ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court of Pakistan granted bail to Jang/Geo Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman on Monday.
He was held in detention for more than 200 days by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in a case related to the purchase of a property more than 30 years ago.
The senior-most executive journalist of Pakistan's largest media group had been in NAB custody since March 2020, on what his legal counsels have consistently argued are trumped-up charges.
The bail plea was heard by a three-member bench presided over by Justice Mushir Alam and comprising Justice Qazi Muhammad Amin Ahmed and Justice Yahya Afridi.
During the hearing, MSR’s counsel, Amjad Pervaiz, told the court that the allotment of land to his client had not caused a penny's loss to the national exchequer.
He reminded the court that the reference was filed against four individuals, but only his client was taken into custody; that too at a stage when an inquiry was being initiated.
He told the court that the issue was over 180 kanals and 18 marlas of land, which had been taken over by the LDA for the Mohammad Ali Johar Town in Lahore in 1982.
The land had been divided between the heirs of the original owner in 1985 after the owner's death.
"When was this land acquired by the petitioner?" Justice Qazi Amin asked.
"Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman acquired power of attorney over the land on May 22, 1986."
"Under the policy, the total area [to be allocated in return for the land acquired by LDA] was 54 kanals and 5 marlas."
"In the entire transaction, not a penny's worth of loss was caused to the national exchequer," he said.
"Has NAB raised the question of any loss to the national exchequer [caused through this transaction]," Justice Amin asked Pervaiz, to which he responded in the negative.
"NAB has not contested any loss to the exchequer," he answered. "This case wasn't filed by any government department, but by a private citizen."
“Does the applicant own more land than he was allotted?” Justice Afridi asked the counsel.
"He [MSR] bought an additional four kanals and 12 marlas of land and paid the Lahore Development Authority for it at the policy rate of Rs60,000 per kanal,” replied Pervaiz.
"The allegation is that this land was meant for roads and pathways," Justice Afridi responded.
"They [NAB] are arguing that this additional land was meant for roads and pathways, but the Lahore Master Plan was approved on August 27, 1990. MSR bought the land in 1987, and paid for the additional land as well. Whatever construction was subsequently done on the purchased land was done with LDA's approval. There had been no issue or objection regarding the construction in 34 years," Pervaiz informed the court.
When the judge asked if any money was still owed, MSR’s counsel answered in the negative.
"The LDA was paid this amount under the policy in 1987," he said.
“NAB [however] claims the applicant should have paid the market rate for the additional land instead of the policy rate," he informed the court.
Justice Afridi then said that it remains to be seen if the case is valid under the LDA's policy.
“Was there no violation of rules?” he asked.
The judge also sought the detail of how many cases are being heard by the accountability judge who is hearing MSR's case.
After hearing arguments, the bench granted bail to the Jang/ Geo Editor-in-Chief.
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