Far too often, those behind real estate scams in Pakistan manage to evade justice, with investigations — if they begin at all — petering out before they arrive at any conclusion.

The arrest in Dubai of Murtaza Amjad, one of the accused in the Eden Housing Society scam and a son-in-law of former chief justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry, gives law-enforcement authorities in this country another opportunity to prove that they can and will prosecute such cases to the fullest extent of the law. Others accused in the Eden Housing Society case include Justice Chaudhry’s son Arsalan Iftikhar, his daughter and her father-in-law.

While one cannot declare anyone guilty before due process takes its course, the government, given Prime Minister Imran Khan’s emphasis on accountability, must ensure that NAB is able to investigate this, and other such scams transparently and without pressure from any quarter.

The culpability of sections of the ruling elite, including political bigwigs and members of the establishment, in many dubious real estate projects is well known. In cahoots with them are corrupt bureaucrats who manipulate land records and violate SOPs to enable illegal acquisition of government land, and local politicians and their thugs (often in police uniform) that provide the muscle.

However, despite the multiple moving parts in this racket, many of those involved have such clout that meaningful investigations are rare, and convictions virtually unheard of.

Bahria Town’s activities were no secret, but it took years, and several orders by the Supreme Court, before NAB finally produced sufficient evidence for the apex court to deliver a damning verdict against the real estate behemoth in May this year. Then there is the DHA City Lahore case in which NAB named Kamran Kayani, the brother of former army chief retired Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, as one of the main accused. That investigation too, like so many others, has gone nowhere.

It is not as though land scams were unknown in this country earlier and that unscrupulous individuals did not dupe the public into investing in projects that did not materialise. But such fraudulent schemes were neither so common nor so massive in scale — involving multibillion rupee profits and affecting tens of thousands of people — as they are today.

In recent years, numerous such major projects have come up in various urban centres, often constructed on illegally acquired prime real estate or in violation of laws that govern the disposal of land. Violence is invariably part of the mix, used to evict indigenous communities and when rival groups of land grabbers settle scores amongst themselves.

Meanwhile, speculation has pushed property prices beyond the reach of the average citizen, let alone the lower-income segment of society that has no recourse but to look to informal suppliers of real estate. The land mafia should not be further emboldened by lack of action by the government.

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2018

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