Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, the Owner and Editor-in-Chief of Jang Media Group and Geo Television Network, was arrested on March 12, 2020 by the National Accountability Bureau also known as NAB in Lahore, Pakistan. The most senior, respected and experienced journalist of Pakistan was arrested for unproven allegations related to a private property transaction dating back more than 30 years i.e. in 1986. This appears to be the latest in a concerted attack on the Jang Media Group and Geo TV that has been waged by various authorities in Pakistan for the past few years. This has the effect of significantly impeding media freedom within Pakistan and has a chilling effect on journalism within the country. Not only this but several attempts have been made to reduce the access of Geo TV channels to the citizens of Pakistan through an unwarranted and enforced changes in the channel numbers on cable and in some cases, the cessation of carriage of Geo News by some cable operators. This is not the first time that these actions have been taken in order to silence journalism in the country and to stop power being held to account. In past, Geo and Jang Group were the primary victims of media siege.
Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman (MSR) is the owner and Editor-in-Chief of Jang Media Group and Geo Television Network, the oldest, largest and the most popular media group in Pakistan. MSR is a son of the founder of Daily Jang ‘Mr. Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman’ and he has been working as a journalist cum businessman in Pakistan since more than 45 years. During his father’s lifetime, MSR launched Daily Jang from Lahore, setting up a new benchmark for Urdu Journalism in Pakistan.
Over the last 60 years, Jang Group’s insistence on pursuing an independent media policy has repeatedly put the Jang Group at odds with unhappy governments, both civilian and military, governments that wanted a complaint media willing to render favorable media coverage so that the sovereign people of Pakistan would not be able to assess their lack of performance and shortcomings. The result of Jang/Geo Group’s insistence on pursuing independent media policy has meant that the Daily Jang newspaper was and continues to remain the most popular Urdu newspaper in Pakistan and its English newspaper, The News International, has remained one of the leading newspapers, while Geo News was and continues to be the most credible and most popular news channels in the country.
That by way of background, it is pertinent to state that when an embarrassing video of the current Chairman, NAB went viral, Geo News deemed it in public interest to safeguard the sanctity and credibility of the accountability process, to broadcast that news and to question why the authenticity of the video along with the serious allegations contained in it should not be presumed blindly.
The above infuriated both NAB officials as well as the incumbent government and immediately thereafter Geo News management, its anchors, especially the anchor and producer of the program “Aaj Shahzaib Khanzada Ke Saath”, and particularly, MSR, started facing threats that NAB would get the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to ban the program. In this background, on the behest of NAB, PEMRA (which claims to be an independent body) started issuing multiple notices to Geo News and its anchors and started imposing fines every time the performance of NAB was discussed on Geo News. Finally, Geo had no option but to approach this Honorable Court four months ago (December 2019) – (WP No. 61353/2019) just to seek a direction by the Hon’ble Court to PEMRA “non to treat NAB as a state institution”, as NAB was an investigating body just like the Federal Investigation Agency. Nevertheless, PEMRA has still to file a reply in that petition.
The incumbent government and NAB’s anger grew, the federal and governments in Punjab and KPK imposed a complete ban on any display advertisements to any newspaper or channel of Jang/Geo Group.
Following that, the Jang/Geo Group vide WP No. 14356/2020 in March 2020 challenged the illegal discrimination by the federal and provincial governments (their Public Information Departments – PDIS), in pursuing a practical ban on any advertisements to any newspaper or channel of Jang/Geo Group. The government action in boycotting Jang/Geo Group with regard to distribution of advertisements is totally illegal as advertisement distribution is not the personal property of the government but a state asset that has to be distributed in accordance with law.
Without prejudice to the above, even otherwise, an unholy collaboration of NAB and the incumbent government led to a collapse in business confidence and imprisonment of almost all the opposition leadership, including, inter alia, former President Mr. Asif Ali Zardari and former Prime Ministers Mr. Muhammad Nawaz Sharif and Mr. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.
During the course of the above, the incumbent government realized that NAB’s unchecked and daily harassment of private citizens, businessmen and bureaucrats had completely damaged, amongst other, business confidence and it was a major impediment in the government’s plan to put the country on a path to growth. The business community and the bureaucracy were constrained to lobby with the powers-that-be and had brought to the notice, amongst others, of the Prime Minister and the Chief of Army Staff their deep concerns about the state of the economy.
It was thus that the government itself promulgated an Ordinance on 21.12.2019 amending NAO 1999, seeking to protect private citizens, businessmen and bureaucrats who had become virtually dysfunctional. This in a way is a kind of an admission by the government that NAB had gone out of control and it needed to be reined in at least to the extent of businessman/bureaucracy.
Pertinently, on 08.10.2019 NAB issued the following Directive / Policy Guidelines (hereinafter ‘SOP) regarding ‘Businessmen’, which states:
a. Notice, covering the details and reasons for alleging the person in the case, will be issued for provision of written reply.
b. After receipt of reply, if the same is found unsatisfactory or needs further explanation a questionnaire will be delivered.
c. The DG Regional NAB will examine the reply of each question and if found unsatisfactory the businessman will be summoned for personal appearance as per law and SOP.
In the above context, the following four steps were therefore guaranteed to businessmen irrespective of the trade or industry:
a. Notice, covering the details and reasons for alleging the person in the case, will be issued for provision of written reply.
b. After receipt of reply, if the same is found unsatisfactory or needs further explanation a questionnaire will be delivered.
c. The DG Regional NAB will examine the reply of each question and if found unsatisfactory..
.. the businessman will be summoned for personal appearance as per law and SOP.
On 28.02.2020, NAB without following the afore-sated SOP, summoned MSR vide Notice No. 1(33)/HQ/CV/769/20/NH-DD/NAB-L to its Lahore Office on 05.03.2020 along with “complete record” of a matter which had occasioned 34 years ago.
The notice was received on 03.03.2020, whereas, as stated above, it required MSR’s appearance on 05.03.2020. Despite the inadequacy thereof, MSR appeared in the office of NAB at Lahore along with some notes, mainly from his memory of 34 years ago, and offered it to the officials of NAB. The conduct of NAB officials during MSR’s appearance in NAB was most strange. He explained to them that it was not possible for him to recall all the facts, the names and dates 34 years later within two days. He also stated that it would be more convenient if the officials issue him a specific questionnaire. He brought the notes from memory but NAB officials refused to receive it. He stated that at least let him read it out but they did not even allow that. He asked NAB officials to give him a questionnaire. However, they refused to do so and, in fact, stated that he could make out the questions from their conversations and record them for himself. This came to about 13 questions which MSR wrote it on paper with his hands, whilst noting verbal confirmation of the same, from the concerned NAB officials. All this was apparently also recorded in the camera that was pointing at MSR during the proceedings. He was thereafter summoned on 12.03.2020. (The allegations and their responses are given in Section B of this document.)
On 12.03.2020, MSR took with him a preliminary written reply to the thirteen questions had himself written after refusal by the NAB officials to supply him with a questionnaire along with record. What seems obvious now and it became apparent at the time of hearing on 13.03.2020 that NAB was not interested in any question or answer. While MSR was in the NAB premises out of good faith and cooperating with the NAB, the officials told him that he had been put under arrest pursuant to a Warrant of Arrest issued by Chairman NAB from Islamabad the very same day. The Detenu was also deprived, inter alia, of three cellphones, personal briefcase with private papers, the preliminary written reply as well as the record he took with him including photocopies.
As evident from the foregoing, the arrest of MSR on 12.03.2020 was in blatant violation, inter alia, of the SOP. In addition, MSR sought to exercise his right to meeting with his counsel/advocate and family members but he was denied the right. He was kept in an unhealthy cell in solitary that night.
Moreover, on 13.03.2020, MSR was presented before the Learned Judge before whom it was submitted, inter alia, that the Detenu’s arrest was contrary to the SOP and that he had not been given any proper chance to explain his point of view, that his detention was thus illegal and that in the circumstance it was imperative for the learned Accountability Judge to discharge him rather than remand him either to NAB custody or even judicial custody.
The learned Accountability Judge contrary to the law and facts disregarded the submissions on behalf of the MSR and handed over his personal/physical custody to NAB for as many as eleven days.
It is also therefore discriminatory and lacks the principle of proportionality as propounded by the Hon’ble Division Bench of the Islamabad High Court in its judgement in W.P. No. 769/2019 titled ‘Amjad Mustafa Malik vs. DG NAB’ whereby the Hon’ble Bench has, inter alia, held that a person cooperating with NAB ought not to be arrested because the Fundamental Right of liberty of a citizen is a paramount right. The judgement also asserts that a man is to be presumed innocent, and to be treated with decency as an innocent citizen until proven otherwise.
That being said, the Learned Judge has acted with excessive coercion and without proportionality or reasonableness. He has failed to exercise the authority of discharging MSR on the wholly misplaced ground that he has been presented before him by NAB for a remand under Section 24 (d) of NAO 1999 for the first time. In fact, the Learned Judge has applied a completely untenable logic that the requirement under Section 24 (d) NAO 1999 to give ground and reasons for the remand of the Detenu is not pertinent to the first time he is produced to obtain a remand and that a Judge in question is only required to give reasons when the Detenu is presented for a second or any subsequent time for remand. This logic escapes reason. It would mean that in this day and age, Fundamental Rights of a citizen can be done away with and they can be held prisoner by an agency such as NAB for at least fifteen days without it or a Judge having to give any reason or rational for the captivity. It is too late in the day to explain any such concept.
The aforesaid, even otherwise, is a gross misreading of Section 24 (d) NAO 1999 and in sheer violation of, inter alia, Articles 4, 9, 10-A, 12 and 25 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973. According to the afore-stated judgement of the Hon’ble Islamabad High Court, an accused person who is appearing before even the most biased officials of NAB whenever summoned, is obviously cooperating with the investigation, and should not be arrested.
Clearly, the Chairman NAB had already taken a decision to arrest MSR even before he could answer their questions, showing that his arrest was the most blatant abuse of power and office by the NAB. Right from the beginning, the Warrant of Arrest issued by the Chairman NAB, the consequent arrest of MSR and the order passed by the learned Accountability Judge remanding MSR back to the custody of NAB, are illegal, without lawful authority, mala fide and deserve to be declared as such as it has not allowed any proper, reasonable or sufficient time to MSR to obtain and place before them the full facts and record, which, even MSR would require some time to acquire as the allegations relate to a matter 34 years old.
This is also an unwarranted arrest, custody of detention of MSR by NAB on the dictates of Chairman NAB, in complete and utter violation of the Directive / Policy Guidelines dated 08.10.2019, as well as the Order passed by Learned Judge, Accountability Court which is based on a gross disregard of law and facts and misreading the import of the several cogent and binding precedents placed before it.
We have shown our case to top legal real estate experts and are confident that there is no wrongdoing whatsoever in this case. In order to be transparent with our readers and viewers we are sharing the below. Geo Tau Aisay…
Late Muhammad Ali was the owner of 180 Kanal land in Mouza Niag Baig. This land came under Johar Town, Phase-2 Scheme. After death of Muhammad Ali this land was transferred to his 3 sons and 4 daughters by way of succession. Lahore Development Authority took 180 Kanal of land from Muhammad Ali in the name of developing the land (building roads, sewerage, electricity) and in return gave back / allotted only 54 Kanal to them by way Exemption Policy of the Housing Act of 1973. This 54 Kanal was later on purchased by family of Mir Shakir ur Rahman. Remaining 126 Kanal land was taken over by LDA for no exchange or monetary value.
This land was taken for free from government or this land was given to housing scheme of journalists which Mir Shakil ur Rahman took over.
Reality: This was a private transaction, nothing to do with housing scheme of journalists, and nothing to with NAB which deals with Government related transactions. This land was owned by Muhammad Ali and later his 3 sons and 4 daughters by succession. The family of Mir Shakil ur Rahman had purchased this land from them.
There was limit of 15 Kanal per person but 54 Kanal land was allotted.
Reality: In exchange of 180 Kanal land, LDA had given 54 Kanal to private party which was 30% of the total land and party of the policy at the time. 126 Kanal land from the 180 was taken by LDA for free!
54 Kanal land was given to one person whereas limit was 15 Kanal per person.
Reality: 54 Kanal land was given to seven persons and not to one person. Every person has a right to obtain up to 15 Kanal of land but each member of the family got less than 15 Kanal land (on average 8!).
Prime location land was obtained in exchange of low price land.
Reality: The current estimate difference of the original location land (marked in red) vs the current allotted land (marked in blue) is minimum 2 times more expensive per Kanal.
This means Mir Shakil ur Rahman or Muhammad Ali family actually lost out due to LDA. Plus one can see in the map that the blue marked plot that was given was 62% within the red portion originally area owned (33 out of 54 Kanal). Furthermore, there are many cases in LDA and in Johar Town where parties have gotten 34, 40, 50 and even 100% of their land.
Roads were also given in the allotment and that is not allowed.
Reality: There were no roads or any form of development that was made in 1986 at the time of allotment yet development charges were charged for 54 Kanal and for the extra space where there used to be a road on paper. LDA frequently changes its plans. When allotment was amalgamated development work had not started so there was no roads that existed then how could roads be sold.
In private land LDA moved summary to recover 50% development charges upfront and remaining after completion which was illegal.
Reality: All plot/ residential housing schemes in Pakistan and elsewhere allot plots and then recover development charges. The charges are on per plot basis and infact much higher than if there is a single large piece of land in which actually LDA does not have to undertake development but are still recovering charges as if there are separate plots. 54 kanal separate plots would actually cover a much larger area of land and of much higher value as eacg plot would require independent road access, utility connections and sewerage as compared to a single piece of land
Amalgamation was treated as person specific special case.
Reality: Upto 50% of holding is allowed to be amalgamated as per the LDA bye laws. For larger amalgamation application is made to LDA Board. Larger piece of land amalgamation is neither illegal if approved by Authority and nor does it reflect any form of corruption
National Bank of Pakistan involved in Fraud by mortgaging the property and giving loan.
Reality: A scheduled commercial bank follows strict guidelines and prudential regulations for lending to companies and as security n normal course of business pledges immoveable property as security. Such property may only be pledged when it is duly vetted by their inhouse and external legal counsel which identifies the property to have a clean title. Further such lending and pledge is security is timely reviewed by State bank as per of their regulatory audit process and over the years not a single observation on the title of the property or its being pledged fraudulently has been made by any Government or regulatory organization.
Offshore company Brookwood Ventures has given loan to Independent Media Corporation/ GEO.
Reality: Giving sensational statements with no legal or corporate background does not make routine transactions as illegal. Brookwood ventures is an offshore company whose ownership is duly declared.
Loan from Offshore company not to be repaid.
Reality: This is factually incorrect and again reflects lack of knowledge or deliberate misrepresentation. The offshore company loan has been received through proper banking channels and declared in the IMC books of accounts. As part of bank lending requirements IMC initially issued a Privately placed Term finance certificate of 900 Mn which was subsequently fully paid and subsequently has obtained lending facilities form varous commercial banks including NBP. In each case as standard requirement banks have required the offshore loan to be subordinated to the local lending which means that the offshore loan cannot repaid till such time as IMC repays its local loans form commercial banks. Subordination does not in any way mean it will not be repaid. It means it cannot be repaid before local banks. Also sensational statement do not explain the illegality or which law is broken
GEO has been given loan due to offshore company guarantee.
Reality: A subordination of loan means that such loan will not be repaid before commercial loan. How does that classify or mean that there is any offshore guarantee. Does the person making the allegation have any banking knowledge of whether Pakistani banks can lend against offshore corporate guarantees? National Bank and all other banks that have lent to Group companies are fully secured against local immovable properties of much higher value. Can the allegation be supported by any observation of the State Bank of Pakistan in their audit whereby they have doubted the security of any loans given by commercial banks to GEO or Jang Group companies or is the job of regulator has also now been adopted by the person making allegations
Mir Shakil ur Rahman is main sponsor and also issue Personal Guarantee against loan to NBP despite being defaulter.
Reality: It is a known fact and also in SECP that MSR is the largest individual shareholder of all Jang group companies including Geo. How is that a revelation and how is that illegal. Further he has alleged that MSR is a defaulter. Every person in Pakistan who obtains any commercial lending privately or through his company if defaults is stated by SBP in its ECIB reporting as a defaulter. How has he made that statement without any record for any bank default from the State Bank or any commercial bank in Pakistan. He may obtain that check even today from SBP and neither MSR himself and nor any Jang/ GEO Group companies are stated as defaulters. Clearly making allegations without proof and without any knowledge of facts or banking laws of Pakistan
It is a standard requirement of banks to obtain as additional security the Personal Guarantee of the principal shareholder in addition to immoveable properties. This effectively means that if the company being a private limited company defaults then MSR as an individual will also be responsible of repayment of the loan from his personal wealth. Again making allegations of wrongdoing without any knowledge of banking or corporate laws or and claiming of wrongdoing without any basis.
Principle sponsor was MSR whereas it is being claimed that this transaction was of private property.
Reality:MSR is principle sponsor and shareholder of IMC- GEO and has given personal guarantee in that capacity against loan form commercial bank. How is that in any way linked to the property sale transaction which occurred 34 years ago. The person making the argument has clearly no knowledge of what he is talking about and how he is connecting completely irrelevant facts with each other to distort everything.
NBP issued loans to IMC Geo despite it being defaulter and then further issued loans including 1 Bn and 2.5 Bn
Reality:The Jang Group companies have a combined turnover much higher than the total lending outstanding that they have obtained over the years from any bank. Seeking working capital and medium term facilities from commercial banks is part of normal course of business and to date various companies have obtained commercial facilities form not just NBP but majority of the large commercial banks in Pakistan and continue to do so and repay on a timely basis. It is unclear as to what is the allegation in this. Since when have obtaining commercial loans in normal business practice been deemed illegal. No proof has bene offered or default or write off but allegations are made with sensationalism devoid or any actual facts of any form of wrongdoing whatsoever. Further it is not understandable as to why the person making the allegations have not bothered to show similar documents of other banks which have also provided commercial facilities to group companies and only NBP . Clearly illegal authority has been used to obtain NBP documents and then misrepresent the same without any basis. Why is the same not presented to the SBP as regulator and NBP fined for any wrongdoing. No group company has obtained any 2.5 BN loan so again making an allegation without any proof.
These kinds of allegations are not new to MSR nor the group. In past, we have faced a series of defamatory allegations though the accusers had no proof to substantiate them. The most prominent example is ARY News that had started a highly dangerous and vindictive campaign in November 2014, using Islam and patriotism as a tool. The channel repeatedly alleged that MSR was an agent of Indian intelligence agency RAW, Israel’s Mossad and American CIA. ARY had alleged that MSR was guilty of treason, hatching conspiracy with Indian intelligence and other agencies; disloyalty to Pakistan; blasphemy; offered to broadcast American intelligence agency’s choice of television programmes in return for money, thereby deceiving the Pakistani people. The channel alleged that MSR was involved in attempting to destroy evidence at the crime scene of the attack on Hamid Mir and ridiculing teachings of Islam. ARY specifically stressed that Geo and Jang were traitors and defamed Islam, inciting violence against MSR alleging that he was a blasphemer and had defamed Islam.
In the UK territory, there were 11,000 story tickers and 113 Khara Sach programmes in which MSR was called traitor 224 times, and blasphemer 1,880 times. MSR took the case to the London High Court stressing that he was being victimised and that all allegations against him were unfounded, false, wrong and had no foundation in truth.
However, The London High Court had actually announced a historic victory for MSR as the court found ARY guilty of making 24 separate defamatory claims against MSR that were libelous and baseless. The court ordered the channel to pay damages of £185,000. The total cost to ARY in full was around 40 crore Rupees – around £3 million.
The decision was a defeat of the grand plan to make MSR controversial through false allegations and misuse of patriotism and religion. ARY has been proved a liar and it has admitted in court that it leveled allegations of getting funds from foreign powers by Jang and Geo in reaction to an alleged attack on it. Justice Sir Eady said that there is no doubt that MSR was singled out for persistent abuse and ridicule for a year and he was regularly taunted by the presence of an empty chair, the purpose of which was to suggest that he was afraid of coming and defending himself against any of the allegations being made. The judge said that it was clear that the ARY holds MSR in contempt.
Not only this but UK media regulator Ofcom had revoked the licences of all the six ARY Network channels in the UK following that judgement in 2017. ARY went into liquidation and applied for bankruptcy after losing a £3 million libel case to Geo and Jang Group Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman (MSR) at the London High Court. This was one of the harshest punishments for the media in the history of the UK.