Wednesday Mar 25, 2020
LAHORE: An accountability court in Lahore on Wednesday extended the physical remand of the Editor-in-Chief of the Jang and Geo Media Group, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman (MSR), till April 7 in a case pertaining to the purchase of a piece of land more than three decades ago.
In the hearing held into the case earlier today, the court had asked the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to refrain from bringing up political arguments to justify the arrest of MSR.
At the hearing on Wednesday morning, Judge Jawadul Hasan presided over the proceedings and heard the arguments made by the NAB prosecutor, who asked for further physical remand of the veteran journalist.
On March 12, MSR had been arrested over a 34-year-old property transaction by NAB. Despite presenting evidence of the transaction, MSR was arrested by the accountability body in violation of prior court orders. An accountability court on March 13 had given MSR's custody to NAB for a 12-day physical remand.
"The land that was transferred to MSR 34 years ago was transferred illegally by the Lahore Development Authority (LDA)," the prosecutor told the court at the hearing today. "LDA transferred the land to MSR on the directives of former Punjab chief minister Nawaz Sharif," the prosecutor alleged.
"The proper rules and procedures for the transfer of the land over to MSR were not followed. LDA made the mistake of transferring the land over to MSR in bulk," the prosecutor argued. "The land was allotted to MSR at three different places," the prosecutor said.
"MSR illegally got the land allotment transferred to a single place," the prosecutor said before the judge.
However, the judge reprimanded the NAB official at this point, telling him not to indulge in political arguments. The court also questioned NAB why it needed further physical remand of MSR.
"We have summoned the former DG LDA as well. The former DG LDA has assured us of his cooperation, and he will get back to us with a detailed answer after he has reviewed the documents pertaining to the allotment and transfer of land to MSR," the prosecutor said.
The court also asked NAB to explain how the land in question could have been transferred over to MSR by the LDA before the authority had taken possession of it. "LDA can only transfer over the rights to a land after it has taken possession of it," the court reminded the prosecutor.
Amjad Pervaiz, the counsel for MSR, argued before the court that his client had obliged NAB at every juncture in the case and should be freed. He said that NAB had all the documents and files related to the case with them, and there was no reason to detain MSR any longer.
"NAB has the documents, the files, the so called confessions from government officers. Why does NAB not make a case and prove it in court instead of asking for the physical custody of my client?" Pervaiz asked.
"NAB says it wants to arrange a meting between a former officer at the LDA and my client. Why does NAB need to arrest MSR to hold this meeting?" the counsel argued.
Pervaiz noted that he had not seen a case like this before in his twenty-year career, where the arresting authority had shown so much haste in making an arrest.
"It is in their own rules that before even asking for a businessmen to come to their office, they need to have passed the complaint verification stage, and be in the inquiry or investigation stage. Yet they summoned MSR before these rules had been followed."
The lawyer further added that Chairman NAB had signed the arrest warrants of MSR even before the latter arrived with written answers to NAB questions. ""How could the Chairman NAB have seen the answers before MSR presented them to the body?" he asked.
Pervaiz said that it seemed the NAB chief had made up his mind to arrest MSR. "For the chairman to sign arrest warrants, he needs to see the documents of the case, and the DG NAB needs to provide an assessment in the case too," Pervaiz outlined.
"The arrest warrant then travels from Islamabad to Lahore physically. The chain of events witnessed in lead-up to the arrest of MSR indicate that the NAB chief had made up his mind to arrest MSR before giving the DG due time to assess the case," he noted.
The court ordered NAB to produce the record regarding the possession of the land by the LDA. "Chairman NAB violated the laws of the body by ordering the arrest," the counsel for defense said.
The counsel argued that an arrest cannot be made while investigations into a case are still ongoing. "This is the only case in which the NAB chairman wanted an arrest to be made quickly,' the counsel noted.
"How many owners of the land in question are there?" the court asked the NAB prosecutor during the hearing. "There is only one owner of this land," the prosecutor replied.
However, the counsel for the defense disputed this claim. "There are seven owners of the land under investigation," the defense counsel said. "The claim by NAB that there is only one owner of the land is false," the counsel added.
After hearing the arguments of both parties in the case, the judge went into his chamber for an hour, and emerged without a written ruling, instead declaring verbally that he had decided to extend the physical remand of MSR till April 7.
MSR filed a bail petition in the LHC, stating the NAB had arrested him illegally and that he was suffering from several illnesses.
The anti-graft watchdog had violated its SOP's prior to the arrest, the petition said.
They could not find anything on me during investigation, the petition added.