A Lawyer's Murder Makes a Weird Houston Divorce Case a Lot Weirder
The couple in happier — or less crappy, anyway — times.
Harris County District Clerk
The lawyers representing a Pakistani native in a high-profile Houston divorce case say the man's estranged wife's family may be behind the murder of a witness scheduled to testify in Houston next week.
In one of the most bizarre motions we've ever seen, lawyers for Mohammad Ali Choudhri claimed Wednesday that attorney Fahad Malik — who was shot to death in his car in Islamabad on Monday — was killed because he planned to testify that Choudhri's wife, Hira Azhar, was already married to a different man when she wedded Choudhri in 2008.
Malik was representing Azhar's alleged first husband, who had already gone into hiding over death threats from Azhar's relatives, according to the emergency motion written in hardboiled-detective-story prose (and we mean that as a compliment) by lawyer Doug York.
But first, let's back up a bit: Choudhri, a wealthy real estate magnate who spends a great amount of time suing people and being sued, married Azhar in Pakistan, when she was 18 and he was 28. (The marriage was arranged, as many are in Pakistan.)
Choudhri returned to Houston shortly afterwards, and Azhar followed in 2010. But Choudhri claims that he divorced Azhar in 2012 by invoking a Muslim ritual of "talaq" — saying "I divorce you" three times in a row — on the day she flew to Pakistan to visit family.
Choudhri later filed a formal divorce petition in Pakistan, and Azhar filed her own petition in Houston. Now, courts in Texas and Pakistan are trying to hash out who has jurisdiction.
In a 17-page affidavit, Azhar describes Choudhri as a monstrous man-child who not only lived with his parents, but preferred to sleep between them in bed, rather than sleep with his wife.
She accuses Choudhri of hitting, kicking and choking her; of isolating her from friends; and of treating her like a servant. According to Azhar, Choudhri's sense of superiority knew no bounds; he allegedly made her kiss his feet and once beat her after she confronted him with evidence of an affair that she found on his cell phone.
Choudhri argues that the Pakistan court has jurisdiction, and, in a surprise move just weeks before the scheduled August 23 hearing, Choudhri's lawyers say they found documentation showing that Azhar had married another man six months before meeting Choudhri.
Azhar denies the allegation, and her lawyers say the marriage license is a fake.
Enter Fahad Malik, an Islamabad attorney who allegedly represented the alleged first husband, which we realize is a lot of allegedlies, but since there's a vast amount of alleged hogwash being slung in this case, it's difficult to tell what's what.
Malik was scheduled to testify he did indeed represent Faisal Zafar Malik (no relation, as far as we know), the man who claimed to be the first husband, and that his client was in fact married to Azhar.
In an affidavit, Faisal Malik, who was born in the U.K. and is a British citizen, swore that he married Azhar in front of witnesses in May 2008, and that she wanted to move to England. He alleged that "on or near 2009," she cut off contact with him. But that's not all; Faisal Malik also offers relevant details like "I used to drive a 7 series blue BMW" and "on many occasions, I picked up [Azhar] and she rode in my BMW." (In a twist worthy of M. Night Shyamalan, the affidavit also states that he also once drove her in a Honda Civic.)
According to the emergency motion filed Wednesday, Faisal Malik was going to testify, but was scared after "men with guns" went to his home and threatened him. The man "had to flee the area in fear of his life."
As York notes in the motion, "it was reported that Hira Azhar's uncle had gang type ties and was capable of carrying out deadly threats." Exactly who "reported" this is unclear, as is much of the emergency motion, which is thoroughly unencumbered by supporting evidence for these threats, and contains passages like this:
"The first husband's attorney reported that it was getting extremely 'hot' for his client, that the intimidation of death was accompanied with a bribe request of $300,000 for either stating that he was never married to Hira Azhar, or...'disappear' and never testify against Hira Azhar."
That's some shrewd planning by these "gang-type" men — they threaten to kill a dude while simultaneously offering him a boatload of cash. That's what's known, in gang-type parlance, as covering your bases. But we digress.
Pakistani news reports of Malik's murder are light on details. Ary News reported that Malik and an associate were shot as they left a police station, shortly after Malik tried to mediate a skirmish between the associate and a rival group. The skirmish was allegedly "over a girl." (According to Propakistani, the skirmish started over a comment posted on Facebook.)
York stops just short of formally saying Azhar's family did the whacking or paid for it; he just allows the reader to connect the dots. This gives enough room to throw in other potential conspirators, like long-time Choudhri nemesis Osama Abdullatif, with whom Choudhri has been embroiled in lengthy, convoluted litigation. (Choudhri's lawyers say that Abdullatif helped Azhar return to Houston and has been supporting her financially.)
The motion alleges that Choudhri won a multimillion-dollar judgment against Abdullatif, which was "the proverbial 'last straw'" for Abdullatif, who "sought out ways to recoup his monies and 'get Mr. Choudhri.'"
"It should be noted that during a time when Ali Choudhri and Osama Abdullatif were going through a civil lawsuit, it is well documented that [Abdullatif] employed the same tactics when approximately ten persons with guns stormed into [Choudhri's] office making threats."
However, Lloyd Kelley, another lawyer representing Choudhri, told the Houston Press that while it's not clear if Malik's murder was connected to the Choudhri case, Malik had recently said he was concerned about his safety.
"He told me last week that people were following him and he was very worried," Kelley said. "...He believed that he was in danger and that [Faisal Malik] was in danger."
Kelley said that the emergency motion (which he said he didn't read) was a response to Azhar's attorneys' request to conduct depositions in Pakistan, and that the main purpose was to show Judge David Farr that it would be dangerous to drag Houston lawyers into Pakistani court proceedings.
Perhaps this will all make more sense after the August 23 hearing. We'll keep you posted.