Musharraf's status can't be changed 'from accused to witness' in Benazir murder case

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Islamabad, Feb 27(ANI): Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) is legally unable to entertain the demand of close associates of former president Pervez Musharraf who wanted to get his status changed from an accused to a witness in the Benazir Bhutto assassination case, sources have revealed.

The sources said that some close associates of Musharraf had demanded of the FIA to exclude his name from the list of the accused in the Benazir murder case on the plea that he was ready to appear before the court as a witness.

But after background interviews with some high-ups of the FIA connected with the investigations of the case and legal experts, it transpired that the JIT could not include the name of Musharraf in the list of witnesses of the case at this stage.

Rawalpindi's anti-terrorism court has already issued arrest warrants for Musharraf twice in the case, ordering the FIA to produce him before the court on March 5.

"It is impossible to change his status as the joint investigation team (JIT) investigating into the case has already placed the name of Musharraf as accused in the charge sheet (challan) submitted with the court," The Nation quoted the sources privy to these developments, as saying.

An FIA official connected with the investigations said on the condition of anonymity that the JIT had first to complete the investigations against Musharraf as accused in the case.

Musharraf could be brought into the witness box if the investigators absolved him from the charges during investigations and the court acquitted him in the case on the basis of the JIT's report, the official added.

Naseer Tanoli, lawyer of Atizaz Shah, another under-trial accused in the Benazir murder case, said that it was not the discretion of any accused to appear before the court as an accused or a witness.

"President Musharraf has to get a clean chit in the Benazir case from the court prior to becoming a witness," he said, adding that Musharraf was a part and parcel of the criminal proceedings in this case.

Another legal expert said on the condition of anonymity that Musharraf could appear before the court as an approver and not as a witness at this stage of the case. He said that an approver was legally understood to be an accomplice with other culprits in the crime and it would be the discretion of the court to convict or quit him.

Pervez Musharraf's All Pakistan Muslim League spokesman Fawwad Chaudhry said they had publicly announced that they wanted to assist the FIA in the Benazir assassination case.

However, he insisted that they had never approached the FIA on this issue, and would provide assistance only if the investigating agency contacted them. (ANI)

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