Graft case: Pak CJ begins proceedings against his son

Islamabad: Pakistan`s Supreme Court today directed a real estate firm and journalists to submit relevant material regarding allegations that Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry`s son Arsalan Iftikhar had been paid up to Rs 400 million by tycoon Malik Riaz Hussain to influence cases in the apex court.

In a controversial move, the Chief Justice himself headed a three-judge bench that initiated suo moto proceedings after TV news channels reported the alleged links between Iftikhar and Hussain, one of Pakistans richest men. During the proceedings, Attorney General Irfan Qadir objected to the Chief Justice`s inclusion in the bench, saying it amounted to conflict of interest. The Chief Justice took note of the objection and pledged that anyone, including his son, who affected the dignity of the apex court would not be spared.

The Chief Justice said if the allegations against his son were proved true, he would be punished in accordance with the law. "Whosoever may be involved in maligning the institution, I will be the last person to spare him," he said. For the past few days, the Pakistani capital has been abuzz with reports of improper links between the Chief Justices son and Hussain. The apex court was forced to act after TV news channels reported the matter late last night.

The Chief Justice directed officials of Hussains real estate firm and several TV journalists to produce all materials in their possession in court by tomorrow. He further directed the Security Exchange Commission of Pakistan to provide the file on Bahria Town, the real estate firm owned by Hussain. However, legal experts questioned the Chief Justice`s decision to be part of the bench hearing the matter.

A code of conduct for members of the superior judiciary issued by the Supreme Judicial Council in 2009 clearly states: "A judge must decline resolutely to act in a case involving his own interest, including those of persons whom he regards and treats as near relatives or close friend." A statement issued by the Supreme Court said it had taken note of reports on various TV channels about an alleged business deal between Hussain and Iftikhar "with a view to influence the judicial process".

"It is reported that the said Malik Riaz Hussain paid 300400 million rupees to Arsalan and also sponsored his foreign visits. It is alleged that these favours were extended to Arsalan so as to influence his father, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, to have a soft corner for Malik Riaz Hussain and get favours in his cases pending before the Supreme Court," the statement said. Before the hearing, Iftikhar told reporters he was innocent and that the Chief Justice had told him not to return home till the matter was settled by the apex court. Hussain, the owner of the posh Bahria Town gated community on the outskirts of Islamabad, did not appear in court.

An aide told the bench that he was in Britain for medical treatment. The tycoon is facing a number of cases in the Supreme Court. These cases were filed by a number of persons who have accused Hussain of grabbing large chunks of land and merging them into Bahria Town. Media commentators have questioned the timing of the leaks regarding links between the business tycoon, who is known to be close to the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, and the Chief Justices son.