Pakistan's supreme court decided to launch contempt proceedings against Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Monday for "interfering" in a probe into alleged financial irregularities in a state-run steel firm, rejecting his explanation as being devoid of an "apology".
The apex court had last month sought a written explanation from Malik for "interfering" in an ongoing investigation into alleged wrongdoing and financial irregularities in the Pakistan Steel Mills.
The court issued notice to Malik after initiating suo motu proceedings on the basis of a media report of alleged corruption in the state-run firm.
Malik personally appeared in the apex court and presented his written reply but a two-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry said it was not satisfied with his explanation.
The court scheduled the next hearing for February 18, when the bench will initiate contempt of court proceedings against Malik.
The apex court had issued notice to Malik for transferring Federal Investigation Agency chief Tariq Khosa, describing it as an act of interference in the court's affairs as Khosa was probing the reasons for loss of Rs 22 billion incurred by the Pakistan Steel Mills. Malik also formed a joint investigation team to conduct the probe, claiming this was in line with the apex court's directives.
In his reply submitted to court today, Malik answered the queries of the bench, explained his position and said he had not committed contempt of court deliberately.
He said he had formed the joint investigation team, as the FIA did not have expertise to handle the case.
In response, the Chief Justice remarked that there was "no apology" or "repentance" in Malik's written statement, giving sufficient grounds to the bench to begin contempt of court proceedings against him.
"This is a classic case of executive's interference in judicial affairs," the chief justice said. "Have we ever intervened in executive or parliament. However, you interfered in judicial issues, which will not be allowed," he added.
The bench also said it was satisfied with the probe that was being conducted by the FIA. The chief justice directed the attorney general to be present at the next hearing to assist the court.
According to media reports, former FIA chief Khosa, who was promoted and made a federal secretary, had been pushing the Prime Minister's Secretariat to allow him to arrest a federal minister of state whose money exchange firm was found involved in laundering money linked to the steel mills.
Former Pakistan Steel Mills chairman Moeen Aftab Shiekh, sacked by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani last year, has been accused of causing loss of billions of rupees by buying raw materials at inflated prices and slashing steel prices to benefit the Abbas Steel Group owned by businessman Riaz Lalji, an associate of President Asif Ali Zardari. A fresh report presented in court today by authorities said Sheikh, the main suspect, is in the custody while four others are free on bail.
Another nine suspects are still at large, it said.
In a separate matter, Malik appeared in a court in Peshawar and obtained bail to avoid arrest in connection with a case in which he was accused of travelling abroad without a passport. The additional sessions court accepted Malik's plea and granted him bail.
The first information report in the case was filed over a decade ago and Malik was booked under the Passport Act.Malik was accused of leaving Pakistan through an unauthorised route despite his name being on the Exit Control List, which includes people barred from leaving the country. The interior minister's visit to Peshawar was unscheduled and took officials by surprise. Malik is facing possibility of being disqualified as a member of Senate or upper house of Parliament and federal cabinet once government begins implementing the apex court's verdict striking down the National Reconciliation Ordinance, a controversial graft amnesty passed by the ex-military regime that benefitted him and over 8,000 others.