ISLAMABAD: It seems that top officials from the judiciary are more conscious about their ‘status’ than other government functionaries. Over the past few months, two former chief justices and a law officer of the state have been trying to obtain Mercedes cars for themselves.
The latest entrant to the ‘Mercedes club’ is former Federal Shariat Court (FSC) chief justice, Agha Mohammad Rafiq Ahmed Khan, who has managed to acquire an official Mercedes – originally designated for protocol duty for visiting dignitaries – on throwaway prices under provisions that are meant for permanent judges and do not apply to contractually employed adjudicators.
According to the documents available with Dawn, the price of the 1800cc Mercedes currently in Mr Khan’s use was over Rs6 million. But the recently-retired FSC chief justice, who is currently serving as chairman of the Sindh Public Service Commission, managed to obtain it for a mere Rs2.5 million.
The Ministry of Law and Justice has recently asked the FSC to explain how the former chief justice obtained approval to purchase the official vehicle.
Earlier, former Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, days before his retirement in December 2013, tried to hang on to his official bulletproof Mercedes, but after the Cabinet Division turned him down as he was not entitled to it, a close friend of the former CJP filed a petition in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) asking for the provision of the bullet proof car to Justice Chaudhry. The Cabinet Division, under court orders, gave in and issued the vehicle to the former CJP in January of this year.
Then, in August, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif approved the purchase of a bulletproof Mercedes for Attorney General Salman Aslam Butt, which he was not entitled to under the rules. Mr Butt later withdrew his request.
In Justice Khan’s case, however, the law ministry, on September 11, asked the FSC registrar “to apprise as to whether the Federal Shariat Court obtained the approval from the Cabinet Division for the sale of official car, [registration number] FS-007, on depreciated value to Mr Justice Dr Agha Rafiq Ahmed Khan, former Chief Justice Federal Shariat Court, or not”.
The retired chief justice served at the helm of the FSC on contract-basis for three years until June 4, 2014. Following the expiry of his contract, he applied for permission to retain the official Mercedes following retirement after paying its depreciated value.
The FSC additional registrar, on January 8, 2014, wrote to the law ministry and sought their opinion in this matter.
Azam Warraich, legal adviser to the law ministry, said on March 21 that since the appointment of Justice Khan to the post of FSC chief justice was contractual, “therefore, neither a chief justice nor a judge of the Federal Shariat Court is entitled to any post retirement benefits, including purchase of car at depreciated value”.
In a subsequent letter, a section officer of the law ministry, on April 3, categorically stated that the request for purchase of the official Mercedes on depreciated value was not permissible.
In the meantime, Justice Rafiq referred this matter to a committee of judges, consisting of Justice Dr Fida Mohammad Khan and Justice Sheikh Ahmed Farooq.
The committee observed that “every judge of the Federal Shariat Court irrespective of his length of tenure is entitled to purchase an official car at a depreciated price”.
On July 17, the law ministry conveyed to the FSC Registrar in a letter that, “prima facie the decision taken at the forum of (the) full court meeting is not only (in) violation of standing instructions but also a denial from the legal responsibility of this ministry as already clarified vide letter of even number dated April 3”.
In addition, sources in the FSC told Dawn that initially, in 2009, a 2400cc Mercedes was purchased as a ‘protocol car’. They claimed that due to this status, the vehicle could not be sold on a depreciated price. The incumbent FSC Chief Justice Sardar Mohammad Raza also expressed his concerns after he learnt that the official car was not in the FSC’s fleet and subsequently asked the administration to conduct an audit.
When asked to comment, Justice Khan said he could not speak on the matter, but asked Dawn to contact the incumbent FSC Registrar for details.
FSC Registrar Mr Binyamin, despite repeated attempts, could not be reached for comment.
However, Javed Iqbal, FSC deputy registrar (judicial), told Dawn that as Chief Justice of the FSC, Justice Khan “had the power” to obtain the Mercedes car on a depreciated price.
Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2014