ISLAMABAD, June 14: The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the government’s chief law officer to handle the controversy revolving around allegations of a business deal between real estate tycoon Malik Riaz and the chief justice’s son Dr Arsalan Iftikhar, which has rocked the country for the past few days.
“It is our expectation that he (Attorney General Irfan Qadir) will set the machinery of the state in motion so that all those who may have committed any illegal acts including Malik Riaz, his son-in-law Salman Ahmed Khan and Dr Arsalan Iftikhar are pursued and brought to book with the full force and rigours of the law,” pronounced a two-judge SC bench comprising Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja and Justice Khilji Arif Hussain.
The verdict came on a suo motu cognizance in the fourth hearing.
Justice Khilji Arif also wrote an additional note, saying while the judges were particularly in the public domain, all persons exercising state functions were in the public eye. “Although family members of public functionaries are not performing state functions, the alleged facts of this case highlight the necessity of extreme caution and discretion in their private and public dealings and conduct,” he emphasised.
If proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction, the verdict said, the parties involved were liable to be punished, adding that these laws might include section 163 (illegal gratification using personal influence over public servant), section 383 (extortion) and sections 415 and 420 (cheating) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and section 9 of the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO).
Asked how he would deal with the issue, the attorney general told reporters after the verdict that the first option might be asking Dr Arsalan and Malik Riaz to go for a settlement themselves or enter into a plea bargain by paying the money back under the NAO or a formal corruption reference was moved. Dr Arsalan told reporters that he had been saying from the very beginning that he was innocent and ready to face the cases.
In a well-written judgment punctuated with couplets of Persian poet Hafiz Shirazi and Quranic verses, the court observed:
“Today, we as a nation, stand at what is undeniably a fateful cross-roads in our history. “But least since March 9, 2007, this court has trod only one path ahead of it – the path of the law and the Constitution, which is our only hope of preserving the gains of the unremitting struggle of the people against oppression and tyranny.
“This is the path that all organs of the state are commanded to follow, in the very preamble of the Constitution. If we fail in this duty, we risk returning to the period before March 9, 2007. The significance of that watershed in our constitutional history may have been lost upon some, but certainly not upon this court. But for that moment of truth, there would have been no deliverance – for anyone.”
It appeared, the verdict said, Malik Riaz might not have encountered failure in the past in receiving favours in exchange of payments of illegal gratification. He might, therefore, in his own mind, have considered the lack of any relief or favourable orders from the Supreme Court as simply an attempt to extort money from him, it said, adding that with such thinking it might not have crossed his mind and he might actually have missed the reality that the court was only doing its job in accordance with the law and the Constitution, dealing with cases solely on the basis of merit.
The court also explained that it was not its intention to pronounce a final judgment on the guilt or innocence of those allegedly involved through this suo motu, adding that the purpose was to take cognizance of this matter so that the people’s right to have access to information about matters of public importance could be vindicated.
“This object, in our opinion, has been achieved in these proceedings. The matter of public importance in this case was the aspersion cast on the independence and integrity of the superior judiciary of this country,” the verdict said, adding: “Riaz has admitted in writing that the judiciary has been and remains ill-disposed to the grant of favours, despite his own efforts to the contrary. To put it simply, even a resourceful person such as Riaz has been forced to concede failure in his attempt to
compromise the integrity and independence of the judiciary, despite the alleged payment of Rs340 million. This demonstrates that the gains won by the people’s struggle since 2007 are not yet frittered away.”
Role of Media
The verdict said it was indeed sad that the nation had been apprehensive about the independence and integrity of the country’s superior judiciary on the basis of what had turned out to be an utterly baseless allegation, withdrawn now by the same person who was alleged to have started it.
From the statements filed by certain media persons in the court the requisite due diligence prima facie appeared not to have been undertaken, the court said, adding that had this been done, the concerned media persons would have found out what had been ascertained by “us with very little effort”.
“Without proper care and professional excellence, even sincere and honest journalists risk being used as tools in the hands of those who may not be obedient to the laws and the Constitution of Pakistan,” the verdict said.
Malik Riaz appeared again on Thursday, but this time before a separate three-judge bench headed by Justice Mian Shakirullah Jan, which is hearing a contempt charge on a suo motu. He denied allegations that he had ever ridiculed the Supreme Court.
The court had summoned Riaz to explain why he had hurled harsh allegations on Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry at a press conference. Malik Riaz sought 10 days’ time to engage a lawyer, but the court adjourned the matter for a week.
Islamabad High Court Bar Association President Chaudhry Muhammad Ashraf Gujjar, who is also a petitioner, alleged that the accused was an influential person and continuously maligning the court. But Justice Shakirullah Jan observed that fair trial
demanded that he should be provided an opportunity to engage a lawyer.
The court told Riaz that it had noted his assurance in its order that he would not utter anything which would amount to contempt of court.