Land fraud case against property tycoon dropped

RAWALPINDI, March 2: While Lahore High Court (LHC)’s Rawalpindi bench was examining a contempt petition against the chairman of National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for giving a clean chit to property tycoon Malik Riaz and his son in a land fraud case, an accountability court here on Saturday dropped the corruption reference against the two accused on the request of the bureau.

On February 9, NAB had filed an application with the accountability court for withdrawal of the reference in the 1,401 kanal land fraud case in which about a dozen persons, including Malik Riaz and his son Ali Riaz, were allegedly involved.

According to NAB, the evidence in the land fraud case was not enough to treat Malik Riaz and his son as accused persons in the case.

The Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) registered the case against Bahria Town and some officials of the Punjab revenue department on November 4, 2009, on the complaints of the residents of some villages near Rawat. Malik Riaz, his son and others were accused of bribing the revenue officials to get the 1,401 kanals of ‘shamilat’ or community land transferred to their names on fake documents.

On February 16, 2013, Prosecutor General Punjab Sadaqat Ali Khan on behalf of the ACE requested the accountability court to hear his point of view as well.When Accountability Judge Chaudhry Abdul Haq allowed him to argue, the counsel for NAB and Malik Riaz opposed his appearance before the court.

Subsequently, the proceeding in the case was adjourned till February 22 when the court decided to indict the accused persons.

Meanwhile, the LHC on February 18 took up the petition of the ACE filed against the NAB move to clear the tycoon in the case.

On Saturday, the NAB prosecutor requested the accountability court to decide the pending application regarding withdrawal of the reference against Malik Riaz and his son and then proceed on the indictment of the other accused.

Barrister Gohar Ali Khan, the counsel for the property tycoon, contended before the court that the ACE had no locus standi (right to speak) in the case. Therefore, the judge may decide the NAB application without hearing their (ACE) point of view.

After the transfer of the land fraud case to NAB, he added, the ACE had no jurisdiction to interfere in the matter. The court then dropped the case against the property tycoon and his son.

It may be mentioned that the land fraud case was transferred from the ACE to the accountability court in October last year after a year-long legal battle between the ACE and NAB.

In October 2011, the ACE issued warrants for the arrest of Malik Riaz and his son in the land fraud case. Malik Riaz then filed a petition with the LHC to quash the inquiry but later withdrew it when the court asked him to appear in person.

In the meantime, NAB asked the ACE to hand over the record of the said land fraud case and the chairman NAB admiral (retired) Fasih Bokhari in November 2011 issued notification for the transfer of the case.

The ACE challenged the transfer of the case in the Lahore High Court (LHC)’s Rawalpindi bench which in September last year held that the investigation conducted by the ACE was in accordance with the law.

However, it observed that the case may be transferred to the accountability court.

In the contempt petition pending in the LHC, the ACE contended that NAB under the LHC order of September 19, 2012, could only prosecute all the 14 accused persons, including Malik Riaz and his son Ali Riaz. But in violation of the court order, it conducted another investigation and declared the tycoon and his son innocent.

The accountability judge on Saturday also accepted the application of revenue official Rizwan Patwari seeking his release under a ‘plea bargain’.

He offered NAB Rs235 million for his release in the land fraud case.