ISLAMABAD: The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) foiled a bid to smuggle four truckloads of timber worth millions of rupees from the Diamer district to Skardu in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Though there is a ban on the movement of timber in the area, the trucks reached their destination at Skardu after crossing 10 forest checkposts on the 350-kilometre-long road due to the alleged connivance of the GB forest department with the timber mafia.
Sources in the FIA told Dawn that after repeated public complaints the agency had mounted strict vigilance on the timber smugglers in Gilgit-Baltistan.
On a tip-off that a huge consignment of timber was being smuggled from Diamer to Skardu under the cover of firewood, an FIA team on the direction of deputy director Babar Khan intercepted the four trucks before they uploaded the timber near the Sakrdu timber market on January 2.
During the checking of the vehicles, the FIA officials recovered 708 square-foot timber worth about Rs2 million. The truck drivers could not produce any permit or documents in this connection.
During the preliminary investigation, the drivers told the FIA officials that they had transported the consignment from the Babusar top in the Diamer district. They also disclosed the names of some influential people allegedly involved in the timber smuggling.
The FIA team also recorded the statements of the forest officials at all the checkposts on the Diamer-Skardu road besides examining their record.
The sources said the alleged involvement of some top forest and administration officials of Gilgit-Baltistan in the timber smuggling could not be ruled out.
They said the trucks were intercepted on a forest checkpost near Skardu by some junior officials. But the vehicles were later allowed to proceed without any legal action due to pressure from the timber mafia.
When contacted, Babar Khan, the deputy director FIA Gilgit-Baltistan, admitted the seizure of the precious wood.
He explained that the GB government had imposed a ban on the movement of timber within the area.
In reply to a question, he said it was the duty of the forest officials to check smuggling of timber but they had failed to do so. Ultimately, the FIA had to take action against the illegal movement of timber.
He added that a report had been forwarded to the director FIA crime zone Islamabad as it was a high-profile case.
The director FIA crime zone, Zafar Iqbal Awan, told Dawn that he had set up an investigation team to probe all the facts and expose those involved in the smuggling. In reply to a question, he said naturally the department faced pressure whenever it took action against high-profile personalities.
However, he added, the interior minister had given a free hand to the agency and there was already zero tolerance against malpractices and corruption in government departments.