The property tycoon Malik Riaz faced some intense questioning from the Supreme Court of Pakistan last Thursday. The court asked big boss about how he gained the ownership of prime real estate areas for Bahria Town Karachi in exchange for inaccessible areas and relatively worthless land.
The Supreme Court bench of five members led by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar’s was reviewing petitions filed by Bahria Town and investors against the Supreme Court’s ruling in a land allotment case which suspected a huge land swap between Malir Development Authority (MDA) and Bahria Town Karachi.
“The MDA’s prime real estate was taken in exchange for barren land alongside the Balochistan border,” Justice Asif Saeed Khosa observed at one point. “The MDA was handed [subprime] land spoiled by mounds and hillocks [in return].”
The chief justice Saqib Nisar also agreed with Justice Khosa’s judgment, adding: “The Sindh government’s land was given to Bahria through deceit. Gold was given in exchange for silver.”
During the court proceeding, one of the investors said that the court’s verdict is affecting their investments.
“Bahria Town is a safe investment as compared to the rest of Karachi,” he said before a resident of the housing scheme added: “We are living comfortably in Bahria Town.”
Replying these arguments chief justice said: “You are saying that we should not take action against Bahria no matter how much they have plundered. You are saying that we should forgive them.”
Regarding this opinion, Justice Khosa wasn’t convinced with the formula of the court making an exception for illegitimate work just because the development that is done on it was excellent and up to the standards.
“A [consolidated chunk of land] was taken from the MDA and in return, it was given bits and pieces,” the chief justice observed. He asked what losses the MDA had suffered in the controversial exchange, at which the MDA counsel simply replied that: “The MDA did not suffer any losses.”
“Malir says it did not suffer any losses; the Sindh govt says it did not suffer any losses … they are all in this together,” Justice Nisar observed.
“Here we are thinking about giving the estate back to Malir, but Malir says ‘we don’t even want it’. Who is MDA’s managing director? Why don’t we send him to jail instead?” he wondered.
Riaz, meanwhile, supported his argument by quoting the fact that land swaps have been practiced in Sindh since 1982.
“Almost 70 such land swaps have taken place,” he said. “Bahria swapped four villages with the MDA, for which Rs4 billion were deposited into the national treasury. Rs360 million were also deposited as payment for water bills.”
Later pm during the proceeding, counsel for Bahria Town, Mr. Ali Zafar told the court that his client was in possession of 1,800 canals of MDA land, and was willing to pay an additional Rs5bn to settle the matter.
However, the court refused the argument. The chief justice Saqib Nisar remarked that Pakistan needed Rs1.5 trillion to build dams, and asked Riaz if he could build one for the country. He also told the property tycoon that if he could not come up at least a trillion rupees, the case would be discussed on its merits alone.
“Why should I pay Rs10 for something that is worth a rupee,” Riaz pleaded, asking the court to reconsider. “I have already deposited Rs7bn in the court. I request the court to have mercy.”
Riaz also argued against involving the NAB in the case. He claims that “hundreds of thousands of people will get unemployed” if the project fell apart.
Zahid Bukhari, the counsel for Bahria Town investors, echoed Riaz’s sentiments, saying: “If Bahria sinks, Pakistan sinks.”
This remark considerably irked the chief justice, who advised Bukhari to think before he speaks.
“The judiciary is here to protect Pakistan,” he stated.
“I was merely talking in economic terms,” Bukhari clarified before the court recessed for a 30-minute break.
When the hearing resumed, the court had questions for the provincial government.
“The Sindh chief minister had no right to authorize the swap of MDA land,” the chief justice remarked. “When the country’s prime minister does not have the right to allot a shock to anyone, how did a chief minister exercise this right? This is why we say whatever is happening here [in Sindh] is not right.”
The chief justice also wondered why Riaz was afraid of NAB proceedings.
“If others can face their cases in NAB, why can’t Malik Riaz do the same?” he asked.
The case was later adjourned till next Thursday.