If you are friends with Malik Riaz, you get bullet proof cars (Nawaz’s children), a 21st century fort (Zardari’s house), foreign trips (like those Arsalan Iftikhar went on), and so much more. He’s the closest thing to Aladdin’s Genie in the real world and I have always wondered, how Pakistan’s version of Donald Trump amassed his untold riches. Fortunately, the Supreme Court (SC) might have just unveiled his secret formula to success.
On May 4, the SC passed a landmark judgement, against Bahria Town – Pakistan’s biggest developer. The verdict is an indictment against the government of Sindh and the private land developer, as they attempted to defraud the public in a case involving 11,063 acres of public property.
The decision lambasted the Malir Development Authority (MDA), along with the Board of Revenue, for their brazen violation of the Colonisation of Government Land Act 1912 (COGLA) and the Malir Development Authority Act 1993, in the massive land grant.
According to the order, the land allotted to Bahria Town was supposed to be developed by MDA primarily as an “incremental housing scheme” (maximum size of 120 square yards), to provide affordable housing for the impoverished. However, it was erroneously gifted to Malik Riaz, who marketed it to millionaires and billionaires both within Pakistan and abroad.
The government agencies illegally gave “propriety rights” to the business tycoon, by disposing of the land, instead of a standard tenancy agreement, where the government maintains ultimate ownership.
The plunder continued, with land swaps of hundreds of acres, where Bahria Town exchanged its privately-held property in far-flung areas such as Thatta, with prime public land located near the Super Highway. Even in cases of cash purchase, Riaz paid an amount in 2011, which was less than 50 percent of the market price of those lands in 2006.
In light of the above facts, the SC declared the deal void ab initio – invalid from the outset – restoring the Sindh government as the legal owner of the 11,000 acres.
However, to safeguard the interest of the people, who have already invested in the project, the court has ordered its Karachi registry to open a special account to collect their remaining instalments, while the order is implemented.
The court has given the government and Bahria Town an opportunity to negotiate a new agreement but this time it will be under the watch of the honourable judges.
Furthermore, the SC has instructed the National Accountability Bureau to continue its investigation and present its final report in three months, filing charges against those involved in the above misappropriation of public property.
Without the intervention of the court, Riaz would have siphoned off billions and he might still get away with it, expanding his business empire, but his legacy, will forever remain tainted.