Our Beacon Forum

The untouchable
By:Muhammad Rafi Karachi
Date: Thursday, 18 October 2018, 5:10 pm

The ‘untouchable’ Malik Riaz
Currently the seventh richest person in Pakistan, with an estimated wealth of over a billion dollars, Malik Riaz started as a small time contractor in the 80s. Details of how he managed to rise from being an ordinary clerk in the Military Engineering Service, to become one of Pakistan's biggest business magnates, in less than two decades are sketchy

Ikram Sehgal

OCTOBER 17, 2018

In 2013, Shoaib Suddle, the Federal Tax Ombudsman investigating Malik Riaz and Arsalan Iftikhar, son of former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, ordered the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to recover of Rs 119 billion owed by real estate tycoon Malik Riaz in taxes. No surprise that this was set aside by then president, Asif Ali Zardari. The key to most of Malik Riaz’s successes since 2008, was to divert his connections from those in uniform and through the good officers of Pakistan, Malik gained Zardari’s partnership. With Rahman Malik as the Federal Interior Minister – police non-interference in his land grabbing in the Islamabad, Rawalpindi vicinity; was assured. Malik Riaz specialised in maximizing his connections in the right circles by either buying their ‘services’ or manipulating them.

Given that the President of Pakistan has sweeping powers, but if he becomes an active business accomplice of a criminal, albeit a white collar one, can he then absolve him of the huge taxes owed to the government? It would be interesting to figure out the Constitutionality in all of this. Currently the seventh richest person in Pakistan according to Wikipedia, with an estimated wealth of over a billion dollars, Malik Riaz started as a small time contractor in the 80s. Details of how he managed to rise up from an ordinary clerk in Military Engineering Service (MES) to become one of Pakistan’s biggest business magnates in less than two decades are sketchy.

He has openly admitted on national television to bribing senior government officials, politicians, retired servicemen and others to get necessary approvals and land acquisition for his projects, yet he or his company have never been convicted of any major misdemeanor

Malik Riaz’s Bahria Town project on the Super Highway in Karachi has been embroiled in scandal and controversy since its inception in 2014, due to some very dubious dealings. This could not have taken place without direct connivance and intervention by Zardari. A detailed report by the Pakistan Rangers Sindh in 2015, during a meeting of the Sindh “Apex Committee” in May alleged that the Sindh government had handed over 44,000 acres of government land near the Sindh Super Highway to Bahria Town. While these allegations were then vehemently denied by the Bahria Town management and Malik Riaz, the Sindh government and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) officials remained mum at that time. Do you wonder why the Sindh government was loathed to give the Rangers extension for maintaining law and order in Karachi, and for NAB to function in Sindh? Orders were given by the Sindh government to all their subordinate offices not to cooperate with NAB, and that is supposed to be Constitutional! Anwar Majeed and Dr. Asim Hussain are just tip of the iceberg in a criminal understanding that has no parallel in the world or in history.

The ease with which a project of the magnitude of Bahria Town, Karachi has been undertaken and the speed at which it had been progressing indicates the collusion of Zardari, on whose instructions elected officials in Sindh helped Malik Riaz acquire land illegally, and allocate state land to Bahria Town. Many small villages on the Super Highway consisting of huts were demolished; the occupants were forced to leave fearing for their lives to make way for Bahria Town. Residents of villages in many areas of district Malir have a similar tale of harassment and intimidation. After selling or abandoning their land, many have fled after being implicated in false cases of terrorism by the police. What action has been taken against those police officials?

In its comprehensive judgement in May 2018, a three-member bench of the Supreme Court (SC) barred Bahria Town, Karachi from selling any plot or constructed apartment, declaring the grant of land to the Malir Development Authority (MDA), and its exchange with the land of the private land developers illegal and void ab initio. Heading the bench, Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, also ordered NAB to resume its inquiry into the matter and take investigations to their logical end. Malik Riaz, literally begged the SC not to let NAB have anything to do with this project. The bench had taken up a number of petitions involving the grant of 9,385-acre land in 43 Dehs by MDA to Bahria Town Karachi in 2015. The land was granted for the launch of an incremental housing scheme, however, MDA exchanged the land with Bahria Town without inviting bids and allowed Bahria to launch a scheme of its own. MDA’s prime real estate was exchanged for barren land alongside the Balochistan border with no commercial value. MDA can only lease out its land to private developers, however in Malik Riaz’s case the ownership of land was transferred to Bahria Town, this unlawful action caused heavy losses to the government.

The SC verdict also held;that all the subject land would go back to MDA with Bahria Town, getting back the land it gave in exchange to MDA. MDA would also be liable to pay the amount received from Bahria Town against the land. Bahria Town will not be able to launch any new project until the final settlement of this case. Plot owners with ongoing installment plans were directed to submit their due installments, in a separate account to be created as per the directions of the SC. The verdict also stated that an implementation bench of the SC; will be set up to ensure, that all directions of the SC are followed and oversee the terms of revised land deal between MDA and Bahria Town.

Heading a five-member bench hearing a petition by Bahria Town seeking review of the SC’s May judgement in Sep 2018, Chief Justice of Pakistan(CJP), Mian Saqib Nisar questioned the political connections and intention; behind the passage of a law that resulted in the exchange of land between the MDA and Bahria Town, Karachi. My good friend Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, argued that court should not lose sight of the fact that Bahria Town, Karachi converted a barren desert into a Dubai-esque living facility. Malik Riaz claimed that the lifestyle quality in Bahria Town was equivalent to that of a five-star hotel facility. Moreover he said that, it was even better than in the United Kingdom, and that this has never been made available to middle and lower middle class until now. These arguments asked the SC to ignore all the irregularities and corruption evident in the project and instead look at the fine quality of work done. The CJP very rightly stated that he did not want to label Malik Riaz, as Robin Hood who also took positive actions, by doling out among the poor what he robbed from the rich, observing that that the court would never allow any individual to swallow or monopolise public land. On October 11, Bahria Town Karachi withdrew its petition challenging the May 4, SC decision when the court expressed its intention of constituting an ‘Implementation Bench’ as suggested in the verdict.

The SC held Bahria Town, Rawalpindi responsible for the encroachment of 1170 kanals of forest land in the Takht Pari area near Islamabad. While the Forest Department, itself had encroached on an area measuring 765 kanals of Bahria Town. The court struck down this mutual encroachment deal, deeming it illegal and having no effect. On Oct 9, the Sindh High Court restrained Malik Riaz from leaving Pakistan while granting him transitory bail in another land-related fraud and forgery case lodged by the Additional Secretary of Forests and Wildlife, Punjab. Having been given early warning Malik Riaz, is believed to have left the country in his private aircraft. One may ask how did he manage to transfer huge sums abroad, particularly to the UK? Without money-laundering how could he manage to acquire vast property in the UK, and what is the British Government going to do about it?

Another controversial Bahria project is the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) Valley, Islamabad, housing project initiated in August 2008. A joint venture between Bahria Town and DHA was proposed for the bereaved families of martyred military personnel, it was supposed to be completed by 2011. It faced delays due to several issues, including litigation, slow pace of development work, allegations of corruption, etc. About 110,000 civilians, 41,000 serving and retired military officers and families of martyrs were cheated in this scam, a proper investigation must apportion who is to blame? A case filed in May 2016, in the SC alleged that Rs 62 billion collected by DHA from the public was transmitted to Bahria Town’s account, under an invalid agreement and without any lawful authority; in essence this amount was embezzled.

With all the ads that he pays for and all the perks he gives to the electronic media owners and TV anchors – two were caught on tape accepting houses as gifts -, do you think anyone in their right mind in the media will take him on?

Maj (Retd) Kamran Kayani, a brother of former COAS Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani along with some retired army officials, was also part of the scam, as his firm was hired to provide land for DHA Valley scheme. Despite the passage of six years, Gen Kayani’s brother failed to deliver the plots; prompting DHA to take the case to NAB. DHA says Kamran Kayani was embezzling money. In October 2016, former Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif had the courage to hold his predecessor’s brothers accountable, he gave a green signal to NAB to take stern action against all the accused, this included retired military officers and civilians, however, the then NAB administration dragged its feet and failed to take significant action. While NAB must remain the relevant anti-graft agency, it is in the interest of the Army itself that they investigate, all those serving and ex-servicemen (particularly two star and above) working (or associated with) with Malik Riaz who were allotted houses or plots, in return for services provided. A proper investigation must clear all the Adjutant Generals (AGs) of the period and their immediate serving subordinates involved in land dealing.Whatever happened to the Rs 62 billion paid to Riaz by DHA Islamabad forcing them to reschedule re-payments to the banks? Incidentally is it a fact that Malik Riaz constructed a huge retaining wall on the Soan River so that Gen Kayani’s 10 or so kanals at Morgah multiplied overnight by 10-15 times to 200 kanals, or even more? When my friend Shuja Nawaz, brother of Gen Asif Nawaz, showed me the photographs of Kayani’s house, I could not believe it.

One unfortunate, but perhaps not so unsurprising aspect, of the Bahria Town Karachi affair is that it failed to garner much attention in mainstream media, barring only one mainstream English daily; that has been reporting on the ongoing saga. While this might seem strange, this demonstrates Malik Riaz’s reach and his influence. He has openly admitted on national television to bribing senior government officials, politicians, retired servicemen and others to get necessary approvals and land acquisition for his projects, yet he or his company have never been convicted of any major misdemeanor. With all the ads that he pays for and all the perks he gives to the electronic media owners and TV anchors – two were caught on tape accepting houses as gifts -, do you think anyone in their right mind in the media will take him on? He wields such power he can have rules and regulation changed to serve his interests, or to have unwanted people removed overnight from positions they hold. It is time he was interrogated by NAB and all his accomplices and associates in crime exposed – and duly punished whoever they may be.

Now that the law and order situation is under control, Karachi’s major problem is water. Zardari and Malik Riaz did not spare the citizens of Karachi in their greed, it was nothing short of criminal to divert four, three-inch diameter water connections, meant for Karachi’s water scarce poverty stricken areas, illegally to Bahria Town from the Dumlottee intersection. While, Bahria Town has been stealing from Karachi’s scant potable water resources, an acute water shortage is forcing Karachi’s citizens to purchase exorbitantly priced water tankers, or stand at communal taps to obtain water for daily use. Respected Chief Justice, did Robin Hood direct river water from rivers, going to the poor fairness to provide water for the lands of the aristocracy? Robin Hood’s name must not be disparaged by comparing him to Malik Riaz. Robin Hood at least had a conscience. Even with the involvement of corrupt government officials and government departments, this could never have been possible without Zardari’s direct instructions.

Forget the open-for-public splendor of the PM and Provincial Governor’s houses, the people must go look at the massive palace, Malik Riaz has constructed for Zardari in Bahria Town. The monarchs of this world would become jealous. Basically we are hypocrites in giving, Zardari Constitutional cover for his greed. Malik Riaz’s entourage of high-paid lawyers, retired senior civil and military professionals; are all well versed in manipulating the governance process. They continue to ensure that even without Zardari as President – but as the virtual monarch of Sindh -he has managed till now to get away on legal technicalities. So did Al Capone till he was caught for tax evasion and money-laundering. The question therefore arises, will the “untouchable” Malik Riaz ever be held accountable? (the writer is a defence and security analyst).

The writer is a defence and security analyst

Published in Daily Times, October 17th 2018.