RAWALPINDI: The investigation into the attempted smuggling of antiques, which was foiled by Pakistan Customs at the Benazir Bhutto International Airport on Friday, was widened after reports of two senior officials of the Collectorate of Customs in Sialkot came to light.

Both the officials were also booked along with the exporter and the cargo agent.

Deputy Collector Customs Shahid Jan told Dawn it was found that a superintendent and inspector customs were also involved in the clearing of export consignment bound for Japan and that raids were being conducted to secure their arrests.

Customs’ Air Freight Unit had foiled an attempt to smuggle centuries-old Gandharan statues and relics to Japan

“None of the accused have been arrested so far as they have gone into hiding,” the DC customs said.

The Air Freight Unit (AFU) of Customs at BBIA foiled an attempt to smuggle centuries-old statues and relics from Gandharan art to Japan on Friday. An investigation was also launched against the customs officials at the Sialkot dry port.

The smuggling attempt was foiled after information was received by Collector Customer Dr Arslan Subugtageen that an export consignment of exporter B2B Traders, Sialkot and clearing agent Leo’s Corporation, Defence Road Sialkot, bound for Japan, had some suspicious items.

Contrary to the declaration by the freight forwarding agent of ‘decoration items’, customs officials found invaluable antiques which was confirmed by the Directorate General of Archeology and Museums, Islamabad.

The Archaeology and Museums department had confirmed in its report that 10 items were counterfeit statues of the Buddha and six were original antiques of Iranian influence.

They were from the period between the 2nd and 5th century AD and made of gold thin sheet of 337 grams.

The DC customs said all the above artefacts were banned under section 24(2) of article 35 of the Antiquities Act of 1975. An FIR was registered against the exporter and cargo agent.

He said the involvement of customs officials at the Sialkot dry port cannot be ruled out as they did not check the consignment before sending it to Islamabad.

“A departmental inquiry will also be launched,” he said, adding that this was the first case of the smuggling of statues of Gandharan Art to Japan that the customs department had intercepted.

“It is yet to be ascertained if the statues were stolen from a museum or found during excavations,” he said.

Published in Dawn, August 17th, 2017