LAHORE: An accountability court on Monday acquitted Jang group Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakilur Rehman and two former officers of the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) in a reference of 34-year-old “illegal” land allotment.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) alleged that Mr Rehman illegally obtained exemption of 54 plots, each measuring one-kanal, situated in Block-H, Johar Town.

It was alleged the allotment of the land had been made in connivance with then chief minister Nawaz Sharif against the exemption policy and the laws for monetary gains, causing a loss of Rs143.53 million to the national exchequer.

The other two accused were LDA’s former director general Humayon Faiz Rasool and its former director of land development department Mian Bashir Ahmad.

The verdict, that had been reserved on Jan 26, announced by presiding judge Asad Ali says the prosecution based its case mainly on two grounds; firstly the accused, Mr Rehman, paid price for excess land on reserve price and not at the market price; secondly in violation of exemption policy, the accused has been exempted/allotted plot in composite block, including two streets.

The judge notes that the accused got plots in 1986 and the LDA, as per a prosecution witness, pronounced a policy of requiring payment of excess plots at the market price in 1990. He says the policy had no retrospective effect and was applicable to future cases only.

The judge observes that nothing is outstanding against the accused regarding his exempted plot and the statements of the prosecution witnesses and record of the LDA also affirm the fact even after a lapse of more than two decades. How the LDA or any other authority could raise objection that any amount is pending due against him and that too at present market price, the judge states.

The judge also observes that no loss was caused to the LDA through any act of the accused or the co-accused persons as a prosecution witness admitted that reserve price was paid in time.

The judge holds that there might be some violation of exemption policy, but such violation cannot be treated as misuse of authority.

“In order to prove criminal responsibility, prosecution is required to establish that there exists a clear cut criminal intention/mens rea on the part of petitioners/accused,” the verdict states.

The judge maintains that in the absence of criminal intent, mere violation of procedural rules is not sufficient to constitute an offence of corruption and corrupt practices.

The judge observes that the prosecution’s case lies on presumption and assumption and no evidence is available on record to establish the element of criminal intent on the part of accused persons –former officials of the LDA.

The prosecution has failed to prove that the accused persons/LDA officials had misused their authority and caused a loss to national exchequer.

“The petitioner/accused Mir Shakilur Rehman is saddled with role of abatement in this case, when the prosecution has failed to establish main offence falling within definition of section 9 (a) (vi) NAO 1999 than how abatement of offence can be established,” the judge observes, adding that not even iota of evidence regarding the offence of abatement against Rehman is available on record.”

Allowing the acquittal application of Mr Rehman under section 265-k of CrPC, Judge Asad Ali rules that there is no supportive material with the prosecution to prove involvement of Rehman and his co-accused persons and there is no probability of their being convicted.

Although the other two accused persons – Rasool and Ahmad -- did not file the acquittal applications, the judge observes that the court can exercise its powers under section 265-K CrPC on its own at any stage of the case.

The NAB had arrested Mr Rehman on March 12, 2020 and he was sent to jail on judicial remand by the trial court on April 28. The Lahore High Court had denied him post-arrest bail on July 8 and the Supreme Court granted him bail on Nov 9, 2020.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has been declared proclaimed offender in the case for his constant non-appearance before the court.

The judge consigned the case file to the record with a direction to put up as and when Sharif is arrested and sent up for trial. The NAB prosecution team announced it would challenge the acquittal of the accused persons before the Lahore High Court.

Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2022

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