No plan to scan bank lockers for dollars

Published September 10, 2023
An employee of a foreign exchange shop counts US dollar banknotes from behind a glass booth in Karachi on September 7. — Reuters
An employee of a foreign exchange shop counts US dollar banknotes from behind a glass booth in Karachi on September 7. — Reuters

KARACHI: Rumours circulating on various mainstream and social media outlets this past week suggested that the interim government had plans to launch a massive crackdown on bank lockers nationwide in a bid to collect much-needed foreign exchange.

Reports claiming that authorities were gearing up for a significant operation against the illegal hoarding of dollars and would be deploying special scanners that could detect foreign currency in lockers were shared like wildfire, prompting an outcry.

However, both the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) have refuted these claims. They emphasise that the government’s efforts are focused on preventing the illegal outflow of dollars.

The chief spokesman of the SBP stated, “The SBP has not initiated any such move, nor is it possible to scan lockers from the outside.”

He said that the report claiming lockers were being scrutinised in search of dollars is “completely false”.

Similarly, FIA Punjab Director Sarfraz Virk told Dawn on Saturday that it had started action against those involved in foreign currency smuggling to Afghanistan and surveillance had been enhanced at all airports to stop the carriers to take the foreign currency abroad beyond the prescribed limit.

Categorically denying the news, Mr Virk said, “No action at this stage with regard to lockers and collecting the names of those bought dollars from exchange companies in bulk has been planned.”

Mr Virk further said the FIA had enhanced action against those involved in hawala/hundy business and arrested some suspects across the province.

“It will be our utmost effort to stop dollar smuggling at all levels,” he added.

Reacting to the recent news, Malik Bostan, Chairman of the Exchange Companies Association of Pakistan, expressed concern that such reports would undermine the government’s efforts to restore confidence in Pakistan’s economy. He noted that recent measures have led to a strengthening of the rupee.

The dollar closed at Rs302.95 in the interbank market on Friday, a decrease from Rs304.94 the previous day, reflecting a decline of Rs2. The rupee has appreciated around Rs4.15, or 1.37pc, over the past three days, according to SBP data.

Echoing this sentiment, AAH Soomro, an independent analyst, explained that the recent gains in the rupee reflect the restoration of confidence in the country’s economy.

Just a few days ago, another piece of “fake news” was circulated widely online, claiming that the government had imposed a ban on Rs5,000 currency notes.

Interim Information Minister Murtaza Solangi promptly dismissed the ‘notification’ as “fake news”.

Sharing the fake notification in his post on X, formerly known as Twitter, the information minister said, “This is fake. The government of Pakistan shall act against people spreading this kind of fake news to create chaos.”

Zulqernain Tahir in Lahore and Shahid Iqbal in Karachi also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, September 10th, 2023

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