The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday decided to remove accountability judge Arshad Malik from his post, officials said, following a controversy revolving around the 'leaked' video tape of the judicial officer.
Judge Malik, on Dec 4, 2018, had handed ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif seven years in jail in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills corruption reference. He, however, had acquitted him in a second reference related to Flagship Investments.
On July 6, PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz opened a Pandora’s box with a startling claim that the judge "confessed" he had been “pressurised and blackmailed” to convict her father in the Al-Azizia reference. A video containing the judge’s alleged confession during his conversation with a ‘sympathiser’ of the PML-N, Nasir Butt, was screened during a hurriedly called presser at the party’s provincial headquarters in Model Town.
The next day, the judge had denied being under any pressure, but admitted that Nasir Butt was an acquaintance.
The controversy continued to make news as Maryam released two more video clips "in support" of the first one.
On Friday morning, judge Malik gave in a letter to IHC acting Chief Justice Aamer Farooq in which he said that the videos shared by Maryam were fake. He also filed an affidavit before the IHC chief justice along with his letter.
Justice Farooq perused the letter but decided to relieve judge Malik without conducting an inquiry since he is an official of the subordinate judiciary of the Lahore High Court (LHC).
The IHC judge directed the registrar office to write a letter to the law ministry regarding relieving judge Malik of his post and repatriating him to the parent department, the LHC.
Shortly after the announcement, Maryam called for the verdict in the Al Azizia reference against her father to be declared void.
The possibility of a retrial in the Al-Azizia reference cannot be ruled out now, legal experts speaking to DawnNewsTV said.
Sources told Dawn that the IHC chief justice passed this direction after detailed deliberations. Initially, the IHC administration was indecisive about whether or not it could take action against Malik as his appointment was made by the law ministry under NAO, 1999.
As per section 5A of the National Accountability Ordinance, the law ministry with the consent of the chief justice of a high court appoints judges for special courts including accountability courts. The decision to remove judge Malik has also been made in light of the said section, an IHC official told Dawn.
A day earlier, Minister for Law Dr Farogh Nasim had told reporters that his ministry would not initiate any proceedings against the accountability judge in connection with the leaked videos.
“Under Article 203 of the Constitution, it is the high court which superintends the subordinate courts,” the minister explained, adding that special courts, including the accountability court, fell within the territorial jurisdiction of the IHC and, therefore, it was IHC chief justice who could take any action in this regard.
The removal of judge Malik comes a day after he called on the IHC acting chief justice for the second time in a week; they had first met on Monday.
Legal observers believe that during his second meeting with Justice Farooq, judge Malik stood by the contents of his press release he issued on Sunday in response to Maryam's press conference.
On July 9, Justice Farooq had also called on Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa and reportedly apprised the latter of the situation and response of the accountability judge to the controversy.
Received bribe offers, threats from PML-N: judge
In his affidavit submitted to the IHC chief justice, judge Malik claimed that he was offered a Rs500 million cash bribe by Nawaz Sharif's son, Hussain Nawaz, who demanded that the judge resign on the grounds that he "could no longer deal with the guilt of having convicted" Nawaz under duress in the Al-Azizia/Hill Metal Establishment reference.
The judge claimed that he was offered bribes and threatened with dire consequences by PML-N representatives initially to force him into issuing verdicts in favour of Nawaz in the Al-Azizia and Flagship Investments references, and later to coerce him into resigning from his office. He said he refused to accept the bribes and give in to the alleged threats, which is when "false and malicious allegations" were levelled against him at Maryam's presser of July 06.
With additional reporting by Inamullah Khattak.