KARACHI: The prices of betel nut have shot up in the local market as Customs authorities cracked down illegal import and smuggling of betel nut.

The prices of betel nut have surged to Rs1500/kg in the last two days. Earlier the commodity was being sold at Rs600/kg despite the fact that there was no legal import of betel nut.

An official said if smuggled from Afghanistan, it costs Rs1200/kg approximately. If it is cleared from green channel through mis-declaration, it costs Rs600/kg. The scam was running for the last couple of months and the goods were being cleared from green channel and through mis-declaration with the connivance of Customs officials.

MCC Preventive Karachi seized 13 containers of betel nut a couple of days earlier and initiated investigations into the scam identifying Customs officials patronizing the illegal import of betel nut. The said import earlier cleared 50 containers of which only 8 containers were examined.

It may be mentioned here that government collected Rs4.0 of taxes/container of betel nut, while around 300 containers were imported every month. Department of Plant Protection eliminated the legal import of betel nut and many other goods including spices etc. Former Minister Sikandar Hayat Bosat, Khurram Dastgir and Humayun Akhtar are said to be the beneficiaries of smuggling of betel nut and other such goods. Moreover, DG Waseem and Director Sohail Shahzad of Department of Plant Protection, Member Customs Zahid Khokhar, Chief Collector Abdul Rasheed Sheikh and DG Customs Intelligence Shaukat Ali enabled the scam, wherein the state exchequer was inflicted a huge loss.

Several conditions were imposed by the Department of Plant Protection on the import Betel nut and several others goods discouraging their imports. Later, these goods found their way in the country through controlled smuggling and misuse of green channel facility.

Sources said Chief Collector Abdul Rasheed Sheikh and Director General Customs Intelligence Shaukat Ali were very powerful officers in the previous government and enjoyed unlimited authorities. Superintendent Rafiq Maher in Karachi and he is looking after MCC Port Qasim, KICT and anti-smuggling despite he does not have the charge of ASO.

Director Customs Intelligence Karachi Fayyaz Anwar has no powers at all and considered as a dummy director. Superintendent Rafiq Mahar, Additional Collector Ali Zaman Gardezi and Deputy Collector Saad Rabbani are in direct contact with the Director General Shaukat Ali bypassing the Director Fayyaz Anwar.
An official said if any director of Customs Intelligence dared to speak-up against the wrongdoings of Director General, such officers were either transferred or the Director General writes a letter aimed at destroying the carrier of the officer.