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Uneasy with the home-land

Frivolous litigation in property matters is a huge menace in Pakistan. By default, expatriates stand to suffer more than others

Uneasy with the home-land

Fuad Qureshi, who is in his 60s, is an expatriate Pakistani settled in Toronto, Canada and owns expensive properties in Defence Housing Authority (DHA), Lahore. He moved out of Pakistan early in his life and built a career in the IT sector.

Qureshi has a wife who happens to be his cousin, a grown up son and a daughter who cannot move from her bed due to a serious diasbility. The girl is overwhelmingly dependent on attendants who even spoonfeed her while she lies there motionless and expressionless.

At one point Qureshi wanted to return to Pakistan with his family but the concerned Canadian authorities did not allow him to take his daughter along. Their point was that he could do that only if the required medical treatment was available in Pakistan and that she could be taken care of there the way she was being while in Canada.

He contacted different government and private hospitals in Pakistan but none of them could come up with a satisfactory answer. Besides, the cost of private treatment abroad for this disease was too high even for an affluent person like him. The Canadian government is giving this treatment to her for free.

So now Qureshi shuttles between Canada and Pakistan while his wife has returned to Pakistan for good, along with their son, and lives in a two-kanal house in DHA Lahore owned by him. She has not travelled to Canada since then, not even to see her ailing daughter. On the other hand, Qureshi’s main purpose to go there regularly is to see his daughter at a state-owned medical facility. The bad news for him is that she is not showing any signs of improvement.

As if his set of problems was not enough to get on his nerves, he got another shock of his life. What happened was that seeing a boom in property prices, he decided to sell off his DHA house and commercial plaza which together were worth Rs 400 million.

It was at this time, around 2014, that he came to know there was a court stay order regarding these properties. He soon found out these cases had been filed in 2012 by his wife and son claiming he had gifted these properties to them in 2006.

Forged documents and fake witnesses including his brothers-in-law had been produced in the civil court to get a stay order, says the final court order issued in his favour.

A common mistake committed by expatriates is not transfering inherited properties in their names well in time, another is to think registered sales deeds are enough.

This case is just one example of how hundreds and thousands of Pakistani expatriates have become victims of property fraud and frivolous litigation over the years. Quite often these are close relatives, friends and acquaintances who ditch those who trust them.

Reportedly, either they do this openly or through some person planted cleverly for this purpose.

No doubt anybody can become a victim, but the overseas Pakistanis are more vulnerable because it not easy for them to leave their jobs or businesses abroad and endlessly pursue such cases in Pakistan. They are less familarised with the system and less likely to benefit from it.

So, what needs to be done to protect hard-earned money of overseas Pakistanis from going down the drain?

Pervaiz Losar, President, Pak-EU Friendship Federation based in Brussels tries to come up with the answer. He also holds responsible the unwatchful expatriates for the ordeals they face.

He tells TNS, “Despite hearing about such frauds every other day, many expatriates do not learn from others’ experiences and repeat the same mistakes.” Having handled many such cases as a leader of the expatriate community in EU region, he says, “There are cases where expatriates send money through non-banking channels for property transactions. This makes it difficult for them to prove in courts and other forums that the property in question had been bought by them. Those who receive this money sent via hundi are also in a position to blackmail them later on.”

The common mistakes committed by expatriates are as follows: They do not transfer inherited properties in their names well in time, think registered sales deeds are enough and do not go for mutations in revenue record, leave plots open without boundary wall, do not register rental property agreements with police, issue a general power of attorney to others, sign blank papers, make verbal agreements regarding property management, do not ask status of their properties from revenue department officials and so on.

Losar recalls some cases where expatriates have gifted properties to women they have indulged with in Pakistan but later on challenged these actions in courts on their families’ pressures. “If such mistakes are avoided, property fraud instance will come down fast,” he adds.

Fuad Qureshi’s case cited above could drag for six years for the reason that his family personnel had planned things very well and he had no contact with the relevant revenue department officials for years. His address mentioned in the lawsuit is not where he lives, which lawyers believe might have been done to get ex-parte decision with the connivance of lower staff of the court.

Javed Qasuri, Deputy Attorney General, Pakistan says the issue of frivolous litigation is compromising the right of those who are on the right and efforts are being made to discourage it. The cost of Litigation Act 2017 enforced at the level of Islamabad High Court (IHC) is a step in the right direction. This law makes it binding on the losing litigants to pay the cost of litigation to the defendants, submit fees for seeking adjournments which will be discouraged as well and pay extra amounts if the facts they provide are found to be wrong from the start.

This law needs to be introduced all over the country at every level. When people think they will get away easily, they tend to indulge in frivolous litigation again and again. The defendants after winning the cases refrain from filing cases of misdeclaration and forgery against opponents. The reason is that they do not want to open another battlefront and spend ages in courts.

Gohar Majeed, Director, Trust Deals, a real estate development company, shares a number of law firms have come up recently to fill up the gap and manage properties and agreement of their clients. Against a fee, they make regular visits to the sites while owners are abroad, get ‘fard malkiyat’ issued on a regular basis, call on revenue department officials on behalf of their clients, inform trespassing to police immediately and so on.

By hiring them, he says, “expatriates can both avoid huge losses and enjoy peace of mind. Pre-emptive action helps ward off litigants who know their case is weak but drag cases for years and years just to make defendants to agree to their terms and do out-of-court settlements,” he concludes.

Shahzada Irfan Ahmed

shahzada irfan
The author is a staff reporter and can be reached at [email protected]

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