The scandal started off as a barrage of revelations last Tuesday, casting a deep shadow over the integrity of the superior judiciary.
Ten days later, it died with a whimper when a two-judge bench divested the apex court of any involvement in the alleged corruption case involving real estate magnate Malik Riaz, and the chief justice’s son Dr Arsalan Iftikhar.
Courtroom Number 1 was filled to the brim on Thursday as a two-member bench, comprising Justice Jawad S Khawaja and Justice Khilji Arif Hussain, read out the 44-page verdict in the suo motu case.
Arsalan’s counsel, Sardar Ishaq, stood at the rostrum while Riaz’s counsel Zahid Bukhari sat next to the attorney general’s seat. Both listened in intently as the verdict was read out.
The bench noted that Riaz had conceded that the apex court, or the superior judiciary, was not involved in any act that would cast a doubt on its integrity.
It, therefore, disposed of the suo motu, but directed the attorney general to proceed according to the law and bring all culprits to book – including Malik Riaz, his son-in-law Salman Ali Khan and Dr Arsalan Iftikhar – for attempting to influence the judiciary.
While shadows over the court’s reputation may have dispersed, there may be a long battle for Riaz, who also faces contempt proceedings, and others.
According to the verdict, Riaz, in his statement, confirmed that he met with journalists and showed them ‘documentary evidence’ of payments made to Arsalan, in exchange for promises to gain favors for Riaz from the Supreme Court.
Riaz had also stated that, to date, no favor was actually given to him by the court.
“To a large extent, this statement settles the question of public importance,” the verdict said. “If the man, who is accusing Dr. Arsalan of involvement in wrongdoing, himself concedes that the court, as an institution, or its judges have never been involved in any such act, then the aspersion cast on the court’s reputation stands cleared.”
“Any doubts which may have arisen in the mind of the public can now be safely put to rest since the person who is supposed to have created these doubts with the help of certain segments of the media, has made an admission on record and cleared the situation,” the verdict added.
Punishment, if guilty
Justice Khwaja also stressed on punishment – under section 163 (illegal gratification using personal influence over public servant), section 383 (extortion), section 415 and section 420 (cheating) of the Pakistan Penal Code, and section 9 of the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999 – for Riaz’s son-in-law and Dr. Arsalan if it is proven that the latter received money from the former in exchange of promises of illegal favors.
The judge observed that no statement confirming or denying any transactions between Salman and Dr. Arsalan, or their relationship, was filed by Riaz in the court.
Even the dates of such cash transfers or their location have not been indicated, he added.
Justice Khwaja said that the Supreme Court, being the last and highest forum of appeal, cannot judge the guilt or innocence of the parties concerned without evidence or trial, which is the job of lower courts. At the end, Justice Khwaja cited passage from a Hadith, saying the giver and taker of bribe are both doomed to hell fire, and disposed of the suo motu.
The episode, however, is not over for Malik Riaz.
A three-judge special bench of the apex court gave the property magnate seven days in contempt of court case to hire a counsel for his defense.
Riaz had appeared before the bench, headed by Justice Shakirullah Jan, and requested for time, saying he could not engage a lawyer for his defense.
The bench, however, appreciated Riaz for appearing before the court on short notices and decided not to call for placing his name on the Exit Control List. The court also restricted him from interacting with the media on issues pending before the court.
“Have you understood Mr. Riaz”? Justice Shakirullah asked.
“Sir, I can not speak English. Can you please explain to me in Urdu,” Riaz replied, eliciting a laughter in the courtroom.
The court was later adjourned till June 21.
Earlier, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry had taken a suo motu notice of Malik Riaz’s presser on Tuesday, on the request of the Registrar Supreme Court Dr. Faqir Hussain.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 15th, 2012.