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Pak's hammer hurts Oberoi

June 18, 2004 08:24 IST
Angst is written all over PRS 'Biki' Oberoi's face as he narrates the tale of the four hotels his father owned in Pakistan, one of which went under the hammer on May 29.

As many as seven companies bid for Pakistan's state-owned Faletti's hotel in Lahore. In a global auction, the property was eventually bagged by a local hotelier, Islamabad's 4B Marketing, for as much as $21 million. But Oberoi's East India Hotels was not invited.

The 44-room Faletti's was built in 1880 and acquired by Oberoi's father, the late MS Oberoi, in a 1944 takeover. The hotel covers an area of 363,000 square feet, and is now a landmark as the India-Pakistan bus terminus.

For Zaheer Ahmed Khan, establishment assistant, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation, Faletti's was "enemy property, and once seized, the state has every right over it." Khan dismissively added, "The state did not feel any need to call Oberoi (for the bid)."

Oberoi admitted that he had no knowledge of the sale, and wasn't even aware if the offer was open to foreign

companies, until he chanced upon a correspondent from a foreign agency, based in Pakistan, who informed Oberoi about the Pakistan government's intentions.

MS Oberoi was a "good" friend of General Ayub Khan, and on his "advice", developed and ran four hotels in Pakistan -- Faletti's in Lahore, Flashmans in Rawalpindi, the Cecil in Murree and Deans in Peshawar.

The 1965 Indo-Pak war put paid to all that. The Oberois not only lost the four hotels in Pakistan, but received a pittance after the war -- Rs 800,000 -- from the Indian government, at a postwar sale of properties and businesses seized from Pakistan, that too in the 1970s.

"We operated all the four hotels in Pakistan till 1965. I used to go there very often and we operated under the Associated Hotels of India at that time," reminisces Oberoi.

With a hint of rejection and a catch in his voice, he adds, "All our hotels dotted prime properties and we even built new rooms....the thaw (in Indo-Pakistan relations) is not helping....the property should be returned to us."

Moinak Mitra in New Delhi
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