A star witness asked to appear by Pakistani judges investigating a major scandal threatening President Asif Ali Zardari will not visit Pakistan over concerns about his safety, said his lawyer on Monday.

U.S. businessman Mansoor Ijaz, who is willing to record testimony in London or Zurich, has implicated Mr. Zardari in a secret memo seeking U.S. help to curb the power of the military, apparently fearful of being toppled in an army coup.

Mr. Ijaz's testimony is considered key to any case against the President, who faces frenzied speculation that he could be forced out over the scandal, ill health and separate legal attempts to re-open old corruption cases.

Police in Islamabad said on Monday they were willing to safeguard Mr. Ijaz's security, but his lawyer Akram Sheikh told reporters that his client feared being detained indefinitely if he steps foot on Pakistani soil.

“It seems like a well-orchestrated trap to hold Mr. Ijaz indefinitely in Pakistan after his deposition before the commission,” Mr. Sheikh said, adding that his client had requested that his testimony be recorded in London or Zurich. “Mr. Ijaz refuses to walk knowingly into the trap being laid by the government and waits to speak the truth of this case.”

In an opinion piece in the Financial Times on October 10, Mr. Ijaz alleged that a senior Pakistani diplomat telephoned him asking for help because Mr. Zardari needed to communicate an urgent message to the Americans.

Mr. Zardari's close aide and then Pakistani Ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani who flatly denied writing the memo, has been forced to resign over the scandal known locally as “memogate”. Pakistan's Attorney-General said everything had been done to ensure Mr. Ijaz's security but said there was “no medicine for suspicion”.

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