ISLAMABAD, March 23: Though there was already a special prosecutor, the interior ministry hired an additional lawyer on much higher remuneration to plead the Benazir Bhutto assassination and Mumbai attacks cases.
The appointment only resulted in financial gain for the lawyer as the trial is still far from completion.
Sources in the ministry of interior told Dawn that Mohammad Azhar Chaudhry, a lawyer close to former minister Rehman Malik, was engaged in 2010 for the Benazir Bhutto assassination and Mumbai attacks cases on a lump-sum fee of Rs18 million.
On the other hand, Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, the special prosecutor, was paid only Rs2.5 million.
The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in August 2009 sought the appointment of Chaudhry Zulfiqar as the special prosecutor for the two high-profile cases. The fee for Benazir assassination case was fixed at Rs1.5 million and that for the Mumbai attacks case at Rs1 million.
According to the sources, the ministry of interior on the direction of then minister Rehman Malik issued another letter for the appointment of advocate Azhar.
The ministry’s letter of August 6, 2010, stated that “the ministry of law, justice and parliamentary affairs has nominated Mr Mohammad Azhar Chaudhry advocate, to assist Chaudhry Zulfiqar, the special public prosecutor. The fee has to be negotiated with the lawyer by the FIA for approval by the ministries of interior and law.”
Contrary to the fee of the special prosecutor, who got Rs2.5 million for both the cases, the ministry of interior approved payment of Rs8 million to Advocate Azhar for the Benazir assassination case and Rs10 million for the Mumbai attacks case, said the sources.
However, despite the addition of advocate Azhar, the prosecution has been moving in both the cases at a snail’s pace.
Advocate Azhar hailed from Sialkot, the native city of Rehman Malik, and according to documents available with Dawn, he also owns the “Punjab Law Chamber” at the district courts of Sialkot.
In addition to the above cases, the interior ministry also paid Rs4.4 million to advocate Azhar in the Haj corruption case despite the fact that there was also a special prosecutor available for the case.
For the dual nationality case of Mr Rehman Malik, advocate Azhar claimed Rs4.45 million from the ministry of interior for appearing in the Supreme Court.
In yet another case, he billed Rs4.45 million to the ministry for defending Rehman Malik in the Supreme Court in a suo motu case in 2011.
He had also claimed a similar amount from the ministry for filing a damages suit of Rs1 billion against a newspapers’ group.
An official of the interior ministry on the condition of anonymity said so far Rs22.4 million had been released to advocate Azhar in the Mumbai attacks case, Benazir assassination case and the Haj corruption case. Besides, five official cars with 2,000 litres monthly petrol had also been provided to the lawyer.
He said the secretary interior had objected to the payment of the fees to the lawyer for appearing in the personal cases of the former minister.
According to him, the cases related to defamation, contempt and filing damages suit by Mr Malik and the ministry was not bound to pay the fees for these personal matters.
When contacted, Mohammad Arif Chaudhry, a legal adviser to the ministry of interior, confirmed that advocate Azhar had been appointed as an additional prosecutor for the high-profile cases.
He also admitted that the prosecution did not make the desired results in the cases despite being paid millions of rupees.
According to him, Chaudhry Zulfiqar was enough for handling the Mumbai attacks, Benazir assassination and the Haj corruption cases in the court.
Advocate Azhar, on the other hand, told Dawn that he was engaged as a prosecutor by the ministry of interior because of his expertise in handling the complicated matters.
“Rehman Malik knows my skills because I had already provided him legal services in some other cases; therefore, he engaged me for the high-profile cases.”
He added: “I am a professional lawyer and my fee was also fixed in accordance with my performance. The proximity with the minister never played any role in this matter.”