Saturday, December 8, 2012

Daily Times editorial Dec 9, 2012

Murky waters The Arsalan Iftikhar-Malik Riaz affair continues to remain murky even after the Supreme Court (SC) abruptly wound up its own appointed Suddle Commission charged with investigating the allegations of Malik Riaz that the son of the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) had received benefits to the tune of Rs 342 million in return for influencing the cases against Mr Riaz in the SC in his favour. This was indeed a very serious charge and by implication, even before anything had been proved, threatened to compromise the standing and reputation of the honourable CJP. The two-member bench hearing the case, in its order has said the report of the Commission should be made public. Reports state that the Commission’s findings indict both Arsalan Iftikhar as well as Malik Riaz in misdemeanours. Through his statements before the Commission, Arsalan is said to have admitted to receiving benefits from Malik Riaz and his family. In that case, Arsalan’s declaration after the verdict that he had been vindicated as innocent of any wrongdoing is puzzling, to say the least. Malik Riaz has reportedly been held responsible in the report of evading taxes (as has Arsalan) and land grabbing activity. The court took the position that since the judiciary had been initially dragged into the affair, and now cleared of any involvement by the Commission, there was no further need for it. The issue, according to the court, is one between two individuals and they are free to approach any forum for redress. While both parties have expressed satisfaction at the verdict, albeit for different reasons, the SC order has raised more questions than it has answered. The whole affair has been, for lack of a better expression, an inadvertent comedy of errors. When Malik Riaz first raised the allegations against Arsalan, the CJP took what appears in retrospect to be the unwise decision to take suo motu notice and insist on sitting on the bench himself, at least initially. After a slate of objections to this step, which not only pre-empted ‘other forums’ being approached, but also made the action of the CJP to insist on heading the bench controversial, wiser counsel finally prevailed, and the CJP rightly recused himself. However, the controversies did not end there. When the SC ordered the Attorney General to take steps to investigate the case, and a reference was sent to NAB, Arsalan objected to the composition of the Joint Investigation Team constituted to look into the affair. The SC saw fit to grant him relief in this regard and instead set up the one-man Suddle Commission, which has now been wound up prematurely, before it could finish its work. The court’s finding that this is an affair between two individuals does not stand up to scrutiny. Arsalan Iftikhar is no ordinary individual. His actions, whether conscious or inadvertent, had, and still have, the potential to greatly embarrass his illustrious father. If his admission of receiving benefits to the Suddle Commission are taken into account, and the implications of the CJP’s son being open to such benefits in return for unexplained favours according to the Commission’s report, and to influence positively the cases against him before the SC according to Malik Riaz, the court’s relieving itself of the responsibility to see through the implications and order action for what is potentially a criminal liability leaves much to be desired. The whole affair has been, with due respect, mishandled from day one. In this space, when the allegations surfaced, we had argued that for justice to be done and to be seen to be done, the CJP should either resign or go on long leave until such time as his non-involvement in the affairs of his son was proved beyond doubt. On the contrary, the CJP acted hastily, first in taking suo motu notice (in this case a double-edged sword), then insisting on heading the bench, and last bit not least, being ‘cleared’ by his brother judges of any involvement without a satisfactory in-depth investigation and action on whatever has seen the light of day, including, crucially, Arsalan Iftikhar’s own admissions. That none of what was necessary has transpired is far from satisfactory and is likely to lead to fresh controversies surrounding the matter, to the detriment, amongst others, of the superior judiciary itself.

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