Islamabad, Jun 6: Pakistan's Supreme Court today directed a real estate firm and journalists to submit relevant material regarding allegations that Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry's son Arsalan Iftikhar had been paid up to Rs 400 million by tycoon Malik Riaz Hussain to influence cases in the apex court.
In a controversial move, the Chief Justice himself headed a three-judge bench that initiated suo moto proceedings after TV news channels reported the alleged links between Iftikhar and Hussain, one of Pakistan's richest men.
During the proceedings, Attorney General Irfan Qadir objected to the Chief Justice's inclusion in the bench, saying it amounted to conflict of interest.
The Chief Justice took note of the objection and pledged that anyone, including his son, who affected the dignity of the apex court would not be spared.
The Chief Justice said if the allegations against his son were proved true, he would be punished in accordance with the law.
“Whosoever may be involved in maligning the institution, I will be the last person to spare him,” he said.
For the past few days, the Pakistani capital has been abuzz with reports of improper links between the Chief Justice's son and Hussain.
The apex court was forced to act after TV news channels reported the matter late last night.
The Chief Justice directed officials of Hussain's real estate firm and several TV journalists to produce all materials in their possession in court by tomorrow. He further directed the Security Exchange Commission of Pakistan to provide the file on Bahria Town, the real estate firm owned by Hussain.
However, legal experts questioned the Chief Justice's decision to be part of the bench hearing the matter. A code of conduct for members of the superior judiciary issued by the Supreme Judicial Council in 2009 clearly states:
“A judge must decline resolutely to act in a case involving his own interest, including those of persons whom he regards and treats as near relatives or close friend.” A statement issued by the Supreme Court said it had taken note of reports on various TV channels about an alleged business deal between Hussain and Iftikhar “with a view to influence the judicial process”.
“It is reported that the said Malik Riaz Hussain paid 300-400 million rupees to Arsalan and also sponsored his foreign visits. It is alleged that these favours were extended to Arsalan so as to influence his father, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, to have a soft corner for Malik Riaz Hussain and get favours in his cases pending before the Supreme Court,” the statement said.
Before the hearing, Iftikhar told reporters he was innocent and that the Chief Justice had told him not to return home till the matter was settled by the apex court. Hussain, the owner of the posh Bahria Town gated community on the outskirts of Islamabad, did not appear in court.
An aide told the bench that he was in Britain for medical treatment. The tycoon is facing a number of cases in the Supreme Court.
These cases were filed by a number of persons who have accused Hussain of grabbing large chunks of land and merging them into Bahria Town.
Media commentators have questioned the timing of the leaks regarding links between the business tycoon, who is known to be close to the ruling Pakistan People's Party, and the Chief Justice's son. In recent weeks, the Supreme Court has been pressuring the government to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari in Switzerland.
On April 26, the apex court convicted Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on contempt for refusing to reopen the corruption cases against Zardari, which were closed under a graft amnesty issued by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf in 2007. That amnest was annulled by the apex court in 2009. The apex court has also suspended the membership of parliament of Farahnaz Ispahani and Rehman Malik, two close aides of Zardari, on the ground that they have dual nationality.
Malik was yesterday appointed an advisor to the Prime Minister so that he could continue heading the Interior Ministry.
Speaking to the media on the sidelines of an official function, Malik said the case against the Chief Justice's son was essentially a matter involving two private individuals. The government has no role to play and it does not want to get involved in the matter, he said.
Malik further said that the government is ready to investigate the matter if it is asked to do so.