Owning a flat of one's own is the dream of thousands but many have been rudely awakened to a nightmare of lost money, fraudulent papers, and an endless journey for redress in the labyrinth of law. They have been deceived by some rogue real estate companies with false promises, attractive advertisements and sleek talking executives of these realtors.
More than 20,000 buyers are without possession of their properties even years after paying all the money as the realtors concerned deliberately deceived them abusing economic and political influence, allege the victims.
According to sources, more than 12,000 fraud cases against a number of real estate and housing companies sued for plot-and flat-related deceptions are pending in different Dhaka courts.
Of the total, around 9,000 cases have been filed over plot-related irregularities involving Tk15,000 crore and the rest of the cases have been lodged by flat buyers who have been deceived and lost around Tk6,000 crore.
Frauds in the name of plot sales
In 2016, businessman Ashraful Hasan bought a five-katha plot for Tk2 crore in the Wellcare City housing project near the Purbachal New City on the outskirts of Dhaka.
Around 2,000 people, including Ashraful Hasan, who bought plots under the project were supposed to get possession of their plots by the end of 2019, but that did not happen.
This is because the Rajdhani Unnyan Kartripakkha (Rajuk) shut down the project in April that year as the housing scheme – developed on a 500-bigha area by occupying water bodies, arable lands and flood-flow zones – was not approved by different authorities including Rajuk.
The buyers, however, were not refunded by the project management. All their complaints to Rajuk, the Bangladesh Land Developers Association, and Real Estate and Housing Association of Bangladesh (REHAB) in this regard were of no avail either.
Finding no other way, they finally filed several cases against the project authorities.
"Buyers have filed around 40 separate fraud cases. Allegations of embezzlement of about Tk3,000 crore have been made in these cases," Ashraful Hasan told The Business Standard.
He said, "Mostafizur Rahman, managing director of Wellcare City, has been granted bail by the High Court in these cases. So far, no charge sheet has been made."
The officer-in-charge (OC) of Khilkhet police station has been designated to investigate these cases but he has not submitted the report to the court yet, he added.
"Every month there is a new date for the submission of the police report. It has been very frustrating."
Another plot buyer, Syed Mujibur Rahman, a resident of Gazipur's Kapasia, said, "The project officials lured us by showing fake approvals of 17 organisations including Rajuk. Many government officials, businessmen have bought plots here. That's why I was convinced to buy the plot."
"My plan was to build a multi-storied building with the help of a real-estate developer company. I dreamt of running my family by renting out flats but I've lost all my earnings here," he added.
TBS tried to reach Wellcare City MD Mostafizur Rahman via phone but did not receive any response from him to several phone calls and text messages.
Speaking to TBS, Mostafizur's lawyer Mohammad Jasim, however, termed the cases as "baseless".
"The project was closed due to the influence of a nearby housing company. People concerned, including the MD of Wellcare City, are still holding talks with government officials. They will reach a solution soon."
Munshi Sabbir Ahmed, officer-in-charge of Khilkhet Police Station, said, "The investigation into the cases is still going on. The two officers who were investigating the cases have been transferred and a new investigating officer has been appointed. We need more time to complete the investigation as it is a big case."
Ruhul Amin, former additional secretary and coordinator of the deceived plot-buyers, said, "The project's managing director is very rich and influential. He is delaying the investigation. He has also extended his bail terms."
Iqbal Habib, urban planner and architect, said housing companies must take approval from Rajuk to develop any residential project in the capital.
It is Rajuk's duty to stop any illegal housing project under its area, he said, adding, "But it does very little in this regard. Customers are being deceived but they seem to be unconcerned."
"The agency takes steps to stop an illegal housing project only when it is unable to meet the 'demands' of a particular person or official," he added.
ABM Amin Ullah Noori, chairman of Rajuk, however, denied the allegations of architect Iqbal Habib and said Rajuk authorities are always serious about carrying out their duties despite its limitations.
Mentioning that most of the private housing projects that are now being set up in the vicinity of the capital do not have Rajuk's approval, he said, "Rajuk has shut down 54 such private housing projects since 2010. We have instructed these project authorities to refund the plot-buyers."
But only Rajuk is not responsible for stopping such illegal projects, he said, adding, "It is the responsibility of several other organisations including the Department of Environment to stop such illegal projects."
Mohammad Mostafa, Nazir of the Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions Judge Court said about 6,000 cases filed in connection with plot-related frauds are pending in the Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions Judge Court and 28 Metropolitan Magistrate Courts. Customers have Tk10,000 crore stuck against these cases.
Azim Uddin, Nazir of Dhaka District Sessions Court said another 3,000 cases are running in the district court and eight magistrate courts and around Tk5,000 crore of the customers are stuck against these cases.
Frauds in flat business
In 2015, Khan A Majlish Nasim handed over his land, House No-63 on Outer Circular Road in Moghbazar Wireless area, to Anwara Housing and Real Estate to make a building with 26 flats.
Ahsan Habib, managing director of Anwara Housing and Real Estate, kept eight flats for the owner of the building as per the deal and sold the remaining 18 flats in advance for Tk2.5 crore each.
However, the construction work stopped in November 2016 after building a three-storied brick structure.
Khan A Majlis Nasim, the owner of the land, said, "Ahsan Habib, managing director of the developer company, has fled to the United States with all the money he got from sales of the proposed flats. He also took Tk11 crore in loan from Shahjalal Islami Bank based on this land and 18 flats."
Dewan Murad Hossain, a flat buyer, said, "The construction work has been stopped till now as the MD of the company has fled abroad. Now the land owner says he will complete the construction work and take all the apartments for himself."
"Although a case has been filed in a Dhaka court, it has been sent to the arbitration tribunal for disposal of the flat related allegations. So far, the Arbitration Council has not been able to reach a decision," he added.
In the capital's Maniknagar, there is an allegation against Nazrana Housing and Real Estate of fraudulence in selling 14 flats to 31 people.
Fazlul Haque, one of the deceived flat buyers, said that the company's managing director Haji Ehsan Uddin has sold each of the flats to more than one customer. All the customers have now filed cases against the company.
According to sources, 980 flat-related complaints are still pending in the arbitration tribunal in Dhaka.
Zahid Hossain, counsel of the tribunal, said that about Tk2,000 crore of the deceived flat buyers is stuck against these cases.
He said, "The tribunal has been closed for the past three months as there is no judge. No judge has been appointed to the tribunal in the past three years."
According to the Dhaka Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Court and Dhaka Chief Judicial Magistrate Court, around Tk4,000 crore of flat buyers has been stuck against about 2,000 fraud cases.
Writs in the High Court
SM Shahabuddin bought a flat from Building Development and Design Ltd (BDDL) with all his savings after retiring from government service. He started living in the flat after paying all the money. However, after eight years, he suddenly found that his flat was secretly shown as a mortgage for a loan to a financial institution called First Finance and Investment. BDDL did not repay that loan either. As a result, the flat bought by Shahabuddin has now become the property of the lending institution.
Another 31 flat owners including Abdul Hannan, Beauty Begum and Yousuf have been cheated by BDDL the same way. The First Finance and Investment issued a notice in the newspaper to auction the 31 flats.
On September 29, the owner of the 31 flats filed a writ petition in the High Court to stop the auction of the flats.
Sayedul Haque Sumon, lawyer of the petitioners, said that the High Court has adjourned the auction for three months.
According to the Supreme Court, there are about 1,100 cases filed by different banks against various developer companies in four money loan courts of Dhaka. There are allegations that the companies owe more than Tk2,000 crore to the banks.
About 600 writs are pending to stop the auction of flats like the BDDL incident, said the court sources.
According to the Real Estate and Housing Association of Bangladesh (Rehab), the organisation has so far received about 600 complaints for not handing over flats to the buyers.
People concerned said Rehab has settled about 1,000 such complaints from 2011 to last October.
Rehab President Alamgir Shamsul Alamin told The Business Standard, "None of the companies that buyers have been deceived by after buying plots are our members. We have nothing to do with any allegations against them."
If the Ministry of Housing and Public Works and the authorities concerned including Rajuk are sincere, buyers can be saved from these fraudulent companies, he added.