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The BBC's Alastair Lawson
"Rockwood House is set in a substantial estate"
 real 28k

Friday, 10 December, 1999, 16:11 GMT
'Surrey Palace' saga for Benazir

Rockwood House Rockwood House is now valued at an estimated $8 mn


By Alastair Lawson in Surrey

Out of the many allegations of corruption that have emerged from Pakistan over the last few years, perhaps one of the more unusual concerns a mansion in Surrey in south-east England.

Last month, the Pakistani military government asked the British home office for paperwork relating to the purchase.

Pakistan in crisis
At the same time, builder Paul Keating has launched court action to recover more than $300,000 for refurbishment work carried out at the house, known as Rockwood Park.

Mr Keating says the work was carried out on behalf of the London agent of Asif Ali Zardari, husband of former Pakistani premier Benazir Bhutto.

Unpaid bills

The front entrance to the house is covered in ivy and holly. There is a large parking area in front.



I would describe him as flamboyant, eccentric
Paul Keating on Asif Zardari
With a total of about 20 rooms it is set in a substantial estate of 365 acres, including two farm, lodgings and staff accommodation.

Builder Paul Keating has spent seven years refurbishing Rockwood House, now estimated to be worth in the region of $8mn.

The trouble for him is that no-one is prepared to pay the bills for his work on the unoccupied mansion.

Mr Keating believes the responsibility ultimately lies with Asif Zardari, the husband of the former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto.


A $120,000 Italian table A $120,000 dining table shipped over from Italy
He says Rockwood was bought by Mr Zardari in the early 1990s through an offshore company called Romena Properties.

But the company has no registered shareholders.

So Mr Keating is now suing a business associate of Mr Zardari for the costs of renovation.

Extravagant taste

Inside the mansion, Mr Keating showed me an an Italian table ordered by Mr Zardari through the interior designers, made in Italy and shipped over to Rockwood House.

He estimates that it costs approximately $120,000.

He now has no idea of what will happen to the table.


Builder Paul Keating wants his money Builder Paul Keating wants his money
"[In] the master bedroom, the ceiling is created to achieve an evening sky with stars in it. The lights represent the stars," Mr Keating said.

It was designed to reflect Mr Zardari's taste, he said.

Paul Keating said, as far as he was aware, Mr Zardari visited Rockwood three or four times, staying only for very short periods.

"I would describe him as flamboyant, eccentric," he said.

Denial

Both Mr Zardari and Benazir Bhutto staunchly deny owning Rockwood.


Asif Zardari Asif Zardari: Allegedly visited Rockwood on short trips
They say that the many allegations of corruption made against them - including the purchase of Rockwood - are politically motivated lies.

Both have been found guilty of corruption in their home country, where Mr Zardari is currently in prison.

His business associate in Britain, Javaid Pasha, denies any responsibility for the refurbishment work and is trying to have Mr Keating's case against him thrown out.



Surrey Palace is a household name in Pakistan
Pakistani journalist Aamir Ghauri
Meanwhile in Surrey, residents of the village of Brook, near Rockwood, seem unperturbed by the wrangles going on over the property.

"There are a lot of famous people who live in this area, so it's just another neighbour more than any thing else," said Chris Morris, the landlord of the Dog and Pheasant pub, a few 100 yards down the road from Rockwood.

"When I first arrived here, there were a couple of carpenters came in and actually copied the bar in the cellar up at Rockwood because they couldn't buy it," Mr Morris said.

But in Pakistan there is much interest in the mansion and who owns it - a subject of much speculation in the Pakistani press.


Pub owner Chris Morris Pub owner Chris Morris: 'Lot of famous people live in this area'
"They actually call it Surrey Palace. They don't know what Rockwood Estate is, maybe for the reason that the former government of Nawaz Sharif presented it as Surrey Palace," said Aamir Ghauri, a Pakistani journalist working in London.

"So Surrey Palace is a household name in Pakistan. People believe that because Asif Zardari was linked to so many other allegations of corruption, they 100% believe that this is their property," he said.

The Pakistani press may be in no doubt about who owns the property, but back in Britain, the builder Paul Keating is just one of the of the people keen to see the question resolved once and for all.

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See also:
23 Nov 99 |  South Asia
UK may help Pakistan Bhutto probe
17 Nov 99 |  South Asia
Bhutto declared fugitive
15 Apr 99 |  South Asia
Jail sentence for Bhutto
17 Nov 99 |  South Asia
Pakistan cracks down on defaulters
29 Oct 99 |  South Asia
Sharif's wife leaves family estate

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