ISLAMABAD – A three-member Supreme Court bench has observed that due to sheer negligence of the Customs Department and the police, contraband items in the garb of foodstuff meant for Afghanistan have been smuggled into Pakistan.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry heading the bench on Monday noted, “The goods meant for NATO and ISAF in Afghanistan are smuggled into Pakistan, which is destroying our country’s economy.” He observed that unfortunately, despite notice, no action was taken by the Customs Department except the Collector Customs, Rawalpindi, who, when summoned by the SC, submitted a comprehensive report on the directives of the Court and informed that some action had been taken against the officials who had shown negligence.
The bench also clubbed all the cases of such nature and directed Muneer Qureshi, Member Customs, to submit his reply over the episode on September 23 satisfying the questions and concerns raised by the Court.
The CJ directed Member Customs, Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), to file a comprehensive statement over permission of contraband items under the garb of food supplies to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan through Afghan Transit Trade Agreement (ATTA). The Court also sought comprehensive report over 10,000 to 11,000 containers of ISAF which went missing, as they did not reach Afghanistan during the last one to two years and Customs had no record of these containers, causing huge revenue losses to the national kitty and already riddled economy of Pakistan.
The Court was hearing a matter pertaining to seizure of a large cache of liquor by police worth over Rs 80 million which was found in a container of ISAF’s contractor, the Luner Products Company based in Afghanistan. In July, Director General Inspection and Investigation Peshawar had seized a container (GD-AT No KAPR-AT-32478) with a declaration of assorted beverages. On investigation it was found that the container did not belong to ISAF and it was also confirmed by the ISAF’s headquarters in Kabul. A joint inspection by intelligence and Customs personnel revealed that the container carried liquor and other contraband items.
During the course of hearing, the Chief Justice asked Muneer Qureshi about his action over the complaints of allowing containers containing contraband items in the country. “They are illegally bringing goods to your country and destroying your economy,” the Chief Justice noted.
Qureshi told the Court that he had taken action against two officials involved in the episode. “You people loaded liquor in seized container, but mentioned in the invoice that it contained food items,” the Court noted, adding the container started its journey from Karachi and after reaching Tarnol, liquor was found in it. Qureshi admitted that every container bound for ISAF was not checked as merely 10 to 15 percent were randomly inspected.
“It means you do not have surveillance over the supply meant for NATO forces and they can bring whatever they want,” the Court observed. “What would you do if they unload explosive material in any part of the country? What is the guarantee since you do not check and sit idle after checking a stamp of ISAF,” the Court noted.
The Court observed that there was a dire need to change the system and asked as to why each and every container was not being checked by the Customs officials.
The Member Customs said the random checking of 10 to 15 percent had been started the previous year, adding earlier there was no checking at all. He said the company whose container was carrying liquor was a license holder of National Logistics Cell (NLC).
The Court grilled Qureshi for expressing helplessness to make any observation on NLC. “If you cannot dare ask NLC then do not stay in this job,” the Chief Justice maintained. “This is not a trivial thing that smuggling is being done in the name of NLC,” he added.
The Chief Justice observed that many people would lose their jobs in the case as besides Customs, police and Levies were also involved in the containers scam. He observed that the case was a very big issue as goods were being smuggled in ISAF containers incurring heavy losses to the national exchequer.
Qureshi said NATO stuff was being supplied either by trains or NLC, however he added that some private transporters also transported the goods. The Chief Justice said there was a plethora of complaints that smuggling was being carried out in the pretext of NATO containers.
Our monitoring desk adds: THE Supreme Court on Monday took serious exception to reports of liquor smuggling in containers meant for carrying ammunition, food and other necessities for NATO forces in Afghanistan and warned that ‘high-profile’ people could lose their jobs if their involvement was proved, report private TV channels.
In his remarks during the hearing of a case about finding of thousands of litres of liquor from a NATO container en route to Afghanistan from Karachi, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry expressed his displeasure, saying that ‘several high-profile people are likely to lose their jobs in this case’.
Justice Iftikhar pointed out while demanding a thorough detail to be furnished before the apex court on Sept 23.
Justice Tariq Pervez remarked that the cargo for Afghanistan was being sold in Peshawar – Nation