The curious case of Kunwar Moiz

The curious case of Kunwar Moiz

ISLAMABAD: The curious case of missing business tycoon Kunwar Moiz remains, for all intents and purposes, unsolved. Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) allegedly picked him up from the federal capital a week ago. His ‘disappearance’ has not only plunged his housing society project into chaos in terms of leaving those who had invested in it out of pocket – it raises serious concerns over the conduct of Pakistan’s LEAs.

The Islamabad rumour mill has gone into over drive. Many industry insiders are questioning how it came to pass that following the LEAs sealing of the project and the taking away of the housing records – ownership of Top City-1 now seems to be firmly in the hands of a rival group.

At the heart of the matter appears to be one man: MQM leader Altaf Hussain.

Five days after Moiz had gone missing, the media began reporting that the Rangers had rounded up dozens of people believed to have links to the MQM London Chapter, adding that the real estate magnate was wanted in connection with transferring money to the London-based party leader, among other things. His whereabouts remained unknown for six days. Yet on Thursday Ismail Malik, Press and Information Secretary at Islamabad Estate Agents Association issued a statement confirming that Top City-1 management, including Moiz, had been handed over to the Counter Terrorism Department Rawalpindi. Moiz has subsequently been presented before the courts. 

What is known, however, is that up to 60 armed security personnel - some dressed in civilian garb, others in Rangers and Anti-Terrorist Squad uniforms - broke into various properties in Rawalpindi and Islamabad in the early hours of last Friday morning. While raiding the Top City-1 site, its business offices in G-11 as well as Moiz's F-11 residence the LEAs reportedly picked up dozens of people, including the property developer's 70-year-old father-in-law who is said to be in ill health, and the housing project's Chief Operations Officer.

Sources close to Moiz told Daily Times that the heavily armed LEAs that entered his home beat his staff as well as some family members before turning the house upside down and taking away a large stash of US dollars, dirhams and riyals alongside 80 tolas of gold jewellery belonging to his wife. According to the family, each firearm in the huge weapons cache seized from the property was properly accounted for. Meaning that all were fully licensed and registered under the name of Ever Ready, a private security agency also owned by Moiz. The City Police Officer (CPO) Rawalpindi denied any involvement in the operation, adding that the Rangers hadn't taken the police into confidence before the crackdown.

According to a Daily Times investigation, the first hint of scandal surrounding Top City-1 emerged back in 2004, when property dealer Iftikhar Ali Waqar was the first to buy the land. At the time it had been declared Banjar Qadeem - meaning that it was of no agricultural, residential or commercial worth. Iftikhar borrowed Rs 8 million from his eldest sibling, Zahida Aslam, who holds British citizenship and is London-based. After purchasing the land he set about constructing the housing society. However, the deal eventually turned sour. Zahida illegally took over all the property owned by her brother in 2007. By the next April Iftikhar was dead, having taken a gun to end his own life publicly. In a bid to completely distance herself from this turn of events - Zahida promptly packed her bags and headed back to London where she began asking friends to recommend a trusted manager to oversee the venture. Her spiritual guide, or Pir, who went by the name of Dr Naushad, came up with Moiz's name. Thus he began managing Top City-1 in 2009.

According to sources close to Moiz, he charmed Zahida into selling him the housing society a mere two years later. Those in Zahida's circle, however, fiercely dispute this, contending that he had forcibly and illegally taken over the project's ownership. Yet there does exist traces of a transaction having taken place between the two in 2011, to the tune of Rs 100 million. While Daily Times does not have access to these documents nor has it seen them - what it does have is confirmation by two separate sources disclosing that Pakistan's High Commission in London was party to the transaction in its role as the verifying authority. Moiz then proceeded to rename the project Top City-1, investing heavily from 2011-12 to fast track development. In addition, he also turned to the law to have squatters evacuated from the land. His investment paid off. For it was not long afterwards, some time after 2013 that saw land prices shoot up - going from tens of millions to hundreds of billions of rupees seemingly overnight. This was due to both the Kashmir Highway passing through the area as well as the proposed Metro bus system designed to connect the Airport to Islamabad city.

The MQM link first popped up in 2014. This was the time of the sit-in protests organised by PTI leader Imran Khan against allegations of vote rigging in the general elections of the previous year. Yet it is important to remember that another political actor was there on the dharna stage: Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri, head of Pakistani Awami Tehreek (PAT). Vehicles owned by Moiz were used to supply food to PAT activists. Yet the joining of the dots doesn't end there. The MQM's Haider Abbas Rizvi was part of the negotiating team tasked with bringing an end to the political impasse. He used Moiz's home as his base camp. And from there, he held several meetings with multiple political actors across party divides. "At that time several calls were made on a daily basis not only to the MQM London secretariat but also to Rawalpindi and even to Parliament and the PM House", said a source who had been staying on the premises at the time. "But no calls to MQM London were ever made before or after this incidence", another of Moiz's associate's told Daily Times.

Fast-forward two years, and more pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place. Top City-1 had two employees on their payroll by the names of Zahid Malik and Munir Anjum, both of whom were office bearers of MQM Punjab. When they were caught misappropriating funds they found themselves unceremoniously fired from the development project. This was August 2016. In apparent retribution, the two men were said to have encouraged a rival land-grabbing racket (run by Chaudhry Babar and Tahir Ayub) to occupy the Top City-1 land before contacting Zahida to jump on board, too. This new grouping, including the disgruntled former employees, had one common aim: to fully take over Top City-1.

The MQM factor doesn't stop there, however. Something else also happened in August 2016. Namely, the now infamous speech by party leader Altaf Hussain, in which he termed Pakistan "the epicentre of terrorism for the entire world". This was swiftly followed by a crackdown on his supporters who were threatening violent action against private media channels and the Sindh government. The newly formed land-grabbing racket wasted no time in exploiting the situation unexpectedly thrown up before them. Meaning that they approached both the National Accountability Bureau and the ISI with tales of Moiz having links with the MQM leader. In fact, Moiz was close to Haider Abbas Rizvi, the party's former deputy parliamentary speaker. In addition, the frequent visits by large numbers of MQM lawmakers to Islamabad were also used to frame Moiz as an Altaf Hussain sympathiser. The CPO Rawalpindi was tasked with investigating this case last year. Yet it was disposed of on the grounds of inconclusive evidence.

The latest instalment in this ongoing tale of backstabbing for profit is perhaps the most interesting. For following the Rangers operation, it appears that Top City-1 concerns, meaning land and offices both, have been 'handed over' to the aforementioned new land-grabbing racket. That is the Qazba group comprising the Chaudhries, Zahid Malik and Zahida. Sources close to Zahida, who are privy to the developments, have confirmed to Daily Times that she will soon be travelling to Pakistan from London in order to take full control of the venture.

In all this, the ultimate losers in what appears to be nothing short of political machinations are the up to 10,000 individuals who had been allotted Top City-1 plots. That is, the ordinary folk who have secured payments and had all files properly attested - and yet who have still not been granted full possession. Indeed, they have spent most of this week being denied entry into the housing society. Thus after having spent their life savings, in many cases, on these plots - the fate of their investment is being kept from them.

Yet they are not the only losers. In the bigger picture, the citizenry as a whole has lost out. For the entire episode raises serious concerns about the competence of LEAs and, indeed, the intelligence agencies in this country. It was under their watch, after all, that this occurred. Yet the security establishment is keeping quiet. None has come forward offering any explanation. If the people are to believe that the operation was really aimed at busting an MQM money-laundering network - this begs the question as to why full control of the housing society project has been given to a rival party? Have the LEAs become a tool to be bought and sold in the hands of any land mafias who bids the highest? Answering this will bring the country one step closer to knowing just what happened to Kunwar Moiz.