By Ansar Abbasi
ISLAMABAD: A private company owned by President Asif Ali Zardari and his son Bilawal Zardari purchased 2,460 Kanals (307 acres) of prime land in Islamabad in March 2009, valued at a CDA price of over Rs 2 billion, for a mere Rs 62 million, proving after a long wait that a 1997 NAB reference against Zardari for the same deal was justified, but had to be dropped then for lack of some missing links.
The deal which Zardari was accused of in 1997, was thus completed this March, 15 years later, after a complex process of legal cases, suits and counter-suits, between a person once declared by the then government as a front man of Asif Ali Zardari, another person believed to be closely associated with the president and a private company that is jointly owned by the president, his son and a few others.
Documents and legal papers, including the sale deed and court judgments given by the PCO-led Islamabad High Court, available with The News, prove that a Karachi-based private company, Park Lane Estates (Pvt) Ltd, purchased almost 2,500 Kanals of land near Sangjani from Faisal Sakhi Butt, who himself purchased the land from a Pakistani-American living in Houston, USA, named Muhammad Nasir Khan, for merely Rs 62 million. Nasir Khan was the original purchaser of this land in 1994 and was declared to be the front man of Zardari in the Ehtesab Bureau reference filed against him in 1997.
The latest officially CDA-assessed price of similar land, adjacent to the land in question, is Rs 850,000 per Kanal. If the Park Lane land is assessed on the basis of the rate fixed by the CDA, its market valuewould be around Rs 2 billion for the entire lot. A big chunk of land, adjacent to the presidentís land, is being acquired by the CDA at this rate although Zardari and his company got it for only Rs 25,000 per Kanal, a magic deal by all standards.
However, what is important to note is the fact that all the legal requirements were met in the purchase and transfer of this land to Park Lane Estates Pvt Ltd.
According to the Form-A Annual Return of this company, its share capital, as reflected in the SECP record, shows it has 120,000 shares of which Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Ali Zardari own 30,000 shares each. Zardari is shown as a Director and his son as a member with four others who appear as members and debenture holders.
Another man closely associated with Zardari, Muhammad Iqbal Memon of Federal B Area Karachi, is not only the Chief Executive of the company but is also reflected as its director besides owning 30,000 shares. Three other persons with the same address as that of Iqbal Memon own the remaining 30,000 shares. Memon was himself a much wanted man after the dismissal of the second Benazir government.
Besides President Zardari and Muhammad Iqbal Memon, the other directors are Rahmatullah Habib, Muhammad Younus and Altaf Hussain. All these directors and Bilawal Ali Zardari own the total 120,000 shares of the company as on August 31, 2008.
The purchase of the land at a throw-away price raises numerous questions about the president and his reported role in acquisition of the land in 1994, allegedly forcing the owners to sell their land to Nasir Khan, referred to in the Ehtesab Bureau reference as a front man. From him another middleman purchased the land in 2007 and when the PPP returned to power in 2008, the entire land was transferred to the company owned by Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto, the PPP Chairman.
The company documents prove that Zardari and Bilawal were majority shareholders, which raises questions about misuse of power and conflict of interest in such situations. The same charges were levelled by the Ehtesab Bureau in 1997 but then there were several missing links as the land had not been transferred into Zardari’s company’s name.
Now these documents and the March 2009 deal prove comprehensively that the 1997 reference against Zardari had considerable weight but remained inconclusive. After 15 years the purchase of the same land at such a low price has provided the evidence that the land belonged actually to Zardari then and had been legalised now. Otherwise there is no one in the world who would sell land worth Rs 2 billion at only a fraction of the market price, that is Rs 62 million.
Interviews with locals of the area also show that everyone in Sangjani knows that the land belongs to Zardari, who, according to some, had even visited the land during Benazir Bhuttoís second tenure.
When in 1997 the Ehtesab Bureau led by Mian Saifur Rehman had initiated a case against Zardari, the FIA had arrested some persons in the case. Media reports in 1997 had then alleged that Zardari had forcibly acquired this 2,500 Kanals of land forcibly, uprooting 300 families, to set up a polo ground and a riding pavilion in Sangjani, 25 minutes from main Islamabad.
Former Ehtesab Bureau chairman Saifur Rehman had told a news conference on June 10, 1997 (reported in newspapers the next day) that the then chairman of CDA, now late Shafi Sehwani, a PPP-appointee, was also involved in the land scam.
Some local residents including Sardar Ishaque, Raja Mehboob Elahi and Haji Bashir had also then appeared before reporters and had claimed that they had been forced to sell their land at a throw away price in 1994 and Zardari wanted to build a polo ground in Sangjani.
It was then said that a US resident Nasir Khan had been used as a front man by Zardari. According to a 1997 news report Nasir Khan was instrumental in making the deals with the owners, whose lands were reported to have been forcibly acquired by the revenue administration of Islamabad, not for official projects but for private ownership of Nasir Khan, who was said to be acting for Zardari.
In his complaint, one Ishaque narrated at that time the details of how he was summoned in August 1994 by the then Tehsildar of Islamabad, Tariq Haideri, and taken to the PMís House to convince him to sell his land measuring 392 Kanals 8 Marlas, at the rate of Rs 4,000 per Kanal, which even at that time was much below the prevailing market price. Ishaque was later forced to sign an agreement at the residence of Nasir Khan and was told that if he did not cooperate his land would be acquired through CDA at the rate of Rs 2,900 per Kanal. From 1997 till recently, nothing changed on the ground as Nasir Khan remained the legal owner of the land. NAB also could not do much because of some key missing links.
However, in an important development in 2007 Faisal Sakhi Butt, another friend of Zardari, filed a civil suit in an Islamabad civil court claiming that he had purchased the same land measuring 2,460 Kanals and 17 Marlas on 18-1-2007 from Nasir Khan for Rs 62 million.
He told the court that in May 2007, he paid Nasir Khan Rs 61 million, leaving a balance of Rs 1 million. Butt said that he wrote to Nasir Khan, who lives in Houston, USA, to execute the necessary Sale Deed in his favour before Sub Registrar Islamabad but did not receive any reply. He prayed before the court for a judgment and a decree against the defendant, Nasir Khan. It appears that the men were fighting a mock battle in a court to legalise the transfer of the massive land.
Nasir Khan in his reply from USA did not contest the charges and conceded almost everything that Butt demanded and explained that due to his business pre-occupation coupled with ill health he could not leave USA and come to Pakistan for execution of Sale Deed in favour of Butt. He also did not deny the prayer clause and allowed the court to proceed in favour of Butt after paying balance sale consideration of Rs 1 million to him through his counsel.
Accordingly the civil court in June 2008 decided in favour of Butt and referred the case to the Islamabad High Court where Butt had gone for the execution of his decree. On Nov 11, 2008, Nasir Khanís counsel told the IHC that he has no objection to the execution of the sale deed through an official of the court in favour of Butt or his nominee/assignee. Buttís counsel stated that he was going to file the assignment deed in the court, therefore, an adjournment for three weeks be granted. The court fixed December 16th as the next date for hearing of the case.
On December 16, 2008 Zardariís Park Lane Estates Pvt Limited figured for the first time when Buttís counsel told the IHC the decree as well as the rights ensuing from the decree had been assigned in favour of Park Lane Estates of Karachi by Butt for which a new execution petition would be filed on behalf of Park Lane Estates the same day.
It was done accordingly and quickly and the case was turned from the previous Faisal Sakhi Butt vs. Muhammad Nasir Khan to Park Lane Estates (Pvt) Limited vs Muhammad Nasir Khan (defendant) and Faisal Sakhi Butt (original decree holder). According to this petition, Butt sold his decree to Park Lane Estates. The Park Lane Estates told the IHC that it had paid Rs 46 million to Butt as per Deed of Assignment dated 27-11-2008.
Consequently on January 29, 2009 the then PCO Chief Justice of the IHC passed the following order: ìLearned counsel for respondent No. 1 (Nasir Khan) as well as respondent No. 2 (Faisal Butt), both have no objection for assignment of the decree in favour of Park Lane Estates (Pvt) Ltd.
ì2. Office is directed to prepare amended decree accordingly.
ì3. There is no objection on behalf of respondent No. 1 for execution of amended decree. Learned counsel for respondent No. 1 states that Muhammad Nasir Khan is living in USA and is not able to personally sign the sale deed.
ì4. Both the parties pray that an official of this court be appointed to appear before the Registrar and execute the sale deed on behalf of vendee/judgment debtor.
ì5. Mr Noor Muhammad (Reader of this Court) is directed to appear before the Registrar, to sign the sale deed and admit its execution/registration.
ì6. Petitioner is directed to place on record the sale deed, printed/typed on the stamp papers, valued according to the value of suit property, within two weeks. He shall also deposit Rs 10,000/- as fee of Official of Court.
ì7. Disposed of accordingly.
Sign Chief Justice.î
Accordingly a sale deed was made on March 3, 2009 between Nasir Khan, represented by IHC reader Noor Muhammad and Park Lane Estates and registered by Joint/Sub Registrar Islamabad after payment of just Rs 1,240,000 as CVT. Later the revenue department issued a FARD on June 29, 2009 reflecting the sale of land by Nasir Khan to Park Lane Estates for a mere Rs 62 million.
Everything went smoothly and hassle free. Nasir Khan and Faisal Butt cooperated in a slavish manner and transferred the land to Park Lane Estates, owned by the President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari.
Nasir Khan is still in the US and is considered a close associate of the president. Faisal Butt is also closely associated with President Zardari, who had informally made Butt the monitor on CDA last year. ìI am making my own input in the CDA so that the development activity paces up,î he had told The News on January 23rd. In the same story, he was identified as close friend of the president. No one denied any point in the story then.
Butt is today the most important person for CDA affairs and dealings in the federal capital. Faisal is member of the Islamabad Development Steering Committee, which is led by Babar Awan. PPP Senator Nayyar Bukhari is another member.
Despite repeated efforts Butt was not available for comments. A senior staffer of The News visited what is believed to be his ìsecret officeî situated at House No 5, street 8, F-6/3 at least thrice on Monday but he was shy to face the media. Repeated messages were also dropped at his mobile that was attended every time by his PA, who introduced himself as Bukht.
The spokesman of the presidency Farhatullah Babar when approached by The News initially denied that President Zardari had any shares in any company by the name of Park Lane Estates (Pvt) Limited and said that these are speculative allegations. Babar, however, admitted that a case regarding Sangjani lands against Zardari was initiated in 1997 but it was closed down as there were no evidences available to prove the alleged corruption.
When Babar was informed that the SECP documents show Asif Ali Zardari as one of the directors of the company while his son Bilawal Ali Zardari was also a share holder of equal status, he said he was not in the knowledge of any such thing.
Regarding the allegations that Nasir Khan was front man of Zardari for the purchase of this land in mid-90s Babar again showed his ignorance. When asked whether he knew that a close friend of President Zardari, Faisal Sakhi Butt first purchased this land from Nasir Khan at a throw away price and then sold it at the same price to Park Lane Estates owned by President Zardari, Babar again showed his ignorance.
Another important player of this whole deal Muhammad Iqbal Memon, when contacted, confirmed to The News that he is Chief Executive of Park Lane Estates (Pvt) Ltd. When asked whether President Zardari and his son Bilawal are the directors/share holders of his company, Memon said that he did not remember exactly.
Asked whether it was true that Park Lane Estates had purchased 2,460 Kanals of land in Sangjani Islamabad for merely Rs 62 million, Memon initially said that he didnít want to talk on the issue. When pressed to answer the question and asked if President Zardari, who is also a director of his company, had used the influence of his office for getting this land at a throw away price, he said: “No, no such influence was used. It was a fair business deal.î (Mohammad Ahmed Noorani contributed to this story)