Asad briefs sugar scam probe body on ECC, cabinet decisions

Updated 13 May 2020

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Tells media commission's report to be finalised soon, will determine if sugar was "smuggled" or not. — AFP/File
Tells media commission's report to be finalised soon, will determine if sugar was "smuggled" or not. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: Just four days before the expiry of the extended deadline given to an inquiry commission for the release of forensic audit reports on the 2019 sugar and wheat crises, federal Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar has recorded his statement on the decisions taken by the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) and the federal cabinet regarding sugar and its export.

He met the commission on Tuesday after ex-premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who appeared before the commission last week, had demanded that Prime Minister Imran Khan and Mr Umar should also be investigated to fix responsibility.

An inquiry report earlier filed by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on sugar crisis had revealed names of some bigwigs, including Jahangir Tareen, former secretary general of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and a close confidant of Prime Minister Imran Khan, besides close relatives of the leadership of PTI allies who had allegedly obtained benefit during the crisis.

However, the government constituted an inquiry commission in the first week of April and asked it to submit a forensic audit report on April 25. The deadline was later extended till May 16.

After meeting the commission members during his visit to the FIA headquarters on Tuesday, the Minister for Planning and Development told the media that he was apprised during questioning that the commission’s report would be finalised soon. The report would reveal whether sugar was “smuggled” or not, he added.

“Everything will be made clear in a few days and everyone will know the difference between Imran Khan and others,” he said, hinting that no one involved in the scam would be spared.

The commission had summoned Mr Umar to ask questions about sugar exports and his position on subsidies.

The federal minister had himself requested to appear before the commission. In his tweet, Mr Umar had said PML-N leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had demanded that he and PM Khan be summoned to the Sugar Inquiry Commission.

Asked if PM Khan would also appear before the commission as demanded by the opposition, Mr Umar said: “Any question that needs to be answered should be posed to me instead of the Prime Minister.”

Earlier, ex-PM Abbasi had told the commission that there would be no worth of its report if it did not summon PM Khan and Mr Umar, who was then the chairman of the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) that had allowed export of sugar.

“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,” Mr Abbasi had said.

The ex-PM had himself written a letter to the commission and offered his services to it by sharing his experiences in probing the sugar scam.

The FIA inquiry committee had earlier found that 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 January 2019, the prices of sugar sharply increased. However, the inquiry report also showed in the past few years sugar production was historically more than the local requirement and said it was imperative to include this aspect related to export of sugar, including any subsidy given, its impact on local sugar prices and major beneficiaries of such export subsidies, if any.

The government, however, formed the sugar forensic commission and asked it to submit its report by April 25. The commission, headed by 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 federal cabinet in its meeting on April 28 allowed three more weeks to the commission to compile its report.

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2020