ISLAMABAD: After countless investigations and months of inquiry, government departments still have no single authentic figure on the infamous missing containers.
Since the Federal Board of Revenue and National Accountability Bureau submitted conflicting accounts of the number of containers that have escaped the authorities` `eagle eyes` as they go back and forth from Afghanistan, the Supreme Court ordered the Federal Tax Ombudsman, NAB and FBR on Tuesday to launch a joint inquiry and expedite the recovery Rs55 billion which, according to NAB investigations, had been lost.
The FBR report had no single estimate about the loss. It said the customs clearing system was not recognising the staggering number of 95,374 containers which had crossed into Afghanistan from Jan 2007 to Dec 2010 and 77,884 containers which had entered Pakistan in the name of US military.
But the NAB report put up a different picture suggesting that the crossing into Afghanistan of 28,802 commercial containers under the Afghan Transit Trade(ATT) and 3,396 non-commercial containers could not be established between Jan 2007 and Dec 2010, meaning thereby these were pilfered or smuggled.
`Thus the actual quantum and nature of goods smuggled into Pakistan in the garb of ATT comes to a whopping Rs55 billion, in addition to the loss of revenue on 3,398 containers concerning Nato/Isaf,` the report said.
The reports were submitted before a three-judge SC bench. The bench resumed the hearing of a case relating to import of contraband items in the garb of food supplies meant for western forces in Afghanistan. The hearing was put off till Jan 2.
FBR Chairman Salman Siddique informed the court that four criminal cases relating to Messers Lunar Products, Messers Louis Berger and 265 containers` scams and of other 580 containers had been referred to the NAB for investigation and fixing of responsibility.
He blamed the Afghan authorities`lack of interest in collecting relevant data for the slow progress. However, he said, efforts were being made to expedite the adjudication and show-cause notices had been issued over the missing of 18,653containers. So far 376 cases covering 560 containers have been adjudicated which involve Rs1.9 billion.
The court asked FBR chairman to send his officers on deputation to the NAB to expedite the process and observed that the court`s only interest was to get the public money recovered.
In a related development, two deputy collectors from Karachi filed in the court a petition questioning the investigations and actions taken by the FBR.
`The investigations have been handled in a cavalier and discriminatory manner by the FBR`s probe committee with the approval of the bureau chairman,` contended the petition jointly moved by Jamshed Ali Talpur and Samiul Haq.
The committee, the petitioners alleged, had only penalised junior customs officials but ignored the major stakeholders like the National Logistics Company and its sub-contractors, shipping, clearing/border agents and other beneficiaries. `The committee left no stone unturned to confuse and mislead the Supreme Court by suppressing or distorting most of the facts and fudging and tampering with the figures to serve their `nefarious` designs, the petition said.