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Troubling days ahead for Pakistan chief justice

June 11, 2012 13:03 IST

He was the heroic chief justice who refused to bow down to the all-powerful Gen Pervez Musharraf. But today, as his son is embroiled in a scam, the halo over Pakistan's Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry has slipped, reports Amir Mir

Pakistan Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, who was regarded as a shining symbol of uprightness and a true custodian of the supremacy of law for his courageous resistance against the military regime of former President General Pervez Musharraf, is in hot water with the unearthing of a scam involving his son who has been accused of receiving over Rs 350 million from an influential real-estate tycoon in order to secure favourable judgments from his father in cases involving the financial interests of the builder.

The scam has led to demand from general public that Justice Chaudhry should resign to facilitate a free probe against his son because an investigation by the apex court would not be within the parameters of justice, implying a lack of confidence in the impartiality of his brother judges in a case involving the son of the chief justice.

Initially, the chief justice was heading the bench hearing the case against his son, attempting justifications by recourse to Islamic history examples. However, groaning under mounting pressure from judicial circles which maintained that no one should be a judge in his own case, Chaudhry has already recused himself from the bench hearing his son's case.

But he simply rejected the plea of the real-estate tycoon, Malik Riaz Hussain, to constitute a larger bench to hear the case before handing over its investigation to a high-level independent commission consisting of legal experts with impeccable records and no overt political or judicial affiliation.

While in ordinary circumstances the judiciary is well-equipped to determine the facts and the legal liability in a case before it, in the present scenario the allegations go to the heart of judicial integrity and are linked to the highest judicial figure which sits at the apex of the judicial pyramid and is the administrative head of the institution.

Hussain pleads that he is the victim of extortion by Arsalan Iftikhar, the son of the chief justice who was looking to cash in on his familial connections in a manner all too familiar to anyone who has been in power or interacted with it in Pakistan.

But, others suggest, a greedy Arsalan was trapped by a cunning Hussain in order to sully the chief justice's reputation by association. Hussain, who had been staying abroad ever since the scam was unearthed last week by the Pakistani media, is returning to Pakistan on June 11 amid reports that he is ready to fire a salvo against Arsalan in the apex court which has summoned him.

According to Zahid Bokhari, Hussain's attorney, his client is returning home to record his statement before the apex court besides furnishing documentary evidence showing payments of millions of rupees made to Arsalan to influence court cases pending against the real estate magnate.

However, Arsalan has already denied in a concise statement submitted before the apex court on Saturday the charges of financial misconduct against him. Media reports had claimed that Hussain had sought British journalist Christina Lamb's help to break the news about the scandal, when Chaudhry was scheduled to arrive in London to receive the International Jurists Award for 2012 for his heroic struggle against the military regime of the former Pakistani dictator, General Pervez Musharraf.

Chaudhry was suspended by Musharraf in March 2007 after being summoned to the Army House in Rawalpindi and was asked to resign in the presence of five army generals.

As Chaudhry refused to resign, Musharraf decided to file a presidential reference against him on corruption charges which was forwarded to the supreme judicial council as per procedure in constitution of Pakistan.

It was the first time in the 60-year history of the Pakistani supreme court that a chief justice was suspended and that too on corruption charges. The suspension was made on the grounds of complaints against Chaudhry for violating the norms of judicial propriety, corruption, seeking favours and misbehaving with senior lawyers.

Chaudhry was eventually reinstated to his position as chief justice in July 2007 by a 13-member bench of the supreme court headed by Justice Khalil-ur-Rehman Ramday.

However, hardly three months later, Musharraf declared a state of emergency and suspended the nation's constitution and parliament besides dismissing and detaining over 100 judges of the superior judiciary.

Just after general elections in February 2008, Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani ordered Chaudhry's release from house arrest. All the 100-plus superior court judges who had been sacked by Musharraf were eventually reinstated by the Pakistan People's Party government on March 15, 2009, including Chaudhry.

The fact, however, remains that Chaudhry's son is not new to controversies and was previously brought into the limelight in 2007 when Musharraf had filed a presidential reference against his father before the supreme judicial council. 

According to the presidential reference filed against the chief justice, one of the charges was that he committed misconduct by employing his position to gain undue advantage for Arsalan.

The reference stated that Arsalan had secured an overall C grade in intermediate examination, which was not sufficient to grant him admission in Bolan Medical College, in 1996. It was alleged that the then chief minister of Balochistan was approached to nominate Arsalan for admission against leftover foreign vacant seats/special seats.

According to the reference, nine years later, Arsalan was appointed as a medical officer at Institute of Public Health, Quetta, in 2005. A few days after his initial appointment, the chief minister of Balochistan passed an order, which called for Arsalan's promotion as section officer in health department.

The orders were allegedly given to the then chief secretary of Balochistan who referred the case to services and general administration department, as the authority to approval postings and transfers of secretariat staff.

Ironically, the reference also stated that in August of 2005, the ministry of interior addressed a letter to the chief secretary of Balochistan regarding Arsalan's services being required in the Federal Investigation Agency.

In September 2005, the ministry issued a notification to appoint Arsalan as an assistant director in the FIA. In the April of 2006, he was promoted to the position of deputy director in FIA. After being promoted in FIA, it is alleged that a campaign was launched to recruit Arsalan in the police service of Pakistan.

The reference mentioned that in May 2006, the ministry issued a letter to commandment National Police Academy in Islamabad to attach Arsalan for field training along with under training assistant superintendents of police.

A few days later, the ministry issued yet another letter which stated that after the completion of Arsalan's training, the services of the trainee be made available to Punjab police.

Then the prime minister's secretariat was allegedly approached to permanently induct Arsalan as an employee of the police service of Pakistan. But his permanent recruitment required an amendment in the police service of Pakistan Rules 1985, which could only be introduced through president's approval.

The reference alleged that the chief justice exerted immense pressure on the prime minister's secretariat to ensure his son's permanent induction in the police force.

The aforementioned charges, along with other cases, eventually brought about the suspension of Chaudhry in March 2007. Musharraf's action triggered an unprecedented wave of protests and resignations by lawyers and judges including that of Justice Jawwad Khwaja, who is now a part of the judges' panel in Arsalan Chaudhry's 's graft case.

As far as the most recent graft case against Arsalan is concerned, it is alleged that he had accepted Rs 300 to 400 million in bribes from Bahria Town's chief executive, Malik Riaz Hussain.

Going by Pakistani media reports based on claims made by Hussain, it is alleged that in 2009, 2010 and 2011 the tours of the CJ's family members to Britain were financed by Bahria Town.

A few journalists have also been shown the alleged record of credit card payments, made by the daughter and son-in-law of Hussain, living in London, for the extremely expensive London accommodation of Arsalan and his other family members besides paying for Arsalan's rented luxury Land Rover.

Only in one case is an apartment claimed to have been booked for the family for one month costing 40,000 pounds (Rs 7,000,000). Bahria Town sources wondered how such luxurious trips missed the attention of the chief justice.

Hussain has alleged that the CJ's family had done shopping from Harrods and even the payment there was made by his construction company. Arsalan is accused of approaching the Bahria Town boss through his friends.

Interestingly, Arsalan has denied these allegations but conceded at the same time that he is into the construction and telecommunications business for the last several years and earns reasonable profits to finance the foreign visits of his family members.

He says his business value is Rs 900 million, it has more than 400 employees and has paid Rs 2.2 million and Rs 3.2 million as tax in 2011 and 2010, respectively. One is amazed to notice that Arsalan, who was an ordinary government employee of grade 18 until recently, has suddenly become a successful businessman.

While Arsalan has strongly refuted the allegations leveled against him by Hussain, saying he has never seen the real-estate tycoon, the latter is adamant to prove his claim in the court of law when he appears before it. Malik's close associates refer to a video, showing Arsalan collecting cash on behalf of his father.

On the other hand, Arsalan says he did receive the payment in relation to a contract between Fecto Cement and Radian Power Energy.

Amid all these developments, Pakistan's leading English newspaper Dawn has suggested in its editorial not that the supreme court should form a high-level independent commission to investigate the graft charges because the facts will likely be fiendishly difficult to establish.

'Such a commission will also be expected to unravel that if Arsalan did in fact receive inducements in a bid to try and subvert the judicial process, was the chief justice, however inadvertently, a beneficiary of the proceeds that were flowing to his son who lived in the same house?

'If the supreme court really does want to draw a line under the Arsalan-Hussain affair, it must first hand the matter over to others to determine what the facts are. A clean bill of health from an independent commission will be more meaningful than one bestowed on the judiciary by the judiciary itself,' the Dawn editorial concluded.
Amir Mir in Islamabad