WASHINGTON DC, May 31, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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How a Cook Unraveled a Multi-Billion Dollar Army Scam in Lahore

By M T Butt

ISLAMABAD, May 31: A Pakistani chef of an influential Saudi Royal Family Prince cooked the goose of a top Pakistani General, several of his crony officers and has brought monumental infamy to the Pakistan Army, by exposing the biggest ever land fraud in the country’s history.

This cook must get the Pride of Performance Award because he unknowingly forced General Pervez Musharraf to admit the biggest scandal of his six-year tenure – the grabbing of land and fictitious sales of non-existent residential plots, for billions of rupees, to unsuspecting innocent Pakistanis, living both inside Pakistan and abroad.

The bizarre story of the Saudi cook began when Mohammed Sharif (name changed) bought a piece of land in the Lahore Defence Housing Authority, managed and run by Army Officers, falling prey to the dubious sale of plots, believing that since Pakistan Army was managing it, he would not be swindled and would be able to get a piece of land which will give him and his family dividends on his investment.

The poor man was sadly mistaken. When on a brief vacation to Lahore, Mohammed Sharif wanted to have a look at the piece of land he had supposedly paid for, the Pakistan Army Brigadier and his juniors in the DHA, gave him the usual frustrating run around. He was never shown his land.

Exhausted, shocked and in a state of disbelief, Mohammed Sharif returned to his job with the Prince but at an opportune moment informed his royal employer of what had happened. The Prince was furious. He straightway picked up the phone and dialed General Pervez Musharraf.

Deeply embarrassed, the General, who would not listen to any one else except, of course, some body from Washington, asked his Vice Chief to order an inquiry as the main culprit was Musharraf’s own recently-shifted Corps Commander in Lahore, Lt. General Zarrar Azim, famous in Lahore Real Estate circles as General Zarrar Zamin.

Since the new Corps Commander wanted the facts, it turned out that the entire hierarchy of DHA, headed by a Brigadier was deep in collusion with some real estate agencies and were minting billions in fraudulent sales to people like Mohammed Sharif.

The entire top management of DHA was removed but no one, including the Brigadier, was sacked, obviously because General Zarrar Azim, now posted in the GHQ, protected them.

The news of the DHA shake-up was broken by Lahore’s Daily “The News” on February 5, 2005. In a report from Lahore it said the military authorities had removed the top management of DHA on alleged corruption in the planned Phases 6-10 of the Lahore Cantonment Cooperative Housing Society (LCCHS). Click to read story

But the newspaper said DHA Administrator Brigadier Abdul Jalil Khan, Director Land, Lt. Col Ikram, Director Transfers Lt. Col Feroz Bhatti and Deputy Director Land Major Razaq had only been shifted and “placed at the disposal of the Station Headquarters.”

“Brigadier Fazal Nawaz Khan has replaced the outgoing Administrator Brigadier Abdul Jalil. Brigadier Nawaz Khan is from infantry, and has been posted at the National Defense College (NDC). The military authorities have constituted an enquiry committee, headed by Commandant Signals Brigade of the 4 Corps Brigadier Khalilullah Butt. The enquiry is underway against military officials and some high-profile realtors."

"The realtors include Yousuf Chauhan of the Chauhan Estate, Haji Allah Ditta of Defense Estate Mr Sahir of Sahir Estate. Apart from these, the owners of Panjnad Estate are also being interrogated,” the newspaper reported.

In its own guarded way, since writing negatively about top Army officers is a risky business in Pakistan, The News said: “The trail of the enquiry is expected to lead the investigators to a couple of high-ranking serving military officials as well. It is important to note this enquiry has been initiated on the orders of Vice Chief of the Army Staff (VCOAS), General Ahsan Saleem Hayat. Commander 4-Corps (Lahore), Lt-Gen Shahid Aziz, has played an important role.”

The most disgusting response about the multi-billion scandal came from the Chief Military spokesman, the Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations, Major General Shaukat Sultan, who contemptuously said: “Transfers and posting of Army officials beneath the rank of Major Generals are not made public by the Army, and media has nothing to do with it.”

The media had everything to do with it as thousands of innocent Pakistanis had risked the savings of their lives by investing in a fraud perpetrated in the name of the Pakistan Army by senior officials.

The most credible information about the scandal and the impact of the Army probe was reported by those in the business of real estate. A specialized web site on Pakistan’s Real Estate scene (Click to see full message) reproduced this comment by a reporter in the center of the scam:

“When DHA's new management started investigations, it stopped all transfers of ownership on files that were submitted by those banned dealers under investigation. Now DHA have reached some kind of agreement with these dealers. Details are not official but news on the street is that banned dealers have agreed to pay over Rs 1 billion to have their files cleared by DHA.

“Also I am told by people that this money that the DHA will get from dealers will be used to reduce development charges....Now hundreds of files that are returned to the dealers after completing transfers will be given to original owners. Remember these dealers sold these very files for Rs 6 to 7 million each just 4 weeks ago.”

“In the past week alone 600 to 700 files were handed over by DHA after transfers were completed according to some very big dealers. The spate of these files is causing price drops in the DHA market. On normal days 30-40 files are transferred by DHA.”

This reporting by insiders revealed that in one week alone if 600 plots were transferred, each costing Rs 6 million, the total would be Rs 3.6 billion. On the higher side the figure could be Rs 5 billion. All this is one week’s activity of correcting the frauds perpetrated by the sacked DHA management. The whole scandal would run into several hundred billion if not in trillions.

According to guarded reporting by another Lahore newspaper, Daily Times, (March 24, 2005), "intelligence agencies had begun investigations six months back and a large number of DHA administration employees were under surveillance. One of the officers under inquiry has agreed to reveal all he knows about the scam in exchange for immunity. Click to read story

The Daily Times reported that property dealers had acquired several acres of land belonging to the government with fake names, in connivance with land revenue officials, and thereafter gave it to the DHA authorities. “The dealers acquired agricultural land (now DHA phases 5 to 10) and handed that to the DHA free of cost on the agreement that 25 per cent would be returned to them after their inclusion in the society. Due to stark differences in the prices of agricultural and DHA property, this translated into a very lucrative profit for investors.”

The investigations have led to the blacklisting of four major real estate agents in DHA: Chauhan Estate, Defence Estate, Property Talk and Al-Rehman Associate. Their offices were sealed and their records were confiscated. DHA security personnel have been posted outside the offices to ensure no one goes in.

The DHA administrator, Brig Nawaz Khan, said about the sealing of real estate agencies, “We sealed the offices after repeated complaints by people. Investigations are continuing. I can’t add anything further.” In a press conference a few days ago, he had said, “DHA will honor its commitments to the people.”

Last week DHA allowed reopening of the real estate offices which were earlier sealed because of irregularities as a court ordered the DHA to allow it since legal formalities in closing them were not fulfilled.

This was another way of helping the collaborators otherwise why would the Army not meet legal requirements to prosecute criminals who had swindled billions.

Newspapers reported that DHA had allowed the offices to be reopened, but would not deal with them directly or indirectly. “They are still blacklisted and the DHA is not going to issue affidavits and allocation letters for property being dealt by them.” DHA authorities said that these offices had been sealed because many people had complained of “irregularities” in transactions.

The most disturbing aspect of the whole scandal, feared by some real estate experts, is that in their scramble to make big money, Army Officers working in the DHA may have sold large tracts of lands to Indian buyers who were investing in DHA lands through their Dubai front offices.

According to one source one company had been inquiring about buying 500 acres of land near the Pak-India border. Under the mess that was going it, it may have done so already.

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