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Private firm caught in $560m land scam

Private firm caught in $560m land scam

Apr 17, 2011 - 16:57

KABULinfo-icon(PANinfo-icon): At least 140 acres of government-owned land in the Rahman Mina neighbourhood of Kabul, where a township is being built, has been grabbed by the private Onyx Construction Company.

The area that has been converted into residential plots by Onyx was surveyed in 1979 and classified as state property meant for a green belt, shows documentary evidence provided to Pajhwok Afghan News by the Kabul Municipality.

A house over 100 metre square piece of land in the area is priced between $100,000 (4.59 million afghanis) and $150,000. The overall cost of the land thus comes to more than $560 million.

The company sought formal permission from the Presidential Palace before building the township. Subsequently, Vice-President Karim Khalili directed the Ministry of Urban Development: "Consider the request in accordance with rules and after consulting relevant organs and documents,"

Although the company claims having purchased the prized land from individuals who had legal ownership documents, information from the 8th municipal district reveals the locality was government property until April 2010. The documents Onyx received from sellers are not genuine.

An official confided: "In line with long-honoured principles, the municipality must accord approval to each town that is built in the capital city. In this particular case, the municipality has no record, whatsoever."

He said the private firm had never approached the municipality for authorisation of the project. Construction of the township and distribution of plots started on March 21.

The Property Department at Kabul Municipality, in an official letter No. 545, dated 28 Sept. 28, 2005, says: "Based on a master plan for the city, the neighbourhood is owned by the government and cannot be sold or purchased."

All official procedures were flouted by Onyx in developing the township, according to documents made available to this news agency.

"Under the master plan, land and plots in the area cannot be allotted, sold or purchased," the municipality said in a letter to the General Administration Directorate of the Judiciary.

But Karim Khalili permitted the company to build the town in violation of a clear cabinet decision and rules of the municipality.

Mohammad Zahir, the administrative head of Bargami district, confirmed that Onyx launched the scheme without informing them. He verified the area between Sang Tosha and Pul-i-Charkhi as government property.

Despite permission from the Ministry of Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL), Bagrami district property department officials refused to speak to Pajhwok on the 140-acre land scam. However, one source revealed they had received no notification about the construction of the town by Onyx. "It's unclear who has bought the land."

Bulldozers, containers and private security guards were seen in the area, said the district chief, who has sought information from security officials regarding construction of townships in Bagrami.

"The district headquarters doesn't know whether the installation of billboards, placement of containers and establishment of township schemes are properly approved by the authorities concerned or are willful acts," the district chief asked the 101st Asmayee police zone in a letter number 1873, dated Feb. 20, 2011.

"You are requested to form a delegation of officials from the 8th police district, municipality, police and district headquarters to thoroughly look into the issue. As we wait and see, land-grabbers will encroach on more and more government land."

After a lot of hedging and stalling, an Onyx stakeholder, Hajji Khalil Zadran, said they had legal ownership documents of the 140-acres land. However, he refused to give further details.

Meanwhile, the City Planning and Implementation Department at Kabul Municipality accused the Ministry of Urban Development of straying into its domain. It said the municipality was authorised to decide on townships in Kabul. But the ministry allowed such schemes without referring them to the municipality, it complained.

Deputy Minister of Urban Development Amiruddin Salik insisted that they had asked the municipality for information regarding the government-owned land when Onyx approached the ministry for the township scheme.

The ministry allowed the company to work on the project after receiving property documents from it, he said, adding it was the duty of the municipality to identify the government land.

Acting Urban Development Minister Dr. Sultan Hussain Ahsari said the municipality had investigated the property documents. But officials at the City Planning Department denied receiving any documents from the ministry.

The engineering department in the 8th municipal district, in a letter number 61, dated April 6, 2011, asked the municipality for information about the town. The letter said the deputy ministers of urban development and information inaugurated the Onyx town on March 30, 2011.

"Since the 8th municipal district has not been informed about the town's legal status, protocol and other relevant details, we request you to let us know our role in the matter," said the letter, signed by Eng. Munir Ahmad, the engineering department head.

The letter has been placed on the record of the municipality's publication department. "The Onyx Company has so far provided no official document to the municipality," said an engineer in the 8th municipal district, Syed Jawad.

He said the company should formally send the town's map to the district so the engineering department could check the property ownership documents. "Instead Onyx is trying to pressurise government officials to hide its illegal activities."

Urban development ministry, 8th municipal district and Bagrami officials refused to share details of the sordid affair for fear of losing their jobs -- and lives.

"Onyx has bribed some government officials to identify people speaking against the company," an employee of the 8th municipal district said on condition of anonymity. "Many officials have accepted the bribes."



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