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November 8, 2018

JIT begins probe into minister’s abuse of power

Top Story

November 8, 2018

ISLAMABAD: A Joint Investigation Team (JIT), constituted on the orders of the Supreme Court of Pakistan on Wednesday, formally started probe into alleged abuse of power by Federal Minister Azam Swati while the Capital Development Authority (CDA) has sent him a separate notice for his illegal occupation of government land.

The billionaire federal minister was leading a life of luxury and peace before 26th October when a neighbour’s cow allegedly trespassed on his farm house in Orchard Scheme, Islamabad. But the cow has changed everything for the veteran politician who is now in deep trouble facing a probe by a JIT and action by the CDA, while The News has obtained documents confirming his encroachment on the government land and gross violation of government rules.

The rear gate of the farmhouse.

The JIT headed by National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Director General Irfan Mangi and comprising top officials of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and the Intelligence Bureau (IB) on Wednesday visited Swati’s farm house and collected statements from his guards and employees, The News has learnt.

The CDA notice dated November 6, a copy of which is available with The News confirms encroachment by the minister on the government land and lists two other violations by him, including illegal constructions in side setback, and illegal basement construction without approval.

The CDA notice says the owner of the said plot has committed violations of the Islamabad Building Regulations 1963 and Islamabad Residential Sectors Zoning, Building Control Regulations, 2005, by making said unauthorised constructions.

The farmhouse is registered in the name of minister’s wife Tahira Swati. The CDA letter says the owner has committed violations of the Islamabad Building Regulations 1963 and Islamabad Residential Sectors Zoning, Building Control Regulations, 2005, by making unauthorised constructions. The authority mentioned encroachment by the minister for Science and Technology but did not mention the volume of encroachment.

It all began for Swati after the trespassing of the cow incident on 26th October. Following the incident, the poor cow was detained, a clash ensued between guards of Swati and cow-owners (a poor family from Bajaur living in a mud-house near Swati’s luxurious farmhouse). The clash resulted in arrest of five members of poor family led by Muhammad Niaz, including two women and one 12-year-old boy Ziauddin.

The Inspector General of Police (IGP) Islamabad Jan Muhammad was also removed after Swati complained the officer did not attend his phone call despite repeated attempts. However, later Swati and the PTI government claimed IGP removal had nothing to do with the cow incident.

The police probe revealed that the poor cow actually did not trespass on Swati’s land. In fact the cow was found in the land that was illegally occupied by the minister outside his farmhouse. The police officer probing the case confirmed this to The News.

According to documents available with The News, Azam Swati owns only 36 kanal of land in Orchad Scheme as opposed to his previous claim of 46 kanals. However, the owner of luxury farmhouse has encroached on at least 11 kanal land on two sides of his farmhouse, the News has learnt through the visit and measurement by google earth.

The said encroached land has been occupied by the minister through a barbed fence erected on steel polls outside his farmhouse which is located within concrete walls. The google earth measurement shows at least 10 kanal land on the back side of farm house fenced by Swati.

On the right side of the farmhouse, he has not only installed a gate in gross violation of CDA-by laws but also constructed a mud-house. This is the same mud-house where the cow had been kept detained by the minister’s guards for at least three days.

According to CDA documents, only 4.43 acre (35kanal) land is registered in the name of the minister’s wife. The land was purchased in February 2014 for a sum of Rs120 million from a female resident of E-7 Islamabad, as per the document.

When contacted, a CDA spokesperson Safdar Shah said the land fenced by the minister is considered a clear encroachment or illegal occupation. He said the minister applied for the land, but CDA twice rejected his application for the said land. He said the back door is not allowed in farmhouse as it opens into government land. Doors are only allowed where it opens on road or owners’ own land.

Illegal construction where the cow was kept by Azam Swati's guards.

When contacted by The News, Azam Swati admitted that he made a wrong claim during previous conversation with this correspondent about owning 46 Kanal land for the farmhouse. “I have not had documents when you asked me. It is 35 kanal and house possession inside walls is 34.8 kanal only,” Swati told in his text reply in response to The News query.

When asked about over 10 kanal encroachment and illegal construction of mud structure on the right side and illegal rear door, the Minister said: “This is not true. I do not own any land or cattle outside my boundary walls. Trees were planted by previous owner about 20 years ago. I bought in 2014. I applied to (CDA to) buy this waste land to protect trees since it is in dam water spell which no one can have any use just like green belt but was not approved

So I do not occupy any extra land at all outside my boundary,” the Minister said. He chose not to comment on illegal rear door which sources claim shows the intention to incorporate adjacent land. A visit to the area revealed that the minister has blocked the road and footpath leading towards the house of Muhammad Niaz which was passing from outside his farmhouse. Piles of woods have been used to block the road on the right side of farmhouse as well as the footpath near the rear gate of the farmhouse.

When contacted by The News, Station Head Officer of Shahzad Town Police Malik Bashir admitted that the cow trespassing took place on CDA land which is illegally occupied by the minister.

When asked how can police register an FIR of trespassing of a cow against the Bajaur family when the incident happened on illegally occupied land, the SHO said the police is now only probing the physical fight case and not the cow trespassing case. It is worth mentioning that the first FIR lodged by the minister’s son Usman with police claimed that the cow of Muhamamd Niaz has damaged his fruit trees.

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