such as video conferencing.”

The application added that the use of video conferencing had been sanctioned by chief justice of Pakistan in the National Judicial Policy 2009 for early disposal of cases.

After examining the application, the ATC judge issued notices to the defence counsel and adjourned the matter till January 19.

Mohammad Azhar Chaudhry, a lawyer who is also engaged in the case to assist the prosecution agency, told Dawn that “Siegel is not willing to come to Pakistan because of certain threats.”

When asked why the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) had failed to address his security concerns, the lawyer said the trial of Benazir murder case was being conducted in Rawalpindi where the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, not the PPP, was in power.

Naseer Bhutta Advocate, a PML-N lawmaker, told Dawn that the government now wanted to get rid of the case, and instead of fulfilling the procedure, was searching for shortcuts.

Advocate Bhutta, who had strongly supported video conferencing for recording the statement of US citizen Mansoor Ijaz during the proceeding of the ‘memo commission’, said under the law of evidence act the facility can be used to save time and even minimise the risk related to transportation of hardened criminals.

He said under the law Mr Siegel can record his testimony through video conferencing but it would have been better for the PPP government had it convinced him to appear before the court personally.