Abbasi wants PM, Asad quizzed by sugar scam probe body

Updated 10 May 2020

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Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi appears probe commission. — AP/File
Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi appears probe commission. — AP/File

ISLAMABAD: Senior vice president of the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has urged the commission of inquiry on the sugar scam to include Prime Minister Imran Khan and the then finance minister Asad Umar in the investigation to find out the truth.

Talking to reporters after appearing before the commission with another senior party leader and former minister Khurram Dastagir Khan here on Saturday, Mr Abbasi said he had told the commission there would be no worth of its report if it did not summon the prime minister and Mr Umar, the then chairman of the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) that had allowed export of sugar despite knowing it was not available in stock.

“We do not talk politics. We have presented facts before the commission. If the prime minister and the [former] ECC chairman are not called [for interrogation] there will be no worth of the commission’s report,” said Mr Abbasi, who had served as prime minister after disqualification of Nawaz Sharif in July 2017 as a result of the Supreme Court’s verdict in Al-Azizia corruption case.

Mr Abbasi had himself written a letter to the commission and offered his services to it by sharing his experiences in probing the sugar scam. He had stated that he would inform the commission how sugar scandals developed in the light of his experience as a former chief executive of the country.

Mr Abbasi held the prime minister directly responsible for over Rs100 billion sugar scam, saying the inquiry commission should ask him the reason for allowing sugar export despite the fact that the commodity was not available in surplus in the country and for not taking any step to prevent increase in its price. He said the export continued for 16 months with 45 per cent increase in the sugar price in the country, but the government took no notice of it.

The former prime minister alleged that the sugar mill owners earned Rs30 per kilogram extra due to this decision of the government. He said the increase in sugar price proved the decisions of the cabinet and the ECC to export sugar were wrong.

“There can be three factors behind this wrong decision. Either the prime minister is incompetent or corrupt or he is both. The facts prove he is incompetent as well as corrupt and the people of Pakistan are paying the price for it,” he said.

Mr Abbasi said he had told the inquiry commission it would not be able to understand the issue until it would not summon the members of the cabinet and the ECC.

“Is it not a matter of conflict of interests?” he asked, alleging those who made billions through the sugar scam were part of the federal cabinet.

Mr Abbasi said it was a clear, open and shut case as facts showed sugar was exported against the advice of the relevant authorities and continued to be exported for 16 months while prices rose. He said not only that, the government also imposed a special tax on sugar import to ensure the rise in price and exploitation of the people.

Replying to a question, the former prime minister said when the PML-N had left the government in 2018, the sugar price was Rs54 per kg. He said the PML-N had also given huge subsidy of over Rs20bn and even allowed the export, but at the same time it kept check on its price and brought the price down.

Responding to another query, he said they had not given anything in writing or any document, but they were ready to do so, if asked. However, he said, the minutes of the meetings of the cabinet and the ECC would be sufficient as evidence.

The federal cabinet in its meeting on April 28 had allowed three more weeks to the Sugar Forensic Commission (SFC) to compile its report on last year’s food crisis after the expiry of the April 25 deadline given for the task.

The commission headed by Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Director General Wajid Zia had reportedly made a formal request to the federal government to grant it more time citing multiple reasons, including the situation created by coronavirus.

The commission had been constituted by the government in the first week of April following the release of two separate inquiry reports of the FIA on the issue of artificial shortage of sugar and wheat in the country and sudden increase in their prices last year.

The inquiry report on sugar had revealed names of many bigwigs, including Jahangir Tareen, former secretary general of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and a close confidant of Prime Minister Imran Khan, who had allegedly obtained benefit during the crisis.

The report had showed in the past few years sugar production was historically more than the local requirement and said therefore it was imperative to include this aspect related to export of sugar, including any subsidy given, its impact on local sugar prices and eventually major beneficiaries of such export subsidies, if any. The inquiry committee had found the sugar export was not justified as sugarcane production was expected to be low in harvesting season 2018-19 and with the export of sugar in Jan 2019, the prices of sugar sharply increased.

After the release of the report, the opposition had demanded that the PM take stern action against those who had been declared responsible for the crisis by the FIA committee.

PM Khan had vowed to take action, but said he would do so after receiving the forensic audit report from the commission he had constituted on the recommendation of the ‘initial’ reports. The commission comprises officials from a number of agencies and departments, including Intelligence Bureau and the Federal Board of Revenue.

Published in Dawn, May 10th, 2020