Pakistan has received three bids for a building which once housed the defence section of the country’s embassy in the US capital.
The highest bid of almost $6.8 million is from a Jewish group that wants to build a synagogue in the building, diplomatic sources in Washington told Dawn.
The second bid of about $5 million is from an Indian realtor and the third of about $4 million is from a Pakistani realtor, the sources added.
Pakistani-Americans in the realty market say that the building should go for the highest bidder. “We should follow this tradition, also because it will create a lot of goodwill in an influential American community, which wants to use it as a place of worship,” a Pakistani realtor, who requested to remain anonymous, said.
Earlier this month, Pakistan embassy officials told Dawn that one of the country’s three diplomatic properties in Washington — a building on the prestigious R Street NW — was up for sale.
The officials, however, clarified that neither the new nor the old embassies were being sold. The R Street building housed the embassy’s defence section from the mid 1950s to early 2000s.
Earlier on Monday, the Cabinet Committee on Privatisation (CCoP) asked the privatisation commission to appoint a financial adviser for leasing the Roosevelt Hotel site in New York.
The government is considering a joint venture for a prospective mixed-used development of the site, which Pakistan owns. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar chaired the meeting.
In Washington, embassy officials said they were also consulting an appraiser to assess what’s better: to sell the building as it is, or to do so after renovation. “We are in no rush, and we will not conclude a deal that does not benefit Pakistan,” the embassy official said. The federal cabinet has already approved the sale.
Earlier posts on social media displayed two buildings: both the present and the old embassies, claiming that these two buildings were also up for sale.
But embassy officials said none of these two buildings were on the market. The current embassy is in a new building constructed in the early 2000s while the old embassy was in the heart of town, on Massachusetts Avenue, close to the Indian embassy.
The embassy moved to the new building in the early 2000s, but it is also keeping the old building and has spent close to seven million dollars in renovating it and the nearby official residence of the ambassador.
The amount spent on the renovation, however, surprised many, with some demanding a probe to determine why it cost so much. The R Street building, however, has never been renovated and a visit to the site showed that it was in dilapidated conditions.
Other residents of the area confirmed that they had complained to the local authorities about the state of the building which, they said, was now “a security hazard”. The R Street building was purchased by Ambassador Syed Amjad Ali between 1953 and 1956.
The old embassy was purchased by Pakistan’s first ambassador to the US, M.A.H. Ispahani. Both buildings have remained unoccupied for almost 20 years now. A former Pakistani ambassador said that two ambassadors Jalil Abbas Jilani and Sherry Rehman had previously come close to selling the old embassy building but the government withdrew after a media uproar. “Personally, I am in favour of selling all unoccupied buildings,” the former ambassador said.
“We have already wasted a lot of money in retaining these buildings for so long.” Yet another embassy official rejected the suggestion that the embassy was unable to pay its diplomatic and other staff and that’s why it was selling its properties. “Every embassy employee — diplomatic or non-diplomatic — is paid on time,” the official said.