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Green Trees retracts, SC ponders independent commission

ISLAMABAD: Renouncing its earlier stance, Green Trees Private Limited has refused to reverse a controversial land deal concluded with the Federal Government Employees Housing Foundation (FGEHF) which enriched the coffers of housing ministry officials and real estate developers. The deal was finalised for launching the prime minister’s housing project.

Raja Irshad, counsel for Green Trees, submitted before a three-member bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry that reversing the deal would damage Green Trees’ credibility. “An out-of-court settlement will make the whole process doubtful so therefore the formation of the commission is necessary to determine the facts,” he added. Raja Irshad said the firm was negotiating with the housing ministry on the court’s instructions.

Justice Sair Ali observed that if the commission report unearthed irregularities in the deal than no one could save the company form ‘eternal damage’. The lawyer contended that CDA had created hurdles in the deal and had not issued a No Objection Certificate (NOC) to Green Trees for the construction of the housing scheme.

“Our only fault is that we did not bribe senior officials of the housing ministry and CDA for the construction of a housing colony in Zone-IV,” alleged the firm’s counsel. He said that the preliminary inquiry report of the housing ministry stated that construction was not allowed in the area when the deal was inked. “This is misleading because Bahria Town has constructed housing units a few kilometres away from the area,” he added.

Federal Minister for Housing and Works Faisal Saleh Hayat informed the court that the entire deal was questionable. “I am bemused. How was the tender for construction given to the same company which sold the land at exorbitant rates,” the minister said.

The chief justice remarked it was strange that as the housing minister, Hayat has not taken any action against the officials responsible officials for the deal when he is authorised to do so. Hayat said he feared if he were to take action against top bureaucrats, over Rs1 billion given to Green Trees for construction will get.

“The court took suo motu action before I assumed charge,” Faisal said and sought the court’s guidance on the issue. “We are only interested in retrieval of public money, therefore we intervened, just like we did in other such cases, including Pakistan Steel Mills, NICL, Hajj and LNG scam,” the chief justice said.

Defence lawyers for Green Trees will submit a concise statement on July 11 and will also request to the court for an independent commission, under the supervision of a retired Supreme Court judge as was earlier suggested by Faisal Saleh Hayat.

The Chief Justice said if (retd) Ijaz Chaudhry can be persuaded to supervise of commission, it would submit its findings within three weeks.

The federal minister informed the court he had started an anti-corruption campaign in his ministry and suspended officials who were involved in malpractices. Talking to the media, the minister stated that his party chief Chuadhry Shujaat Hussain and the Prime Minister of Pakistan were also in picture the picture. “I did not change my stance on the Rental Power Project after joining the government and I won’t change it in this case,” Hayat said.

In 2009, 3,000 kanals were purchased by the housing ministry at an inflated price of Rs950,000 per kanal from Green Trees Private Limited. The beneficiaries were bureaucrats and ministry officials. The change of housing minister, however, landed this case in the Supreme Court, which directed Green Trees to submit a concise statement on the FGEHF land scam within 10 days.

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