ISLAMABAD – Taking suo moto notice of a ‘scandalising’ press conference by Malik Riaz, the Supreme Court Wednesday issued the real estate tycoon a show cause notice, asking him to personally appear before the court today (Thursday).
Viewing his remarks as an attack to malign and ridicule the judiciary, a three-judge special bench led by Justice Mian Shakirullah Jan summoned the business baron, asking him to explain why he should not be tried for contempt of court.
At the centre of a corruption scandal involving Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s son, Riaz on Tuesday defied the court by holding a press conference pertaining to the Arsalan Iftikhar case. With a pocket-sized copy of the Holy Quran in his hand, he hurled serious but contradictory charges against the judiciary, the chief justice and his son.
Malik Riaz, one of Pakistan’s most high-profile businessmen, accused the chief justice of turning a blind eye to his son’s alleged corruption, besides claiming that there was no free judiciary in the country and that it was being run by a ‘don’, namely Arsalan Iftikhar.
The former owner and chairman of the Bahria Town real estate firm alleged that Arsalan took almost $3.6 million from him in exchange for favourable verdicts in cases involving Riaz’s businesses. But the businessman has not presented any examples of such verdicts and the chief justice has already denied any wrongdoing.
Heading the bench, which also comprised Justice Tariq Parvez and Justice Amir Hani Muslim, Justice Shakirullah Jan read out the transcript of the press conference.
In a short order, the bench said Riaz’s accusations “prima facie amounts to contempt of court for scandalising the court and bringing the court and the judges of the court into hatred, ridicule and contempt”.
The bench also said the remarks appeared to be “causing obstruction in the administration of justice because of the pendency of his cases in the court” and an attempt to undermine the authority of judiciary.
Such comments were tantamount to contempt of court, the bench said. It clubbed the suo moto case with a petition filed by a lawyer named Ashraf Gujjar, who asked the apex court to launch contempt of court proceedings against the property tycoon. “We issue show cause notice to Riaz Hussain Malik in terms of Article 204 of the Constitution of Pakistan read with Section 3 of Contempt of Court Ordinance 2003 and Section 17 of Supreme Court Rules 1980 along with other provision of law,” said Justice Shakirullah.
Earlier in the morning, 12 SC judges of the apex court gathered in the chief justice’s chamber to discuss the situation emanating from Riaz’s scandalous press conference. They sought a record of the businessman’s news conference and the transcript was later submitted to the bench headed by Justice Shakirullah Jan. As a result of the one-hour unscheduled meeting, hearing of all cases began at 10am. Posing three questions during the press conference, Riaz Malik had also asked the chief justice to tell the nation that how many times he (Malik) and the CJ met in the darkness of night, claiming Dr Arsalan and Registrar Supreme Court Dr Faqir Hussain were also present in those meetings.
Malik also claimed the chief justice and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani held many meetings at the residence of his business partner Ahmed Khalil where he claimed that a sitting judge of the apex court was also present.
The Arsalan case could damage Justice Iftihikhar Chaudhry, who became a household name in Pakistan and gained international recognition in 2007 after standing up to then dictator president General Pervez Musharraf over his legally questionable bid to hold on to power.
Justice Chaudhry has taken on the unpopular civilian government over allegations of corruption and challenged Pakistan’s powerful military, demanding it produce suspected militants who were allegedly kidnapped and tortured.
Ifthikhar Chaudhry, the one man with the clout to possibly keep the government and military in check, is however unlikely to lose his job despite all media frenzy and an apparent campaign aimed at forcing him to stand down as the chief justice because the constitution provides strong protection for his office. He has dismissed criticism during hearings, saying he only acts to uphold the law and the constitution.