Smugglers abusing Afghan Transit Trade facility: FBR

Updated 19 Nov 2014

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No agency is authorised to check consignments transported from Karachi to the Afghan border in sealed containers.—AP/File
No agency is authorised to check consignments transported from Karachi to the Afghan border in sealed containers.—AP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) disclosed on Tuesday that the Afghan Transit Trade facility was being misused to Pakistan’s disadvantage by smugglers with the help of a leading courier company.

A meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue presided over by Nasreen Jalil discussed reports of confiscation of large consignments of mobile phones and other communication equipment.

A senior official of the FBR’s intelligence wing informed the committee that the confiscated consignments included over 4,000 air-conditioners and electronic goods worth Rs357 million and not mobile and telecom items as earlier reported.

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He said the items had been kept in the godowns of the multinational courier company, from where these were taken to various markets.

He said the FBR’s intelligence wing had arrested the owner of an Afghan firm and two general managers of the courier company in Islamabad and Lahore. The matter was taken up with the company’s management which removed its chief executive officer for Pakistan.

When Senator Salim M. Mandviwalla asked why an importer had been arrested, the FBR official said the consignments used to be transported from Karachi to the Afghan border in sealed containers and neither the bureau nor any other agency was authorised to check them.

He said the consignments were either offloaded in Karachi and then smuggled to other cities or taken across the border and then brought back. In both cases, these are defined as smuggled goods.

He said it was difficult for the FBR to deal with the issue given the name of a widely known company. He said the bureau’s intelligence wing planted an informer in the system which confirmed the presence of a large quantity of electronic goods in the company’s godowns. The premises were raided after completing legal formalities and obtaining warrants and about 2,000 air-conditioners and other equipment were seized.

The official said the examination of the company’s computer record showed more stocks at its Lahore godown which was also raided and equipment taken into custody.

In reply to a question, he did not rule out the involvement of FBR officials and said they might have allowed the offloading of containers in Karachi or anywhere between the city and the Afghan border. He said the intelligence wing was investigating the matter internally and action would be taken if any FBR official was found involved.

NAB REFERENCE: The committee was informed that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) might file a reference against the owners of a leasing and refinancing company for eating away over Rs700 million of 1,600 ordinary depositors.

The issue of filing a reference against Nadeem Sheikh, the owner of Natover Leasing, was on the agenda of a meeting of the NAB’s Executive Board.

Secretary Finance Dr Waqar Masood informed the committee that NAB did not file the reference, although it had started the investigation about four years ago.

The senators expressed reservations over non-arrest of Nadeem Sheikh. He remains a free citizen, although NAB is conducting criminal proceedings against him and the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) is seeking liquidation of his assets from the Islamabad High Court.

The SECP had also transferred the case to NAB in the past.

A sub-committee of the standing committee had held the SECP, auditors and a credit rating agency responsible for negligence that provided a politically connected individual an opportunity to digest over Rs700 million of depositors’ money.

The Senate committee was also informed by the FBR that tax authorities had made refunds to only one person out of turn by giving him preferential treatment.

“Six cases of sales tax refunds of Senator Ilyas Bilour were cleared after breaking the queue,” said an FBR official. He did not disclose the amount but said the out-of-turn payments were made only to Senator Bilour. The FBR and finance ministry have been claiming refund payments on merit and in the order of claims submitted.

Senator Bilour, who is also member of the standing committee and was present at the meeting, said that in November last year he had approached the finance minister to get his payments cleared after the FBR did not timely pay the refunds. He said the refunds of some of his friends were still outstanding for the last fiscal year.

“If a politician has to seek intervention from the top to get his genuine refunds what will be happening to those who do not enjoy clout,” observed Nasreen Jalil.

Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2014