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Lotto winner takes fortune home to Pakistan

Miranda Kennedy Oct 5, 2006

BOB MOON: Ever played the lotto? I admit, I have every once in a while. I know the odds. But who hasn’t dreamed of accepting one of those five-foot fake checks with their name scrawled across it, next to lots and lots of zeroes?

Most lottery winners have some idea of how they’re going to spend the money. A new car, a new house, a charitable donation or two. But one lucky lotto player took his winnings to the bank. And to his hometown of Battagram, Pakistan. Miranda Kennedy reports.

MIRANDA KENNEDY: Ihsan Khan was raised by subsistence farmers in a hut in the impoverished Himalayan town of Battagram. But when he was 18, he scored his first break: a visa to America. He went to Chicago and later, D.C. For the next 20 years, he scraped together a living as a security guard and a cab driver. And then, one night, he had a very American dream.

IHSAN KHAN: This was something that I saw too many beautiful things. Like rubies, diamonds . . . And then Im speaking to a lot of people, way too big of a crowd. And then this number: 246 1725. Powerball 31.

He played those numbers for 10 years. And then it paid off: the Pakistani taxi driver hit a $55 million Powerball jackpot. When he found out, he gave one last cab ride, for free. Then he bought himself a Mercedes 600, and a couple million dollar mansions in Virginia and Islamabad.

But his next move was less predictable. He went back to his hometown and ran for mayor. Call it the ultimate remittance.

KHAN: And it’s not that you go and pile up money and money and forget about other. Still everybody has a responsibility, some sort of obligation to the people a little less fortunate.

Khan’s mayoral opponents tried to cut him down by dubbing him the “American Dollar Man.” But, if anything, the dollar value helped. He was elected last October. But two days later, a devastating earthquake hit Pakistan. It killed 3,000 citizens of Battagram. Mayor Khan rose to the occasion. He was able to bypass the government’s inefficient bureaucracy by dipping directly into his jackpot. He handed out $300,000 worth of medicine and roofing materials.Khan takes me to a camp for earthquake survivors in Battagram.

KHAN:“Like here, you can see, this is for health. Somebody’s sitting here.”

KENNEDY:“To offer medical services?”

KHAN:“Yeah, and then there is some school and playground for the children . . . “

He’s not happy with the thin plastic sheets that serve as home for the thousands stranded here. But other than giving away cash, he’s powerless to improve things.

So it frustrates him when earthquake victims demand more help. As Khan tries to leave the camp, he’s literally mobbed by survivors. One man blocks him from getting into his Landcruiser.

KHAN:“He said, ‘What’s the government going to give us when we go back?’ So I said food, shelter, stove, blanket, mattresses.”

KENNEDY:“Was he saying that ’cause he didn’t know, or he wasn’t satisfied with what he’s going to get?”

KHAN:“No, I think he’s not satisfied. Everybody wants more. This is how it works, more and more.”

Khan says even before he was a multimillionaire mayor, he didn’t think much of welfare. But now that he’s loaded, he says he’s realized two things about money: that everyone’s greedy for it, and that it can’t always fix everything.

In Battagram, Pakistan, I’m Miranda Kennedy for Marketplace.

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