ISLAMABAD, June 7: The chief justice may have recused himself from the bench hearing his son’s case, but the bigger story of the day as far as Courtroom One was concerned was the testimony of Kamran Khan, a journalist and anchor of a talk show.
The courtroom was packed beyond capacity with lawyers, journalists and visitors by the time the three-member bench appeared after the morning break.
Headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, and including Justice Jawwad S. Khwaja and Justice Khilji Arif Hussain, the bench was hearing the case about the bribes allegedly given to the chief justice’s son, Arsalan Chaudhry, by property tycoon Malik Riaz.
The suo motu notice had been taken after the rumours of the chief justice’s son’s shady business dealings with Riaz had become loud enough to make it to primetime television. After midnight on June 5, the SC had announced the suo motu notice and the first hearing was held on Wednesday.
On Wednesday, the journalists who had appeared in court claimed that they had nothing to offer by way of evidence.
Luckily Kamran Khan did not prove equally disappointing and offered all the juicy rumours and details that so far had been accessible to only those who had caught the right talk show at the right time or located it later on YouTube.
Rumours and hearsay
Kamran Khan admitted at the onset that he did not have any documents in his possession but he disclosed that he had met Malik Riaz in Karachi twice and during their second meeting he was shown meticulously compiled dossiers that contained details of foreign jaunts and shopping sprees of Dr Arsalan — that were paid for by Mr Riaz’s son-in law.
The property tycoon did not allow Khan to make copies of any document.
Riaz, said Khan, claimed that he was being blackmailed by Dr Arsalan —that the latter kept assuring Riaz that in exchange for these monetary ‘gifts’ his (Arsalan’s) father would smoothen matters for Riaz in the cases involving the property tycoon in the SC.
That the CJ had given the powerful tycoon sleepless nights was evident from the fact that Riaz pointed out that in one such case, the chief justice had issued 42 orders against Bahria Town in a single day.
The dossier mainly contained, Khan revealed, details of the expenses incurred during trips Dr Arsalan had made to London and Monte Carlo in the summer of 2009, -10 and -11. For instance, there were copies of tenancy agreements signed by Dr Arsalan for expensive apartments in London or hotel rooms the bills of which were paid by Riaz’s son-in-law.
Similarly, there were receipts of extravagant shopping in which the warranties were signed by Dr Arsalan while the bills had been footed by Riaz’s generous son-in-law.
Khan explained that unless the documents were forgeries, on the face of it, they seemed to be incriminating. The bench was quick to ask what the objective of this ‘bribery’ was.
Khan explained that Riaz had said that Dr Arsalan kept telling him that he (Riaz) should not be impatient; that he had talked to his father (CJ) and that matters would be sorted out.
“He (Riaz) believed that money could buy anything in Pakistan,” Khan said.
The chief justice and the other two judges made it clear at this stage that the allegations against the son did not mean that the father was in anyway involved and that there was no proof of the latter’s involvement.
“Everyone is responsible for his deeds,” the chief justice said, adding that he had been a judge for the last 22 years but he owned no car and no house.
Similarly, Khan testified that Riaz had said he shared the information with Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, who had spearheaded the lawyers’ movement for the CJ’s restoration; Ahsan broke down — a reaction that Riaz claimed showed that Ahsan was horrified.
At this too Justice Khwaja asked why Ahsan had broken down because there was no proof of the CJ’s involvement.
It was clear that the bench was going to focus on Arsalan and Riaz but was not going to get dragged into unnecessary controversies.
However, after the testimony was over, the chief justice announced that he would no longer hear the case — a point that had been made earlier by the attorney general and other commentators outside the courtroom.
While announcing the decision, the CJ quoted Islamic injunctions and precedents in law.
But before quitting, he constituted a division bench of the other two judges to continue with case. At this stage, the AG and the counsel representing Riaz requested the smaller bench to refer the matter to the chief justice for constituting a larger bench to hear the issue.
However, the bench told them that they should file a proper application with the chief justice if they wanted a bigger bench to hear the matter.
The three judges made it clear that trial of Dr Arsalan as well as Riaz will be properly carried out — for the sake of the court’s moral authority. This is why, they explained, the trial would be kept open.
“The proceedings will be held in an open court as the interest evoked by the proceedings is manifest by the coverage received by the media and the attendance in the courtroom,” Justice Khwaja observed in the order.
The CJ observed that he had full confidence that the other members of the bench would take the matter to its logical end.
Bahria under fire
The division bench later focused attention on Riaz’s business, which had come under the spotlight on Wednesday too.
Later the division bench ordered the Chairman Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) to submit the tax returns of Malik Riaz, the owner of the Bahria Town (Pvt) Ltd.
Meanwhile, Zahid Bukhari, representing Malik Riaz, told the court that his client was in London for his medical treatment but hoped to be back within a week.
Interestingly, the division bench in its order noted that Group Editor of The News Shaheen Sehbai has furnished documents that offered some evidence of Dr Arsalan’s financial wrongdoing.
All the parties involved in the case were told to file rejoinders before the next date of hearing — Monday.