Bilawal heads for his first brush with the law

Source: Published in Politics on Tuesday, May 20, 2014

KARACHI: Patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Peoples Party Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari is heading for his first brush with the law as his partner in business, Bahria Town, enters into litigation with the Cantonment Board Karachi (CBK) over the construction of a high-rise on a plot owned by the Zardari family in the Saddar area.

According to sources, the CBK has raised various objections to the proposed commercial building which is to be built on the plot where once stood the Zardari House (Plot No 225, E.I. Lines) on Dr Daudpota Road, between Lucky Star and the Mehran Hotel intersection that connects Saddar with the Cantonment Railway Station and falls within the jurisdiction of the CBK.

The sources said the Bahria Town Private Limited said to be a partner of Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s concern – Zardari Group Pvt Ltd – which was executing the project had moved court over the CBK’s objections.

The Bahria Town contended that hindrances were being made to its work on the high-rise, which according to it, was being carried out according to the CBK’s approved building plan, said the sources.

Led by young politician Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the Zardari Group, as printed on its letterhead, deals in various fields including industrial, agricultural, housing and investment.

The sources said the subject property – bungalow with compound, 225 E.I. Lines, Karachi Cantt – had been at the centre of controversies more than once. Lease of this 1.23 acre plot was first granted to Framji Kunwarji Limbuwala around a century back on an annual rent of Rs8.25.

In June 1994, Rustom Byramji Limbuwala, a grandson of the late F.K. Limbuwala, who lived in the United Kingdom, gave a special power of attorney to a Zardari family member, who on Mr Limbuwala’s behalf, entered a “deed of conveyance of immovable property valued at Rs1.55 million” with the other Zardari family members including herself and the Zardrai Group.

The sale process which started in 1978 suffered hiccups from the outset when it was brought into litigation in 1979 which was eventually disposed of under a compromise in 1994 and soon afterwards the sale process was concluded.

The sources said that in March 1995 the director general of military lands and cantonments increased the plot area from the original 1.23 acres to 1.4 acres.

Some time afterwards the Zardari Group started the process of the land-use change by moving an application, signed as “I have the honour to be, sir, your most obedient servant” to the Military Estates Officer for the conversion of land from “residential” to “commercial” purposes, said the sources.

The application reads: “I request that the land may be granted to me by private agreement without auction for the following reason: we are the grantees of the subject property and ready to pay the residential-cum-commercial charges as referred to in MEO Karachi letter No. K-7/225/58, dated Aug 7, 1996.”

In June 2010, after a lapse of over a decade and a half, the request was approved by the authorities concerned and the information was conveyed by Rawalpindi-based Dr Saima Shah (additional director general of lands) that the land – 1.4 acres or 6813.74 square yards – was being converted from residential to commercial for which over Rs39 million had to be paid as premium and Rs27,255 as annual ground rent. The lease, according to MEO Naeem Jan Khan, was to expire on June 23, 2109, said the sources.

The sources said that according to the table showing the calculation out of total 6,813 square yards, 523 sq yards was covered area and premium calculated as per valuation table of DC rates was Rs13,800 per yard and 50 per cent of which was 6,900, and the premium became over Rs3 million for the covered area.

For 6,291 square yards open area the DC valuation rates were; 11,500 per yard and its 50 per cent came to Rs5,750, on the basis of which the premium calculated came to Rs36 million. Total of both the premiums came to over Rs39 million. Besides the premium of Rs39 million the Zardari Group also paid around Rs13 million as dues, said the sources.

A special meeting of the Zardari Group held in December 2009, chaired by Hakim Ali Zardari and attended by its director Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, authorised the group’s legal adviser Abu Baker, son of Muku Khan, to obtain commercialisation letter/ order/ documents from the MEO in connection with property 225 E.I. Lines, Karachi.

A few months later in October 2010 the Zardari Group held another special meeting chaired by its chief executive Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and attended by its director, a Zardari family member and authorised the family member to execute and sign commercial lease and other related documents relating to 225 E. I. Lines.

Then the group started the process of getting the plans for the high-rise commercial complex building approved from the CBK, which eventually accorded approval to the group in November 2012 to construct a building having six basement floors for parking plus ground floor, first floor (maintenance and food court), second floor to seventh floor (retail shops), eight floor (mechanical floor), ninth to 12th floor (offices) and 13 floors (hotel), said the sources.

Soon afterwards the physical work on the project started, the old colonial style house was razed and a deep ditch was dug up to accommodate the underground parking and subsequently raise the structure, said the sources.

The sources said that by this time the CBK started to raise objections to the project work, saying the advertisements for the project had been placed by some other firm, Bahria Town, unknown to the CBK, which recognized only the Zardari Group in relation to the project.

The CBK said the movie theatre, swimming pool etc were being advertised as part of the building plan which were not provided in the approved plan. The permission for the advertisements was also not taken, said the sources.

The CBK said that it was not informed about the ongoing work on the construction and subsequently the board started its process against the Zardari Group. Meanwhile, over 40 military officials residing, along with their families, next to the under-construction building have also raised concerns about security, safety as well as privacy with regard to the high-rise.

The sources said the CBK started issuing notices and letters to the Zardari Group over violations. Therefore, the Bahria Town went into litigation as a partner in the project to check the CBK in its tracks, said the sources.

The Bahria Town took the plea that the work on the project was being carried out according to the CBK’s approved building plan still the board was creating hindrances to the work and harassing it, the sources added.

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Written by Bhagwandas

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