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ISLAMABAD: The owner of the multi-storey Grand Hyatt Hotel, which has now been sealed, gave several apartments away as ‘gifts’, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) revealed on Tuesday.

FIA Director General Bashir Ahmed told the National Assembly Standing Committee on Interior that the Grand Hyatt scam was worth around Rs30 billion.

“The owner also gave apartments to some people free of cost,” Mr Ahmed said, but declined to disclose the names of these beneficiaries, despite repeated requests from committee members.

The committee met at Parliament House, with MNA Rana Shamim Ahmed Khan in the chair.

Mr Ahmed said the FIA would reveal their names in court, and added that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had investigated the scam before the FIA began its inquiry, but cleared it.

“It was the FIA that unearthed this mega scandal,” he said.

MNA Kanwar Naveed Jamal said the committee was “surprised” to learn that the case had been investigated and cleared by NAB.

Mr Ahmed said the auction of the plot by the Capital Development Authority (CDA) violated Islamabad’s master plan, adding that they auctioned it for over Rs4bn. He said the CDA received a nominal sum, and the owner received a loan from the Bank of Punjab and sold apartments.

“This a big scam,” he concluded.

Mr Ahmed also briefed the committee on several in process inquiries, including the allegedly illegal promotions of 97 CDA officials, the new Islamabad international airport, the Asghar Khan case and so on.

Sharing details of cases from 2008-2017, the officer said the FIA registered 56,596 cases during this period, of which 2,152 are still pending. He attributed the delay in finalisation to a shortage of investigators, law officers, logistical support and the meagre budget for each investigation.

“We receive just Rs153 per inquiry/case under the head of investigation cost, which needs to be increased,” he said.

Earlier during the meeting, Mr Ahmed also spoke about mega cases – such as the Employees Old-Age Benefit Institution (EOBI), the Haj scandal, the AKD Amtex scam and the Grand Hyatt case – in which, he said, the FIA had recovered Rs43bn, in cash or in the shape of property.

Last July, the CDA sealed the Grand Hyatt building for violating building and layout plans. The CDA’s decision was endorsed by the Islamabad High Court, which also ordered compensation for citizens who had bought apartments in the buildings.

Following court orders, the CDA published advertisements on April 10 asked buyers to come forward with property documents, proof of purchase and payment details. As of Aug 29, only six of the 240 buyers have contacted the CDA.

A CDA official said: “We do not know why buyers of luxury apartments are reluctant to contact the CDA for compensation.”

According to a list the management of the project submitted to the IHC this January, several well known individuals have invested in the project. Buyers include Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan, State Bank Governor Mohammad Ashraf Wathra, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Chairman Absar Alam, former chief justice of Pakistan Mohammad Asif Sandila, former foreign secretary Salman Bashir, retired Lt Gen Ahsan Azhar Hayat, Faryal Gauhar, former Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ehsan Mani, former defence minister Ahmed Mukhtar, son of the incumbent defence minister Khawaja Mohammad Asad, politician Kashmala Tariq, Saqib Barjees - son of federal minister Barjees Tahir, former CDA director general Sohail Durrani, anchorperson Nasim Zehra Ikhlaq, former chief land commissioner Sajid Hotiana, Princess Shalalay Abbasi and Zainab Ahsan, daughter of PPP leader Aitzaz Ahsan.

The committee also discussed various bills and passed two, moved by MNAs Sher Akbar Khan and Aliya Kamran, seeking amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act that would increase imprisonment to up to 14 years.

MNA Makhdoom Syed Ali Hassan said the business of hundi-hawala thrived in his constituency, but the FIA had failed to halt the practice and released some suspects who were arrested red-handed after registering a weak case against them.

Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2017