KARACHI: Justice Munawar Sultana of NAB Court has acquitted over 400 suspects including six Principal Appraisers, clearing and border agents in the case regarding pilferage of 7,922 Afghan Commercial containers, which is the biggest scam in the history of Pakistan.
As many as 56 references had been filed in this regard, of which the decision has disposed of 30 references.
Principal Appraisers included Sardar Amin Farooqui, Naimatullah Alvi, MAsood-ul-Hasan, Riaz-ul-Haq Sehto, Wasim Kazmi and Abdul Rehman Kurd (Retired). FBR had dismissed Sardar Amin Farooqui and Naimatullah Alvi from service because of their alleged involvement in the scam. However, both the officers have filed case in the Services Tribunal. Now, with the verdict of the NAB court, it is highly likely that both of them would be reinstated.
Justice Munawar Sultana conducted hearing of the case on daily basis and the case was deliberated in details. However, sources told Customnews.pk that the weak and angled investigation weakened the prosecution and the Court could not find anything concrete against the accused.
The accountability bureau had initiated the investigation in compliance with the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s order in the case of missing containers carrying the logistics for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s and International Security Assistance Forces’ troops fighting against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Supreme Court had assigned the inquiry to FTO Shoib Suddle. He submitted the interim-report, but the investigations were then transferred to FBR on the request of FBR.
The Board submitted the report in this regard before the apex court. Afterwards, the investigations were assigned to NAB.
Sources said that it was a genuine and a very high profile case and the exchequer could have earned billions of rupees, but all the investigating agencies weakened the prosecution. Sources said proper investigations were not carried out, intelligence agencies’ help was not sought and the actual culprits were favored.
FTO Dr. Shoib Suddle in his report mentioned 7,922 containers as missing. Average revenue per container was calculated at Rs2.4 million accounting for a revenue loss of Rs29 billion to the exchequer.
Hafiz Anees (Late) heading FBR Committee formed to investigate the case reported pilferage of 28,000 containers and the criteria was that the containers who had made the trip to Afghanistan and came back to Karachi in eight days were marked. Sources said that this observation was the turning point as it ruined the investigations.
Transporter sources confirmed that a container moving from Karachi could go to Afghanistan and come back within eight days. Only the container making reverse trip within 1 to 5 days for Torkham border and 1- to 3 days for Chaman border, should have been picked and references should have been filed against those only.
However, on the directives of Supreme Court, the NAB filed references pertaining to 7,922 containers, which were reported by the FTO as pilfered or missing.
Sources said there was ample opportunity for the investigating authorities to develop a rock solid case; however, the brokers of the vehicles carrying these containers nor the custodian of the containers i.e. drivers of the vehicles were not investigated. No intelligence was even sought from Intelligence & Investigations Directorates of the FBR itself.
As many as six principal appraisers of Aghtan Transit Group were involved in the investigations, which actually was a diversion. These principal appraisers only performed Goods Declaration (GD) completion and the modus operandi is still the same then and now.
Sources said that officers of the exit collectorates and Preventive staff must have been included in the investigations, as this could have matured the cases and strengthen the prosecution resulting in recovery of huge evaded revenue.
The exit collectorates including MCC Quetta and MCC Peshawar issued cross-border-certificate (CBC) to clearing agents without the containers even have crossed the border. These fake CBCs were issued against handsome bribes. While the preventive staff issued clearance to these consignments without the proper procedure.
The clearing agents were not thoroughly investigated as it is established that several agents were well aware of the crime but they did not inform the authorities about it instead became a beneficiary.
Sources said there were several clearing agents who had turned billionaires in days, and most of their consignments had made border trips in less than three days. Only, if the source of income of these clearing agents was ascertained through investigations, huge recovery could have been effected and real culprits could have been apprehended.
Border agents are the representatives of the importers. The border agents related with the missing containers represented the ghost importers in Afghanistan and knew the entire chain involved in the scam. Thse border agents were not included in the investigations.
It may be mentioned here that, Dr. Shoib Suddle had advised Customs to provide a particular file No. S1/MISC/21DC/AIB/2008 as part of the ongoing investigation. However, the said file was promptly removed from the records.
The file contained evidence regarding Member Customs Muneer Qureshi, then Collector Fateh Mohammad Shaikh, Deputy Collector Eng. Habib, Deputy Collector Sanaullah Abro patronizing the smuggling and pilferage of transit cargo.
Sources said that if the ‘1 to 3 days trip for Quetta border and 1 to 5 days trip for Peshawar border’ formula was adopted, 700 to 800 containers were short-listed and then the investigations were focused on these, recovery could have been effected.
But, investigating around 8,000 containers was mere a futile exercise rather wasting official resources and time. Instead of recovery millions of rupees were wasted while scores of people including officials, agents etc suffered physically as well as psychologically.