Last September 28, a group of retired military officers demonstrated at Jantar Mantar against one of the Delhi area’s biggest residential builders, Kabul Chawla. In 2008, nearly 200 military officers had put down deposits on apartments at Park Serene, a high-rise apartment complex Chawla was developing. The protesters say Chawla’s company has collected almost 100 per cent of the price from 400 buyers but has not completed the units.
More than 7,000 miles away in New York, Chawla enjoys the comforts of a 4,050-square-foot condominium in the Time Warner Center that has five bedrooms, a media/playroom, soaring ceilings and Central Park views. He denies owning the apartment, saying that he stays there but that it belongs to his cousin. But The New York Times has unearthed correspondence among real estate brokers involved in the apartment’s purchase, as well as other sources, tying the condo to Chawla.
The ownership of the unit on the 68th floor of the Time Warner Center’s south tower is obscured by a corporate veil: a Delaware company with a Singapore address and a name, NYC Real Estate Opportunities.
The secrecy surrounding 68AF is not unusual. Of the 192 condos at the Time Warner Center, nearly two-thirds are owned through shell companies, a New York Times investigation has found. Often the names of the people behind those shell companies are shrouded in secrecy. And 68AF is among the most carefully cloaked.
Chawla’s company, BPTP, was little known until 2005, when he began purchasing farmland near Faridabad. By the fall of 2009, BPTP said it had presold 10,685 apartments and 5,657 residential plots at the site, named Parklands. But rather than the middle-class mecca Chawla had envisioned a decade ago, Parklands is today a 1,700-acre dystopia of vacant lots and apartment structures, some finished but others in various stages of completion.
In an interview at his corporate headquarters near New Delhi and in emailed responses, Chawla and his company blamed delays on a “plethora” of external factors, including government setbacks in infrastructure development. “All the developers are facing this kind of issue,” Chawla said. By the summer of 2011, a buyer expressed an interest in Apartment 68AF in the Time Warner Center. The cash offer for the apartment, which encompasses five and a half marble baths, a 23-by-24-foot great room, his-and-her master closets and river-to-river views of the city, was of $19.4 million.
The contract contained special language permitting the purchaser to transfer ownership to a limited liability company, which “may be owned by a Cayman Island limited liability company or a British Virgin Island limited liability firm to be formed, and/or to a trust”. The contract went on to suggest that another family would occupy the unit and might become the owner. The family’s name did not appear in the paperwork but was to be disclosed to the condo board.
Shortly after the sale — one of New York’s 25 most expensive residential sales of 2012 — the brokerage firm Douglas Elliman sued the former owners of the condo, claiming the company was due brokerage fees. Documents filed in that case contained email exchanges among brokers, including Julie Rose of Citi Habitats, who had represented the buyer. One of the emails refers to the first name of a figure making requests from behind the scenes: Kabul.
A person inside the Time Warner Center had suggested to The New York Times that Kabul Chawla and his wife, Anjali, owned 68AF, and an email written by Brenda S Powers, then a broker for Brown Harris Stevens, which represented the seller, supplied additional information. In an interview, Chawla acknowledged that his family had used the Time Warner Center condo. Chawla said the unit was owned by Aneil Anand, who he said was a cousin.
STEPHANIE SAUL AND LOUISE STORY
[The report is part of an ongoing multi-part investigation by The New York Times into the people behind shell companies buying high-end real estate in New York. The investigation found that nearly half of the most expensive residential properties in the US are now purchased anonymously through shell companies, and that at the Time Warner Center, 37 per cent of the condominiums are owned by foreigners.]