RAWALPINDI: Makhdoom Shahabuddin, the first choice of the PPP for the office of the prime minister, was stunned on Thursday when he was informed soon after he had filed his nomination papers and made a speech thanking the party and his supporters for reposing trust in him that a special court had issued warrants for his arrest in the ephedrine case.
Similar warrants were also issued for the arrest of Ali Musa Gilani, son of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, although the names of neither Mr Shahabuddin nor Musa Gilani were included in the incomplete original challan submitted by the Anti-Narcotics Force.
The ANF moved before Special Judge (Narcotics) Shafqatullah Khan an application expressing the possibility of their involvement in the scam on the basis of statements of witnesses recorded by an investigation team over past two months and the judge issued the non-bailable arrest warrants.
The ANF contended that its investigators required their custody to investigate the sale of 9,000kgs of ephedrine to smugglers by two pharmaceutical companies -- Berlex Lab International and Danas Pharmaceutical (Pvt) Ltd.
According to an ANF investigation officer, some witnesses, including former officials of the health ministry who worked under the supervision of then health secretary Khushnood Akhtar Lashari and Mr Shahabuddin, linked the former health minister and Musa Gilani to the controlled chemical scam.
ANF sources said the application for their arrest had been moved after they did not appear before the investigation team for recording their statement in the case.
According to the ANF challan, Tauqeer Ali Khan, an alleged frontman of Musa Gilani, was intermediary in the scandal.
The scam came to limelight in March 2011, when Makhdoom Shahabuddin while responding to a point of order assured the National Assembly that a thorough investigation would be carried out into the alleged illegal allocation of ephedrine to the two pharmaceutical companies.
The ANF was assigned the task in October last year which started a formal probe on October 10, 2011. According to the ANF investigation, former director general of health Rasheed Juma illegally allowed the allocation. Another former director general of health, Asad Hafeez, and Khushnood Lashari also allowed the allocation and sale of the chemical to the companies.
The challan said Tauqeer Khan was a frequent visitor to the office of the health secretary and was behind all the alleged illegal dealings in ephedrine. The chemical was procured from Alpha Chemicals and delivered to one Zari Mohammad, who was neither a licensed dealer nor worked for any of the pharmaceutical companies.
The challan disclosed that Danas Pharmaceutical had claimed that it produced over 80 million tablets of meton from the ephedrine but could not produce any evidence to prove the claim. The company’s claim that it distributed the tablets in Gilgit and Skardu also turned out to be wrong as its chemists in these areas mentioned in the list provided by the company denied having received any tablet from it.
Likewise, Berlex also claimed to have distributed 210 million tablets of meton, but it also failed to prove it.
ANF springs into action
ANF’s Director General Maj-Gen Malik Zafar Iqbal said on Thursday that after the issuance of arrest warrants for Makhdoom Shahabuddin and Musa Gilani in the ephedrine case, efforts were being made to arrest them and requests had been sent to the authorities concerned to put their names on the exit control list (ECL).
“Efforts are on to arrest them and the ANF will proceed with in accordance with the law,” he said while talking to reporters in his office.
The ANF chief dispelled a perception that the special judge had issued the warrants because of the prevailing political situation.
“It should not be treated as an issue of timing because the ANF was already investigating the scam and it was to be completed by the end of this month in line with the Supreme Court’s order. Eight months had already passed since the order was issued.”
Maj-Gen Iqbal said the ANF team completed the investigation two days ago. He said the special court had issued last summons on June 16, but the accused did not respond which led to the issuing of arrest warrants. “The follow-up action by the ANF will be in accordance with the law and there is no pressure on it.”
He said that according to the ANF law, there was no bar on an accused from taking part in political activities.
Asked about the involvement of other politicians in the scandal, he said: “I cannot mention the names and the number of other politicians involved in the scam; however, some other pharmaceutical companies have been found involved in it and the number of accused could be more than 10.”
The ANF chief said that to stop Makhdoom Shahabuddin and Musa Gilani from going out of country, their names had been sent to the authorities concerned for putting them on the ECL. “The names of some of the accused have already been placed on the ECL, but I cannot disclose their names at the moment.”
Maj-Gen Iqbal did not answer a question about the ANF’s plans to conduct raids to arrest Mr Shahabuddin and Musa Gilani.
Legal experts were of the opinion that the accused had to be arrested within 30 days after the issuance of warrants. Otherwise, they added, the process of declaring them proclaimed offenders would be initiated.