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LHC denies bail to Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman; PBC, SCBA decry decision

By Amir Riaz
July 09, 2020

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court on Wednesday dismissed the post-arrest bail petition of Jang/Geo Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman in a case relating to a property transaction that took place 34 years ago.

A two-member bench comprising Justice Sardar Ahmed Naeem and Justice Farooq Haider announced the decision after both sides concluded their arguments. As the hearing commenced, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman's counsel Amjad Pervez resumed his arguments, stating that investigation against Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman had been completed and nothing had been recovered from him.

The counsel reiterated that exemption of 54 Kanals was granted to the petitioner in accordance with the law and the LDA had no objection over it. He said Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was not a public office-holder, therefore, allegation of misuse of power was baseless.

He said the NAB chairman was not a competent authority to initiate legal proceedings against the petitioner. The abetment of an offence was not incorporated in the National Accountability Ordinance 1999 as it was inserted later on through an amendment but was not given retrospect effect. Hence the provision relating to abetment of an offence could not be applied to the petitioner.

He pointed out that the LHC in the Maryam Nawaz case had ruled that abetment could not be considered effective retrospectively unless lawmakers had shown such intent. In the presence of special law and relevant forums, unbridled power could not be given to the state to initiate a criminal trial against anyone, the counsel contended, and added he was not requesting the court to quash NAB proceedings, rather bail was being sought based on facts.

Against NAB chairman’s powers of arrest at the complaint verification stage, counsel Amjad Pervez cited a Sindh High Court decision in Siraj Durrani’s case. He contended that in the presence of LDA laws and courts, the NAB lacked jurisdiction to prosecute the petitioner, and added that the NAB Ordinance did not override the other laws in force.

He said non-arrest of other accused and arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was violation of Article 25-A of the Constitution. Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman appeared wherever and whenever was summoned by the NAB which had never claimed that Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was not cooperating with it.

The counsel said how a person could flee the county from where he was running a huge media house and permanently residing. Pervez argued that the NAB had no objection over the exemption of 54-Kanal and 5-Marla land because it had not pointed out any monetary loss had been caused to the national kitty. He said the petitioner was awarded 9 Kanals in exchange of 33 Kanals on the bank of canal in the Johar Town Housing Scheme. He said 14,000 plots were available in the scheme for sale to public and it was announced to give more and more concession to allottees under an exemption policy.

He said land award was amended after acquisition of land and seven legal heirs of allottee Muhammad Ali were included in it. And these legal heirs were allotted less land under the award. He said the petitioner sought no concession as per the summary forwarded to the then chief minister.

The LDA had no approved master plan of Johar Town in 1986 at the time of allotment of plots to the petitioner. The master plan was approved on August 27, 1990. He said the only allegation against Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman in the reference was that he included land reserved for roads into his land and caused Rs140.34 million (14 crore, 35 lakh) loss to the national exchequer, which is baseless.

At this, Justice Sardar Ahmed Naeem asked the counsel that he had said there was no loss to the national exchequer, but now he was admitting there was loss.

The counsel replied that in 1992 when Nawaz Sharif was not in power, the LDA issued a notice to the petitioner for payment of Rs 6.4 million as arrears and the same was paid. Later, construction was completed and the LDA issued a completion certificate in 1998. All payments were made under the SOPs. Afterwards, the LDA policy was changed and the price assessment committee again demanded money from the petitioner.

He pointed out that the LDA amended policy was given retrospective effect, which caused monetary loss to the petitioner. The petitioner's land was acquired at Rs 2088 per Kanal but he was returned after receiving Rs 60,000 per Kanal. He said there was no illegality to allot the petitioner a consolidated piece of land. Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman’s case was unprecedented as he had never experienced in his career that a person had been arrested at the complaint verification stage by the NAB.

In rebuttal, NAB Special Prosecutor Faisal Raza Bukhari argued that the inquiry against the petitioner was approved on March 12 and he was arrested the same day. The petitioner never sought LDA permission for interim development. Under the exemption policy, the petitioner was eligible for allotment of 54 Kanals but more than 56 Kanals were allotted to him. He said Hamayun Faiz Rasool recommended special concession to the petitioner on his application for exemption on July 3, 1986.

He pointed out that under the exemption policy, 15 plots of one Kanal each were to be allotted to the petitioner while for other land, plots of less than one Kanal measurement were to be allotted at three different places. He said as per a demarcation report prepared by Patwari Bashir Ahmed, a witness in the case, the petitioner possessed 59-Kanal and 3-Marla land.

He said after the LDA notice on October 29, 1992, the petitioner's wife deposited Rs 6.4 million with LDA. He alleged the petitioner caused a loss of Rs 140.34 million to the national kitty by possessing extra land of 4 Kanal and 2 Marlas. He said Hamayun Rasool was 83-year-old and Mian Bashir is 73 but they had been nominated in the case. He said the other accused in the case, Nawaz Sharif, was out of the country. In the end, he said the inquiry against the petitioner was approved before the amendment to the NAB law as the inquiry was approved in 2019 and the amendment was introduced in 2020.

After completion of arguments by both sides, the court rejected the bail petition. Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) Vice Chairman Abid Saqi, Executive Committee Chairman Azam Nazir Tarar, PBC Member Ahsan Bhoon and Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Qalb-e-Hassan also appeared before the court.

The PBC and SCBA leaders criticised the dismissal of bail plea. In a joint statement, Abid Saqi and Syed Qalbe Hasan called the move to turn down the bail plea 'disappointing and painful'.