FIA looking into ‘speculative’ pricing in sugar scam

Published November 9, 2021
A photo of a person taking out sugar from a bag. — Reuters/File
A photo of a person taking out sugar from a bag. — Reuters/File

LAHORE: As the Punjab administration continues crackdown on suspects involved in ‘artificial sugar price hike and hoarding’, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has also started looking into ‘speculative pricing’ (satta), if any, leading to money laundering.

“We will investigate end-to-end money trail if this artificial ramp-up of prices by sugar cartel (satta) translates into money laundering,” FIA’s Lahore Director DIG Mohammad Rizwan Zafar told Dawn on Monday.

It is the district administration (of Punjab)’s mandate to lay hands on the suspects involved in hoarding and artificial sugar price hike, the FIA is only looking into whether there is any fresh speculative pricing committed by sugar mill owners in Punjab, leading to money laundering.

The FIA had, in March last, registered FIRs against over 30 sugar mills, including that of PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif and his son Hamza, estranged leader of ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Jehangir Tareen and his son Ali, federal minister Khusro Bakhtiar and his family members (for having major shares), and the officials of the sugar mills of two media houses after their alleged links with the sugar pricing manipulators (satta agents) surfaced.

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. The FIA had also registered cases against 40 satta agents. However, no significant progress has been made in these cases so far.

The FIA had claimed to have detected Rs110 billion earnings by the ‘sugar mafia’ in 2020 through speculative pricing. “The FIA was in the middle of initiating ‘strong action’ against the powerful sugar barons and satta agents when the agency was put under immense pressure from the top, resultantly causing a go-slow into the probe,” a source said.

The Tareen and Shehbaz families are facing Rs5bn and Rs25bn money laundering and fraud charges, respectively.

The FIA had warned Hamza Shehabaz, the Punjab Assembly opposition leader, to provide a ‘money trail’ of Rs25bn or face confiscation of his properties. The FIA says evidence shows this amount (Rs25bn) has illegally been acquired and concealed by Hamza.

In the case of Tareens, the FIA had already told the court that it did not require their arrest at this stage of investigation.

Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2021

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