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Ambani house row: Waqf Board got Rs 16 lakh for deal

Vilas Tokle in Mumbai | July 06, 2007

Scaffoldings at the under-construction mansion of Reliance Industries chief Mukesh Ambani in the high profile Malabar Hill area of Mumbai. Photo credit should read Pal Pillai/AFP/Getty ImagesIn a new twist to the controversy over the acquisition of land in Mumbai for a residential complex by Mukesh Ambani-owned Antilia, the Maharashtra Waqf Board had issued a no-objection certificate for the deal for which it received a payment of Rs 16 lakh (Rs 1.6 million).

The disclosure of the receipt of this money by the Waqf Board for the Rs 21-crore (Rs 210 million) land deal between Antilia and Currimbhoy Ebrahim Khoja Orphanage (a charitable trust) assumes significance in the context of the Waqf Board issuing a notice seeking the land back.

When contacted, sources close to Ambani on Friday confirmed that "neither Mukesh Ambani nor Antilia Commercial Private Limited has received any notice from the Waqf Board, and the state government too has not written to them."

Although the state government had termed the deal as 'illegal,' Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh said on Thursday: "As far as I know, the Waqf Board had given a no-objection certificate (for five land deals, including that of Antilia)."

Detailing the acquisition of the 4,532 sq m plot in south Mumbai, where Ambani is building a 27-storey skyscraper, sources in the know said Antilia had obtained a no-objection certificate for the deal from the Waqf Board in 2004 after paying it fees of Rs 16 lakh without prejudice to the Waqf Board's claim on the land.

Sources in the Waqf Board confirmed that the body had received Rs 16 lakh as Waqf fund for the deal. "The amount was received as per an amicable settlement between Antilia and the Waqf Board," a source said.

Participating in a public bid, Antilia purchased the plot from Currimbhoy Ebrahim Khoja Orphanage in 2002 for over Rs 21 crore. Antilia also obtained all required clearances from concerned authorities, including the state government, sources said.

The Waqf Board had on Thursday issued a notice asking Antilia to explain within seven days why the plot should not be restored to the Board as it was acquired 'in contravention of Waqf rules.'

The move came two days after the state government termed the deal as 'illegal' and directed the Waqf Board to 'take back possession' of the property.

Sources in the know said the state Charity Commissioner had given permission to the orphanage to sell the land. Income tax authorities too had vetted the deal and found that the offer made by Antilia was not 'less than the fair market value' of the land.

The orphanage's trustees accepted Antilia's offer as it was the highest bid for the land, the sources said.

A good two years after the deal was struck, the Waqf Board got into the act, asking Antilia to explain why the deal was made without 'prior sanction' of the Board. Antilia contested this in a case filed in the Waqf Tribunal in 2004.

Though the orphanage's trust obtained an expert opinion that its land could not be regarded as Waqf property, it agreed to abide by any 'reasonable condition' set by the Waqf Board to amicably settle the matter, the sources said.

The Waqf Board considered the orphanage's request in March 2005 and decided to ratify the sale of the land. The Waqf Board subsequently withdrew the notice it had issued to Antilia, they said.

Ambanis together for Dhirubhai's death anniversary

Estranged Ambani brothers Mukesh and Anil on Friday came together under one roof to perform rituals to mark the fifth death anniversary of their father Dhirubhai Ambani.

They took part in Hindu rituals in the presence of their mother Kokilaben at the Ambani residence 'Sea Wind' at Cuffe Parade in Mumbai.

The ceremony was followed a family lunch, sources said. Ties between the two brothers have soured further since they parted ways in June 2005 and they are currently locked in a court battle over supply of natural gas by Mukesh Ambani-led RIL [Get Quote] to Anil group's RNRL. --PTI

Scaffoldings at the under-construction mansion of Reliance Industries chief Mukesh Ambani in the high-profile Malabar Hill area of Mumbai.

Photograph: Pal Pillai/AFP/Getty Images

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