Sugar scam probe hangs in the balance

Published April 28, 2021
The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) is likely to launch a fresh probe into the multi-billion-rupee sugar scam after removal of the head of the investigation team. — Reuters/File
The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) is likely to launch a fresh probe into the multi-billion-rupee sugar scam after removal of the head of the investigation team. — Reuters/File

LAHORE: The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) is likely to launch a fresh probe into the multi-billion-rupee sugar scam after removal of the head of the investigation team that had instituted first information reports (FIRs) against the estranged leader of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Jahangir Khan Tareen, and other sugar barons.

“After removal of the sugar scam inquiry team head, FIA Lahore Director Muhammad Rizwan, any action against those nominated in the FIRs has virtually come to a halt at least for the time being,” an official source told Dawn on Tuesday.

“So far, Mr Rizwan has not received a written order regarding his removal. He has been verbally told from the top that he has been separated from the sugar scandal investigation,” he said, adding that the government had not yet appointed a new head of the investigation team.

FIA Additional Director Abu Bakar Khuda Bakhsh has denied reports that he has been appointed as the new head. “I am not appointed head of the sugar scam team as no notification has been issued in this regard,” Mr Bakhsh told Dawn.

Meanwhile, the official source said the new head of the team was likely to review the investigation held so far and start a fresh probe into certain aspects of the scam.

The removal of Mr Rizwan was the main demand of former PTI secretary general Jahangir Tareen and the lawmakers backing him. Mr Tareen had demanded formation of a new team free from the prime minister’s adviser Shahzad Akbar’s influence.

PTI MNA Raja Riaz, who is acting as a spokesperson for the over 30 lawmakers backing Mr Tareen, told a private TV channel that Prime Minister Imran Khan had told their group that FIA investigation team head Rizwan had been removed and Shahzad Akbar would have no role in supervising the sugar scam inquiry. Senator Ali Zafar would oversee the probe now, he added.

“Launching a fresh probe or going slow on this matter means indirectly benefiting those nominated in the FIRs as well as those against whom evidence has surfaced,” the source said, adding that when Mr Tareen and his son Ali appear for an extension to their interim bail in the next hearing on May 3, the FIA intends to seek cancellation of their bail by submitting more incriminating evidence.

According to the investigation into the sugar scam so far, the FIA claims to have registered FIRs against over 30 sugar mills, including the one in which federal minister Khusro Bakhtiar and his family members have major shares. An investigation against Mr Bakhtiar for allegedly accumulating assets worth billions as a public office-holder is also pending with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Lahore.

“FIRs have also been registered against PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif and his son Hamza Shehbaz, officials of the sugar mills of two media houses after their alleged links with the sugar pricing manipulators (satta agents) surfaced,” the FIA report says. The FIA had also registered cases against 40 satta agents.

The agency had last month claimed to have detected Rs110 billion earnings by the ‘sugar mafia’ during the last one year through speculative pricing. “We were in the middle of initiating further action against the powerful sugar barons and satta agents when the FIA was put under immense pressure from the top, and that may result in affecting the investigation,” an official said and added that an FIR against Chaudhry Sugar Mills -- in which PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz has shares -- has also been booked for its alleged links with the satta mafia.

“Since a lot of influential persons, including those belonging to two media houses in question, are apparently involved, the FIA is facing pressure since the beginning of the probe,” the official said.

Under Mr Rizwan, the FIA had in November also registered cases against Tareen, his son Ali, Shehbaz, and his sons Hamza and Suleman in the sugar scam under money laundering, fraud and other charges. The Tareen and Shehbaz families are facing Rs5bn and Rs25bn money laundering and fraud charges, respectively.

Published in Dawn, April 28th, 2021

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