To Settle Landgrabbing Case, Bahria Town Offers $3.5 Billion, an Amount as Big as Friendly Countries Gave

Pakistan’s top court seeks restitution and punitive damages from the real estate tycoon and his renowned company– a practice followed by courts and governments worldwide.

IRSHAD SALIM — For every 100 overseas Pakistanis we asked, 35 to 40 of them have their hard earnings invested in Bahria Town housing projects countrywide, either as first-time home buyers or as investors–it makes them one of the largest stakeholders as a community.

And they remain worried, since the country’s top court last year took the biggest developer to task and slapped fines for illegalities which include landgrabbing. The court has taken up implementation of its May 4, 2018 judgement in the case considered one of the biggest commercial cases value wise, and involving a well orchestrated white collar crime in the country’s history.

The Supreme Court subsequently has been asking the respondent–Bahria Town Pvt. Ltd—the firm is owned and operated by real estate tycoon Malik Riaz–to cough up penalties while giving it reprieve to continue work under close scrutiny and sought not to close the tycoon’s multibillion dollar operations in larger public interest—Pakistanis overseas would probably have been the largest potential sufferers if the top court had taken the route.

Instead, the court is seeking restitution and punitive damages from the real estate tycoon and his renowned company– a practice followed by courts and governments worldwide but hitherto untested in Pakistan.

So, when on Wednesday, when Bahria Town presented an offer totaling Rs480 billion (US$3.43 billion @ Rs140 a dollar) for three cases, including the Bahria Town Karachi Super Highway Project land, Takht Pari Forest land and the Sulkhtar and Manga land it illegally took over, the court asked the defendant to revisit its latest offer, and the hearing of the case was adjourned for a week–till March 13.

During the hearings, one of the three judges said the three billion plus dollar offer was not good enough.

“The time for making deals is over now”, said Justice Azmat Saeed while hearing the case. “We will listen to the respondents and then make a decision.” There will be no deal at the next hearing, he added.

Bahria Town can increase its offer if it wants to, he remarked. “We want dheel, even if there is no deal,” said Azhar Siddique, the lawyer for respondent Bahria Town.

Let’s say, coming week, the deal and not dheel, theoretically ends up being $3.5 billion, how huge is this number?

To give an idea: Chinese government doled out $2 billion last month which stabilized Pakistan’s dwindling foreign reserves. A similar amount was deposited by Saudi Arabia. UAE thereafter matched the Saudi number. These were huge amounts, and timely from firefighting point of view.

All three are governments albeit friendly countries which came to Pakistan’s rescue when the chips were down and the nation was in mass depression-like state of mind (to quote one respectable opinionmaker).

Mr. Riaz could have helped then, timely, but giving him benefit of doubt that it was not possible to scrape up such a  huge amount so fast, his offer now is meaningful and substantial–others waiting to standup on the dock or sit on the hot seat should take cue from the course the rule of law in Pakistan is taking.

So Bahria Town settling for $3.5 billion as return back to the government coffers (even if the full payment it says will make over several years period) is a huge number and a welcome sign in the private sector—it would place him in the honorable position as our Middle Eastern friendly governments and of course our “all-weather friend” China.

As for overseas Pakistanis and their compatriots home, the closure would end their nightmares regarding their hard-earned monies and give their favorite developer chance to keep going–in larger public interest.

(The writer is a business consultant, analyst, and Editor-in-Chief of PKonweb, DesPardes and BE2C2 Report–presently based in Islamabad)