LAHORE: The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on Thursday booked eight more major sugar groups and 40 ‘satta-agents’ (speculative pricing manipulators) for “speculative price hike”.
The FIA has detected Rs110 billion earning by the sugar mafia over the past one year through “speculative pricing” and initiated action against those involved in it.
No arrest has been made so far as the FIA says it is waiting for results of forensic audit of about three dozen mobile phones and laptop devices recovered from the satta-agents.
“It is a massive financial crime and the masses, especially the poor, are its victims. We are taking action against the sugar groups and satta-agents involved in this scam without any exception,” FIA Punjab (Zone-I) Director Dr Muhammad Rizwan told Dawn on Thursday.
In reply to a question about laying hands on “big fish” in the sugar industry for their alleged involvement in speculative pricing, he said: “We are receiving evidence in bulk and registered FIRs against them and 40 pricing manipulators. And once we get the report of forensic evidence arrests will be made.”
Adviser to the Prime Minister on Accountability and Interior Shahzad Akbar told a news conference here on Thursday that cases were being registered right now and arrests would be made later.
The FIA director said the agency was also examining the bank transactions in this regard. “Black money is used in the business of speculative pricing and 10 major sugar groups from Lahore, Multan, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Hasilpur and Bahawalpur are involved in this crime,” he added.
As many as 40 speculative pricing manipulators were booked by the FIA under sections 420, 468, 471 and 109 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), read with sections 3/4 of Anti-Money Laundering Act 2010, on Thursday and their connections were established with Alliance, Al-Moiz, Hamza, Chinar, Omni, Ittefaq, Ashraf, Fecto, Pattoki and Sheikoo sugar groups.
On Wednesday, the FIA had booked estranged PTI leader Jahangir Tareen’s JDW group, the Sharif group related to PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif and his sons — Hamza and Suleman— and Gourmet Bakers & Sweets (Pvt) Ltd, Lahore, under the same PPC sections.
According to the FIR, during the course of inquiry against the sugar mafia, “it has transpired that sugar industry barons, sugar-brokers & their satta-agents, in active connivance with sugar-mills, have transformed into a clandestine sugar satta-mafia and are operating in a collusive but secret-mode, especially through electronic means/WhatsApp groups to dishonestly and fraudulently maneuver, manipulate and artificially hike sugar prices, amidst hoax of impending sugar-stocks shortages (while sugar-stocks are lying ‘unsold’ or ‘sold/un-lifted’ in mills & godowns and demand-supply gap is artificial)”.
The FIA Lahore had in November last registered cases against Jahangir Tareen, his son Ali Tareen, PML-N resident Shehbaz Sharif, his sons Hamza and Suleman and others in the sugar scam under money laundering, fraud and other charges, but made no attempt to arrest them. Jahangir Tareen and Hamza Shehbaz had joined the investigation, but Shehbaz Sharif had sought time to respond to FIA’s queries in this regard.
The FIA had also investigated federal minister Khusro Bakhtiar and his family members in the sugar scam; however, it has yet to give them a clean chit.
When asked about the status of investigation against Mr Bakhtiar and his company, the FIA director said: “Investigation against him is under way.”
Following FIA’s action against the sugar groups and satta-agents, sugar traders have gone on strike in parts of Punjab.
“Sugar mills have nothing to do with speculative pricing as they supply sugar to the market. We are rather against satta and discourage it,” Punjab’s spokesman for the Pakistan Sugar Mills Association told Dawn.
He said that for the last two days the sugar traders had been on strike in the province against the FIA’s action which they termed harassment. “The government needs to sit with both sugar mills and traders to sort out the issue of increase in sugar price. This issue can be sorted out amicably, otherwise through this environment of harassment, sugar price will further shoot up,” he warned.
Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2021