An offer which couldn’t be refused
“I will make him an offer he can’t refuse,” is a dialogue by the famous Mafia boss, Vito Corleone, in the Mario Puzo novel, The Godfather. The novel, most notably quoted by Mr Justice Asif Saeed Khosa (as then he was) whilst rendering the Panama Papers judgement was centers around a New York crime family. The egocentric dialogue with a tinge of arrogance was indeed part of best-seller fiction. However, it perturbs the conscience of most when we see such dialogues being crystallized into reality by similar figures present within our society.
Vito Corleone, successfully, persuaded his enemies and friends alike to bend his way. As an avid businessman, he made offers to all sorts, often being able to convince them with his words and on some occasions resorting to violence. If we look closely, then we might be able to relate the workings of Don Corleone with some prominent figures in our society. The Bahria Town chieftain to begin with. Malik Riaz, on more than once occasion, has uttered the conceited words stating that money is the only power in Pakistan and he can make anybody bend at his will using the power of his wealth.
Surprisingly enough, he has proven true to his word and has taken on most with the power of his wealth. He is one of the very few to have taken on an incumbent Chief Justice, eventually to escape any retaliation. Despite accusations of land-grabbing and corruption at the highest levels, Mr. Riaz has always wriggled out of tight corners. One might wonder how. He is yet to be the target of NAB’s infamous asset-beyond-means allegations.
His escapades of giving out cars and villas is famous throughout the country. The planted interview with two famous journalists flashes through one’s eyes when we think about the power of his wealth. Using his money, he pre-planned an entire interview so as to clear his image only to be exposed by a member of the technical team who leaked the video.
For most, however, he is a saviour from God. Quite interestingly, Mr Riaz disguises his wealth and other deeds, which he wouldn’t want highlighted, by spending exasperating amounts on philanthropy. Thousands of people are fed everyday, owing to the Bahria Town tandoors that he has organized throughout the country. Poor people are fed, given access to healthcare and even granted a roof to sleep under by the real-estate tycoon. He is even known to be helpful in general, should a man require his help. One must give Mr Malik the credit for not being arrogant and never hiding from his humble beginnings.
In spite of the good deeds, a man must answer and be held accountable for any deeds which are impermissible. Wealth, no matter how it is spent, must be accounted for if the same seems to be accumulated through ill-gotten means. If the accusations are indeed true, then a large amount of the lands owned by Bahria Town belong to poor citizens of Pakistan who have been deprived of their rightful property. A violation of Article 24 of the Constitution, perhaps.
The mighty and the powerful, whenever caught, would easily escape the wrath of justice by using money which itself in all probability would have been made through illicit means
Fast-forward, after years of successful ventures, Malik Riaz found himself before the Supreme Court answering for illegal acquisition of lands. Astonishingly enough, the media reported talk of a deal being negotiated between Malik Riaz and the apex court. The counsel representing Mr Riaz made offers to pay a colossal amount. Within days, the country saw the highest court of the land negotiating a price with Malik Riaz so as to estop the NAB from pursuing any references against him. Despite terming the entire Malir development land exchange saga illegal, the apex court was willing to provide some relief to the real-estate tycoon.
When the verdict was reserved, most legal wizards opined that the Supreme Court would never set a dangerous precedent by allowing Malik Riaz to wriggle out of this corner using the power of money. The Supreme Court nevertheless had plans of its own. The offer to pay money was accepted and a comprehensive mechanism for payments in installments over a seven-year period was devised.
The lordships in their own intellect and diligence may have sufficient reasons to accept this deal and allow Malik Riaz to escape NAB references by paying. Investment of countless overseas Pakistanis as well as local citizens was at stake. The industry as a whole has been taken into account seemingly.
However, in my humble opinion, the decision is not one which would be celebrated by the legal fraternity. Pakistan is far from actively adopting plea-bargain mechanisms. Disassociating oneself and remaining strictly within the confines of law is the ethos personified for a judge. Not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done. No matter the repercussions, the highest constitutional court should restrict itself to deliver judgements in accordance with law and should not attempt to remedy the defects present within the legislation. Such a deal would be considered constitutional over-reach as the same is contradictory of the Court’s own declaration. If any act is illegal, then no amount of money should be able to make it legal.
The deterrent of punishment and answering for ill-gotten wealth will be extinguished from our country if such precedents are set and allowed. The mighty and the powerful, whenever caught, would easily escape the wrath of justice by using money which itself in all probability would have been made through illicit means. The law of punishment will be confined for the weak whose crimes would have done much less damage to the country as opposed to the sentences they will be serving.
Payment aside, a person guilty of illegal land acquisition should be made to face trial and answer for his alleged crimes. Otherwise, land grabbers throughout the country could be allowed to make delayed payments over a period of years and get legal hold of lands otherwise acquired illegally.