159 of 355 vehicles were cleared of tax evasion, fact finding report on Torkham

ISLAMABAD: A fact-finding investigation has found that 159 out of 355 vehicles, which were suspected to have escaped from the Torkham border without paying taxes, have paid the taxes but it has not ruled out pilferages due to deficiencies in the terminal operator – the National Logistics Cell (NLC), Tribune reported.

“The scrutiny of a list of 355 vehicles so far shows that record of 159 vehicles is available and verifiable whereas scrutiny through cross-matching for the rest of the vehicles/consignments mentioned in the list is still under way,” said an interim fact-finding report of the Pakistan Customs.

The FBR headquarters had ordered the fact-finding report after the Directorate General of Intelligence and Investigation pointed out that “foreign goods are either being smuggled into the country without filling goods declaration or being mis-declared through falsification.”

The Directorate General of Intelligence and Investigation claimed that there were 355 vehicles that passed through the Torkham border without electronically filing the goods declaration, which is mandatory. On January 29, The Express Tribune published a story on the basis of the directorate’s official correspondence with the FBR chairman. After The Express Tribune’s report, Prime Minister Imran Khan ordered the transfer of key customs officials posted in Peshawar and Torkham, including the member customs operation.

Former member customs operation Jawad Agha had ordered the fact-finding report on January 20 but he was shown the door before the inquiry was completed.

However, the interim report claims that it has found 159 vehicles had filed the goods declaration. It stated that 144 vehicles electronically filed the goods declaration through the WeBOC system, eight through One Customs, five vehicles were found in transit record and there was duplication of number of one vehicle.

The interim report added that the fact-finding committee was in the process of reconciliation of data of the remaining 196 vehicles. The report did not rule out pilferages but it largely put the responsibility on the terminal operator – the NLC.

 “It appears that the exercise of reconciliation of record with the import data of WeBOC, One Customs carried out by the staff of the Directorate General of Intelligence and Investigation, Peshawar has some discrepancies, resulting in overstatement of a number of vehicles alleged to have escaped from the Torkham customs stations without filing the goods declaration,” stated the interim report.

In order to avoid duplication, the fact-finding committee has proposed the constitution of a joint team of the Customs Collectorate and the Directorate General of Intelligence and Investigation to investigate the matter.

The Customs Collectorate and the Directorate General of Intelligence and Investigation had also separately registered two FIRs against the suspected vehicles. The Customs Collectorate lodged the FIR on January 31 and mentioned 230 suspected vehicles whose data could not be reconciled at the initial stage.

The intelligence directorate also lodged an FIR on February 3 and mentioned 355 vehicles with their complete names and registration numbers. However, out of these, the fact-finding report disclosed that 159 vehicles fulfilled all legal requirements and should not have been mentioned in the FIR.

The terminal at Torkham is almost non-existent in the absence of necessary requirements of cargo security and entry/exit controls required to be implemented by the terminal operator as prescribed under the Customs Rules of 2001, according to the fact-finding report.

It added that NLC was required to fulfill the necessary requirements in terms of building infrastructure, examination facilities, secure environment, information technology and documentation under the Customs Rules. “During the inquiry and investigation of the incident, it transpired that one of the major reasons which facilitates the pilferage of goods and vehicles is the deficiency in the terminal operation and weak control and security of terminal operator.”

During the past one year, the Customs Collectorate had given multiple warnings to NLC to improve its systems but the warnings fell on deaf ears, showed the official correspondences between NLC and the Customs Collectorate. The fact-finding report revealed that NLC showed its inability to implement standard operating procedures whose implementation was crucial for minimising revenue leakages.

The report further revealed that in the absence of required facilities, the staff of customs stations at Torkham had a parallel system of issuing manual entry and exit passes along with entries into registers.

So much so, NLC provided electricity and internet connectivity at the terminal gates on January 20. The Customs Department was also facing shortage of staff and officers.

A couple of months ago, Prime Minister Imran Khan had approved the hiring of 2,000 people in the Customs Department to curb smuggling. However, the Establishment Division offered only 648 positions for recruitment while ignoring the PM’s directive.

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