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March 26, 2020

Court extends physical remand of Jang-Geo editor-in-chief till April 7

Top Story

March 26, 2020

LAHORE: An accountability court on Wednesday extended the physical remand of Jang-Geo Group Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman till April 7 in a case pertaining to the purchase of a piece of land more than 34 years ago.

Officials of the National Accountability Bureau produced Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman before the court

of Accountability Judge Jawadul Hassan around 10am, escorted by a large number of police officials violating coronavirus protocols. NAB’s Special Prosecutor Hafiz Assadullah Awan and Asim Mumtaz represented the NAB and sought further physical remand of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.

As the hearing commenced, the NAB prosecutors argued that the landtransferred to Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman 34 years ago was an illegal transfer by the Lahore Development Authority (LDA). They alleged that the land was transferred to Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman on the directives of then Punjab chief minister Nawaz Sharif.

The NAB prosecutor reiterated old argument that proper rules and procedures for the transfer of land were not followed. The prosecutor alleged that the LDA mistakenly transferred the land to Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman in bulk. Moreover, the land was allotted to Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman at three places, the prosecutor said. "Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman illegally got the land allotment transferred to a single place," the prosecutor said.

On this, the judge asked the investigation officer when the LDA got possession of the land to which the IO was unable to answer. The IO was unable to differentiate between award of land and possession of land. By seeing this, the judge asked him to consult a revenue officer if he couldn’t manage the investigation. The judge reprimanded the NAB official at this point, telling him not to indulge in political arguments and questioned why the NAB needs further physical remand of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.

The prosecutor replied that the bureau had summoned former DG LDA Humayoun Faiz Rasool and he had appeared before the bureau and recorded his initial statement. He was summoned again on March 20 but he didn’t appear. However, the former DG LDA had assured that he will appear on March 26. The prosecutor said they required physical custody of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman for confrontation with the former DG LDA.

The court asked NAB officials to explain how the land in question could have been transferred to Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman by the LDA before the authority had taken possession of it. "The LDA can only transfer rights of land after it has taken possession of it," the court reminded the prosecutor.

On the other end, Amjad Parvez, counsel for Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, argued that his client obliged the NAB at every juncture in the case. He argued that the NAB arrested his client in haste. He said the NAB had all documents and files related to the case with it, and there is no reason to detain Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman any longer.

"The NAB has the documents, the files, the so-called confessions from government officers. Why does the NAB not make a case and prove it in court instead of asking for the physical custody of my client?" Parvez asked. "The NAB says it wants to arrange a meeting between a former officer of the LDA and my client. Why does the NAB need to arrest Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman to hold this meeting?" the counsel argued.

Parvez noted he had not seen a case like this before in his twenty-year career, where the arresting authority has shown so much haste in making an arrest. "It is in their own rules that before even asking a businessman 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 Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman before these rules had been followed."

The lawyer added the NAB chairman signed the arrest warrants of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman even before the latter arrived with written answers to NAB questions. "How could the NAB chairman have seen the answers before Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman presented them to the body?" he asked. Parvez said it seems the NAB chief had made up his mind to arrest Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. "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," Parvez outlined.

"The arrest warrants then travelled from Islamabad to Lahore physically. The chain of events witnessed in lead-up to the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman indicates that the NAB chief had made up his mind to arrest him before giving the DG due time to assess the case," he noted.

The court ordered the NAB to produce the record regarding the possession of land by the LDA. "The NAB chairman violated the laws of the body by ordering the arrest," the defence counsel said and 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.” "How many owners of the land in question are there?" the court asked the NAB prosecutor. "There is only one owner of this land," the prosecutor replied.

The defence counsel disputed this claim. "There are seven owners of the land under investigation," he said. "The claim by the NAB that there is only one owner of the land is false," the counsel added. He argued that it is a matter of liberty of a citizen. The only crime committed by his client is that his organization criticizes the NAB and such criticism is good in faith. He argued that the NAB chairman arrested his client in excessive use of authority and the same is being criticized by his client’s group. The counsel argued that due to excessive use of authority, the NAB has to face embarrassment in higher courts. The manner in which his client was arrested by the NAB is not justified. The counsel concluded that there is no need to grant the NAB extension in the physical custody of his client as the bureau has mala fide intentions for seeking extension in the physical remand.

After hearing the arguments of both parties, the judge went into his chamber for an hour, and emerged without a written ruling, instead declaring verbally that he has decided to extend the physical remand of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman till April 7.