ISLAMABAD, May 15: Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry expressed his concern about the large amount of the drug ecstasy that might have slipped into Iran and beyond, at a Supreme Court hearing on the ephedrine scandal on Tuesday.

“The issue now involves Pakistan’s honour,” CJ Chaudhry observed, as he presided over a three-judge bench hearing a petition submitted by the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) against the import of ephedrine.

One of the ANF representatives informed the SC that a team from the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) might visit Pakistan sometime in July to carry out an investigation. According to the representative, they were unhappy about the smuggling of the chemical into Iran.

The case has cast the limelight on the prime minister’s younger son, Ali Musa Gilani, and placed him front and centre in one of the most controversial hearings in the SC.

In order to get to the bottom of the case, the CJ asked ANF Regional Director Brig Fahim Ahmed Khan -- who is spearheading an inquiry into the ephedrine drugs case -- how the drugs were smuggled out of the country.

According to Brig Fahim, around 6,400kg of ecstasy was seized in Iran, 750kg in Iraq and around 200kg in Karachi in 2011. The owners of the two companies at the centre stage of the entire scandal, namely Messers Berlex Lab International, Multan, and Messers Danas Pharma (Pvt) Ltd, Islamabad, are now in jail.

Messers Belex and Messers Danas were allocated 6,500kg and 2,500kg of ephedrine respectively in 2010-11 for export purposes to Iraq and Afghanistan. This happened despite the fact that 20 other companies were waiting for a 5,710kg quota allocation.

The allocation is in clear violation of UN conventions, since the export quota was 3,000kg for Iraq and 50kg for Afghanistan. In 2010, the total allocation of ephedrine was raised to 31,534kg despite the annual ceiling of 22,000kg authorised by the INCB for Pakistan. During the last four years, the average allocation of ephedrine was 13,544kg per annum for an average of 60 to 70 pharmaceutical companies.

The maximum quota allocated to a single company in the past ranged between 800kg and 1000kg of ephedrine, Brig Fahim explained.

When the court inquired who was responsible for enhancing the quota, Brig Fahim pointed fingers at former director general health Dr Rasheed Jooma. According to Brig Fahim, Dr Jooma was responsible for the authorised limits.

During the proceedings, the SC also noted the role played by Acting Secretary of the Ministry of Narcotics Control Zafar Abbas Lak, one of the accused in the scam. Mr Abbas was seen as being extraordinarily active, since he intervened in the investigation process by transferring Brig Fahim and his associate, Deputy Director Abid Zulfikar.

The SC issued a stay order against the transfer on April 10.

The court ordered Zafar Abbas to explain his position in black and white. According to the SC, it is currently not possible to draw a definitive conclusion about his role. The SC plans to further examine and consider his conduct while concluding the present proceedings.

The court also expressed concern over the slow pace of the investigation process. This was due to the non-availability of some of the persons involved in the offence, since they are currently out of the country. The SC hoped that the probe would be completed, and that the court could reconvene on the present case after three weeks.

Brig Fahim and Abid Zulfikar also pointed out that Deputy Director Tanvir Ahmed was forced and compelled by the Federal Investigation Authority (FIA) to sign documents in 2010 that established the innocence of Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Khushnood Lashari.

Mr Zulfikar also informed the court that Mr Tanvir was produced before a magistrate to record a statement.

The court directed the ANF to submit an application, which included these facts in detail. That way the court could take action in the future.

Advocate Salman Akram Raja, who represented Khushnood Lashari, denied the claims made by Brig Fahim in an affidavit he filed before the court after his meeting with Mr Lashari. Brig Fahim quoted Mr Lashari making a statement meant to spare Ali Musa Gilani.

Mr Lashari, however, accepted that he had met the investigating team five times, out of which he met them alone four times. Though the apex court leaves the matter for the concerned court, they do expect that a fair opportunity will be provided to Mr Lashari to join the ongoing investigations.

Referring to the concise statement filed by Ali Musa Gilani, which requests the apex court to entrust the investigation to any officer of the ANF other than Brig Fahim, the court observed that the evaluation of the evidence against the accused had to be examined by the trial court tasked with the matter and not by the SC. The SC reiterated its earlier observation that the ANF would conduct investigations independently and transparently and would avoid maligning anyone unnecessarily.