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Geo fails to pay punitive damages to A&B Productions

Geo fails to pay punitive damages to A&B Productions

Geo fails to pay punitive damages to A&B Productions

The Independent Media Corporation of Mir Shakil-ur Rahman was slapped a Rs2.25bn fine.

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KARACHI: The Independent Media Corporation of Mir Shakil-ur Rahman is locked in a bitter legal battle for breaching its contract with a private production house and non-payment of punitive damages worth Rs 2.25 billion slapped by an Arbitration Court in 2019.

A&B Productions run by Pakistan’s veteran actor Asif Raza Mir and leading director Babar Javed had approached an arbitration court demanding justice against the agreement violations committed by the Independent Media Group which owns the Jang and Geo Group.

Saad Shoaib, a lawyer representing A&B Productions, said that his clients signed an agreement in 2013 for their company’s merger with the Dubai-based Independent Media Corporation (IMC).

The terms of the agreement were never fully implemented by Independent Media Corporation, forcing A&B Productions to take the dispute to the Islamabad-based Arbitration Court in 2019, which gave a verdict in favour of the complainant, he said.

The Independent Media Group has yet to settle the amount, which is likely to lead to the auctioning of its assets for the execution of the court’s decree, Shoaib told Bol News.

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The lawyer said that initially, Geo gave fancy offers to A&B Productions, which was a “bait” to trap the production house and gain control of all their content.

“Asif Raza Mir and Babar Javed – the co-owners of A&B Productions – were approached by Geo with an offer to form a joint venture for the production of entertainment content for their channel in 2013,” he said.

“They entered into an agreement the same year and both Asif and Babar were promised senior management positions at Geo; Babar Javed was even appointed as the Chief Operating Officer.”

Matters were supposed to be settled regarding the shareholding of the merged entity and inclusion of the names of Asif Raza Mir and Babar Javed on the license of Geo Entertainment, the lawyer said.

But what the veteran actor and the director thought would be a win-win situation for the partners of this new venture transformed into a nightmare for them.

Contrary to the rosy picture presented to the co-owners of A&B Productions by Geo Group, it started using ‘malicious tactics’ against the new partners with a clear intent of not fulfilling all the clauses of the agreement.

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Geo Group came up with another agreement with harsh conditions after the transfer of equipment, library, resources and other intellectual properties was duly done by A&B Productions as per the previous agreement.

Even the second agreement was not properly signed on behalf of the Independent Media Corporation as signatures of its 17 subsidiaries were missing on it, the lawyer said.

The lawyer said that the “devious behaviour” of Geo Group left everything hanging in the middle for A&B Productions. “After back-and-forth dialogues, the situation remained unclear and unresolved leading to open differences between the co-owners of the production house and Geo Entertainment.

“The Independent Media Corporation did not implement its part of the deal, including the share transfer, the licensing and the allocation and determining the financial value of the joint venture.”

“The only thing done by them (Geo) was the financial audit of the valuables and the assessment of assets’ net value on the basis of equipment and entertainment content (of the A&B Productions), which was estimated to be around Rs.3 to 4 billion.”

“After several rounds of failed negotiations between the two parties, in 2019 the A&B Productions finally decided to initiate arbitration proceedings against the Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman’s Independent Media Corporation,” the lawyer added.

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The A&B Productions filed a claim worth eight billion rupees in the Islamabad arbitration court, but the Independent Media Corporation used delaying tactics in a bid to prolong the hearing of the case.

First, the Independent Media objected to the filing of the case in Islamabad, but the judge overruled it as the case could be filed anywhere across the country, Saad Shoaib said.

“Later on, the Independent Media Corporation agreed on hearing the case in Islamabad. However, because of the delaying tactics of the defendants and the Covid-19 pandemic, the arbitrator took time in giving a decision.”

In 2021, the Court finally ordered the Independent Media Corporation to give Rs.2.25 billion to A&B Productions – an amount which was much less than the actual claim of eight billion rupees.

“Considering the fact that half a loaf is better than none, A&B Productions agreed. However, the Independent Media Corporation delayed the payment and the awarded amount considerably lost its value because of the sharp depreciation of the Pakistani rupee against the US dollar,” the lawyer said.

The Independent Media tried to manipulate and pressurise the arbitrator, and even recorded his call without his permission, according to the lawyer.

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Mir Shakil-ur Rahman’s company filed an objection against the awarded amount, giving unjustified reasons including terming the verdict illegal and accusing the judge of misconduct, he said. However, when an arbitration court pronounces a judgment in terms of the award, it officially becomes the decree of the court.

The lawyer said that later the Independent Media challenged the awarded penalty in the High Court and there too is again resorting to delaying tactics. “On one hand, we are making our best efforts to get things done on time but on the other hand, the lawyers defending Geo are dragging their feet to prolong the proceedings, the lawyer alleged.

In Pakistan, there is now more emphasis on processing the arbitration proceedings without any needless delay.

“In our case, however, the arbitration proceedings which started in 2019 are now entering into 2023… I am sure that Geo (the Independent Media Corporation) will take the matter to the Supreme Court once the High Court announces a verdict against them. As things currently stand, it is quite clear that Geo has no option left other than just to delay the proceedings of the case,” the lawyer added.

To slow down the hearing at the High Court, Geo is now frequently changing lawyers. “This is a common strategy of those lawyers, who are defending cases which cannot be defended.”

As per the award execution proceedings, the lawyers of A&B Productions have filed an application in the court against the Independent Media Corporation to attach in the case its assets/properties which could be sold for the execution of the decree.

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A&B Productions’ lawyers have also filed an application to block the CNICs and passports of Independents Media Corporation’s shareholders, including that of the wife of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and their daughter. An application to attach the licenses of Geo Entertainment and Geo Tez owned by Independent Media Group in the case has also been filed.

“If they (defendants) refuse to provide their CNICs, passports and the required bank account details then the court has the authority to summon their records from the FIA, NADRA, the State Bank of Pakistan, PEMRA and FBR to attach their assets in the execution of the decree,” the lawyer said.

 

 

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