After accepting his unconditional apology, the Supreme Court on Thursday acquitted property tycoon Malik Riaz from contempt of court proceedings initiated against him for hurling harsh allegations in a press conference over six and a half years ago against then chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and his son, Dr Arsalan Iftikhar, for alleged business deals the two parties had entered.
A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa ended the contempt of court proceedings against Riaz after accepting his written apology.
As per the written apology, Riaz apologised for the press conference and asked the court for forgiveness. It added that the property tycoon had postponed medical treatment to appear before the court.
Riaz said he didn't want to provide any justification and asked that his apology be accepted.
During the court proceedings, Chief Justice Khosa noted that this was Riaz's second apology and that the content of the first apology had been the same.
The top judge further noted charges have been registered in the case but no witness testimonies had been recorded yet.
"No witness testimonies were brought before the commission formed for this matter," CJP Khosa said, noting that in a previous hearing, Dr Iftikhar had taken back his request.
He noted that the case had been pending for the past seven years.
The top judge noted that during the press conference in discussion, one phrase was slightly objectionable.
"Not slightly objectionable, in fact [it] was very objectionable," the top judge remarked.
Justice Khosa noted that in the press conference Riaz had said that the court was not independent, rather it was a hostage court and that "some don" was running it.
He added that Riaz had also said, "I am not implying that the chief justice is the don, in fact Arsalan Iftikhar is the don".
The top judge noted that journalists present at the conference had made Riaz pay attention to his words.
"You have asked for forgiveness but do you also take back the allegations against the court?" Justice Khosa asked.
Riaz’s counsel, Dr Basit, said they were asking for forgiveness for their mistake and added that Riaz had taken back the allegations he had made.
He noted that Riaz had postponed his surgery to appear before the court.
"It is not some favour to appear if the court calls you," the top judge responded.
The court noted that over the past seven years, the property tycoon had not contemned the court again and that his apology seemed to be based on good intentions.
The apex court also noted that Riaz had taken back the allegations he placed on Dr Iftikhar.
The apex court noted that an individual who is held in contempt can ask for forgiveness at any stage and said that there was no reason to doubt Riaz's intentions in tendering the apology.
The court also noted that they were satisfied with his apology and were therefore acquitting the property tycoon.
Contempt of court proceedings
The contempt proceedings against the property tycoon were initiated on June 13, 2012, by a three-judge bench comprising former judges namely Justice Mian Shakirullah Jan, Justice Tariq Parvez and Justice Amir Hani Muslim that sat beyond normal court timings to issue him a show-cause notice for hurling allegations against the then chief justice at a press conference.
Riaz had raised three questions while addressing the press conference for then chief justice Chaudhry to answer against the backdrop of alleged financial wrongdoings by his son, Dr Arsalan Iftikhar. The property tycoon had accused the then chief justice of holding late-night secret meetings.
The notice was taken on a note put up by then registrar of the SC Dr Faqir Hussain annexing the Urdu transcript of whatever had been stated by Riaz verbatim in the media conference on charges of scandalising and bringing the court and its judges into hatred, ridicule, lowering the SC's authority and also showing disrespect to the institution. The press conference also caused obstruction in the administration of justice due to the pending cases related to Bahria Town, the notice stated.
Later on Aug 9, 2012, Riaz was formally indicted for committing contempt of court and the apex court asked then attorney general Irfan Qadir to prosecute him. Separately, Advocate Ashraf Gujjar moved a petition seeking placement of the name of the accused on the Exit Control List (ECL).
Next month the then attorney general furnished a list of witnesses, including former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, his son Dr Arsalan, former registrar Dr Hussain, former premier Yousuf Raza Gilani and Salman Ahmed, son-in-law of Riaz.
However, the apex court ruled on Sept 20, 2012, that Qadir was not competent to prosecute the accused as he had represented the same accused as his defence counsel in the past. The bench also ordered its registrar to submit a list of senior counsel amongst whom the court would select one to act as a prosecutor on behalf of the court.
On Oct 26,2012, Qadir challenged the Sept 20 order in the SC with a request that he should be restored to prosecute Riaz in the contempt case since it was both a requirement of the law as well as necessary to ensure a fair trial to the contemnor.
In his review petition, Qadir had emphasised the importance of the AG, contending that the job of the prosecutor was so important that it could not be allowed to be tainted with bias.
An element of bias in any corner of the prosecutor’s mind could vitiate the entire process of contempt proceedings, he said, adding that an advocate or a person appearing in defence could get away with bias but even a speck of bias on part of a prosecutor could wreak havoc on the process.
If the AG was biased in favour of the court, fair trial would be reduced to impossibility and if he was biased in favour of the respondent, dignity of the court would be compromised, the review petition had said.