–Top judge says army has lost its ‘goodwill’ by engaging in commercial activities
–Says ‘it seems DHA uses widows and martyrs as a shield to pocket royalties’, orders relief for Eden Housing scam victims
–DHA’s lawyer says authority allowed Eden to use its name in exchange for 30 per cent of total shares
ISLAMABAD: Annulling all the agreements between the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) and Eden Housing Society, the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday ordered the DHA to provide relief to the victims of the scam by developing Eden’s 11,000 plots sold over the period of past five years.
As the hearing started, a three-member bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar reflected on the complaints pertaining to the multi-billion housing scheme.
“Some 11,716 people have been affected by the Eden Garden Housing Scheme, and [around] 60,000 people from Lahore have been looted [in its name]. Meanwhile, those behind this scheme have fled after pocketing Rs13 billion. These people were scammed in the name of DHA,” the top judge remarked.
The counsel representing the DHA defended his client, saying the army-run housing scheme had limited involvement in the project.
“This was a 25,000 kanals project,” the counsel said, adding that the DHA allowed Eden to use its name in exchange for 30 per cent of the total shares.”
The answer did not go down well with the chief justice, who inquired what has military got to do with developing real estates. Where else in the world are housing schemes being run by the armed forces, Justice Nisar questioned.
“The army’s job is to protect the country’s borders, not to participate in commercial activities,” he said, adding had the DHA done this for the martyrs, it would have been understandable. To this, the DHA representative replied that the Malaysian army is involved in the real estate business. “Have you modelled the army after that one country,” the CJP retorted.
The top judge remarked that the housing scheme business had tainted the name of the armed forces. Addressing the DHA counsel, he said, “You [DHA] have bought lands that were controversial and disputed at the expense of your goodwill.”
“It seems that you people [the DHA] run the business by using widows and martyrs as a shield, and you pocket royalties in their name,” Justice Nisar grilled the counsel.
He hinted at issuing an order that would bound DHA to acquire land and allot plots to the victims of Eden scam in a period of three months. “Whoever is owed whatever should receive their due,” he added.
Justice Ijazul Ahsan said payment should also be made for the land Eden Housing has given. “A reasonable amount has to be ascertained for the value of the land,” he added.
Moreover, the court pointed out that an implementation bench could be formed to resolve the case, and instructed all suspects currently in the National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) custody in connection with the case to contact the relevant forums.
The owner of the housing project, Dr Amjad, has been accused of conning over 11,000 people.
The scam was unearthed in 2013, but then CJP Iftikhar Chaudhry fixed the case before his bench to allegedly provide relief to the in-laws of his daughter. Iftikhar Chaudhry and his son Dr Arsalan, however, distanced themselves from the matter afterwards.
In April 2017, after accusations against Amjad surfaced, he fled to Canada in April 2017. In March 2018, NAB had decided to launch an investigation into all housing projects of Eden Developers after its failure to compensate the affected people.
However, the FIA managed to arrest his son Dr Murtaza Amjad, the son-in-law of Iftikhar Chaudhry, from Dubai in connection with the scam. Following his arrest, there were reports of Dr Amjad approaching the NAB for a plea bargain in the case.
The arrest had come days after the people affected by the housing scam staged a protest demonstration outside Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Lahore residence, demanding the recovery of the millions of rupees allegedly looted from them in the name of the housing scheme.
All known assets worth billions of rupees and bank accounts in the names of Eden Developers and its owners have been frozen. Dr Amjad, however, denies allegations, saying the probe was a result of mala fide exercise of authority by the NAB.