Pakistan's supreme court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry on Thursday rescued himself from a case against his son Arsalan Iftikhar, who allegedly received up to Rs 400 million from tycoon Malik Riaz Hussain to influence cases in the apex court.
The chief justice made the decision when a three-judge bench headed by him resumed hearing the suo moto case against his son on Thursday afternoon.
Attorney General Irfan Qadir again objected to the chief justice's inclusion in the bench, saying it amounted to a conflict of interest.
The chief justice, who has been criticised by legal experts for taking up the case against his son, subsequently acknowledged that the Attorney General's objection and preliminary arguments had made him come to the conclusion that he should disassociate himself from the matter.
"The Quran says you are responsible for your own actions, not your children's... We have faith and believe in Allah," the chief justice said. He contended that he had no knowledge about the son's profession or business dealings.
Saying that a special bench would be formed to hear the case, he left the courtroom. Iftikhar again appeared in the apex court on the second day of the hearing while real estate tycoon Hussain did not come for the proceedings.
Hussain's counsel Zahid Bukhari said he was being treated for a health condition in Britain. Geo News anchor Kamran Khan appeared in court and told the bench that the tycoon had shown him documents, including copies of Iftikhar's passport and receipts for payments, related to Iftikhar's three visits to London and one to Monte Carlo.
Khan said the documents showed that the chief justice's son had visited Monte Carlo with a woman. The documents further showed that Iftikhar and others had lived in expensive flats and hotels during their visits to London.
Payments for travel, accommodation and shopping by the chief justice's son were made with credit cards and bank accounts operated by Hussain and his relatives, Khan said.
However, Khan said the tycoon had not given him copies of these documents.
Khan also submitted a written statement in court. The chief justice on Wednesday initiated suo moto proceedings against his son after several TV news channels reported on the alleged payment made by the business tycoon.
The chief justice has pledged that anyone, including his son, who affected the dignity of the apex court would not be spared.
But legal experts questioned his decision to be part of the bench hearing the matter.
They pointed out that code of conduct for members of the superior judiciary adopted 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".
The bench on Thursday observed that real estate tycoon Hussain and his counsel should not talk to the media or run any sort of campaign through the media.
Questions have been raised about the timing of the leaks regarding links between the chief justice's son and the business tycoon, who is known to be close to the ruling Pakistan People's Party.
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 of contempt for refusing to reopen corruption cases against Zardari that were closed under a graft amnesty issued by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf in 2007.
That amnesty 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 has been appointed an advisor to the prime minister so that he can continue heading the interior ministry.
Earlier in the day, a key leader of Pakistan's ruling PPP asked the chief justice to resign immediately in the wake of the "financial corruption" case against his son.
"All plundering has been done under the patronage of Justice Chaudhry and he now has no moral grounds to stick to his office," said Maj (retd) Zulifqar Gondal, the leader of PPP lawmakers in the Punjab Assembly.
Gondal told PTI that the PPP wanted the chief justice to separate himself from the bench hearing the case against his son.
"Under Article 4 of the Constitution, he cannot hear the case of his son or a relative. Since nobody is Hazrat Umer (companion of the Prophet Muhammad) in this era, therefore the Chief Justice should remove himself from the bench," he said.
Another reason why Chaudhry should not hear his son's case is that if Arsalan is given any punishment, the people would take it as a "drama", Gondal contended.
"Nobody will believe the so-called true intention of the controversial chief justice," he said. Gondal said the people of Pakistan were questioning the position of Arsalan.
"What was the position of (Arsalan) Iftikhar, which he used to mint money," he asked.
He questioned why the chief justice had never asked his son about his expensive cars and financial matters.
He asked the chief justice to accept responsibility and resign if the "doctrine of morality" was applicable to everyone.
Other senior PPP leaders, including federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, have distanced the party from the controversy, saying the PPP had nothing to do with the matter.