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LAHORE: In its ongoing countrywide operations against illegal occupants of the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) lands on an order of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) claimed on Monday that it has retrieved federal government’s lands worth over Rs 15 billion from across the country during the last couple of days.

“Of the total amount, we have retrieved properties worth Rs 6 billion from two parts of Lahore alone i.e., Model Town and Defence Housing Authority (DHA),” said FIA Punjab Zone-I Director Muhammad Rizwan while addressing a press conference here on Monday. He was flanked by FIA Anti-Corruption Circle (ACC) SHO Beenish Rehman, who led the operation in Lahore.

He said the FIA has retrieved federal government’s lands from illegal occupants worth Rs 10 billion in Punjab while confiscation of remaining Rs 5 billion properties took place from across the country. “The retrieved properties belong to the Hindu Auqaf,” he added.

The FIA director, who addressed the conference on behalf of FIA Director General Dr Sanaullah Abbasi, appreciated efforts of the district administrations and police for making the operations successful. He said it was the first phase of the operation and, according to calculations, it is expected that the FIA would retrieve federal government’s lands worth over Rs 100 billion in the next phase from across the country.

He said that 39 first information reports (FIR) have so far been registered against 117 suspects. Of them, he added, 26 people have been arrested while 197 inquiries were under investigation. He said it was the biggest recovery of national assets from illegal occupants in the history of the country.

According to Rizwan, the Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) had pointed out in its report to the Supreme Court that the ETPB employees caused an approximate loss of Rs 77.60 billion to the national exchequer. “It is unfortunate but true that the country saw a mushroom growth of illegal occupants during the last 10 to 12 years,” he added.

He further said that during the recent operations, the FIA found ‘irrefutable evidences’ against former ETPB chairmen Sidduqul Farooq and Asif Hashmi for their alleged role in illegal award of urban properties on lease or their sale. Farooq and Hashmi are associated with the PML-N and PPP, respectively. He said the agency is thoroughly analyzing their roles and arrests would be made, if needed.

According to Rizwan, the FIA has taken 453 out of 776 actions recommended by the AGP in its findings. When asked whether the agency returned properties to those how paid their outstanding amounts by handing over them cheques on the spot, he said that analysis of the documents revealed that many people had “bogus” stay orders.

Terming the “misuse” of court stay orders a dilemma, the FIA director said that the land grabbers with the alleged connivance of corrupt government servants “deceit” courts on “technical grounds” and secure stay orders in their favour.

It may be mentioned that a two-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed had last month heard a petition filed by Pakistan Hindu Council patron Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, who complained that the court’s directives about protection of properties belonging to minority communities were not being implemented. Meanwhile, the court had ordered the FIA to conduct an inquiry into the matter.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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