KARACHI: The chairman, Special Customs Appellate Tribunal has dismissed 23 identical appeals and allowed the release of Betel Nuts, cloth, Cigarette Sticks on ground that same were seized from city area and that custom cases were founded on presumptions, assumptions, conjectures, fishing and rowing inquiry and fails the test of a judicial scrutiny.

Mr Sajid Abbasi, Member Judicial II/ Chairman of the tribunal heard the appeals filed by Wali Muhammad claimant of 6000 kilograms of Betel Nuts, Syed Fida, claimant of 2000 Kg Plastic Shopping Bags, 2000 Ltre Engine Oil, Nisar Ahmed, claimant of 905 Kg of cloth, Nasibullah claimant of 5340 stick cigarette and others.

The respondents include Collector of Customs Adjudication MCC, Custom House Gaddani, DG Head Quarters, Pakistan Coast Guards and Collector Customs.

The appellants challenged the respective Orders in Originals (ONO’s) passed by the adjudicating authority. As the appeals contained common legal issues and identical facts except nature of goods seized or confiscated, the bench heard and disposed of the same through a common judgment spreading over 14 pages.

According to the facts discussed in the judgment, a customs party acting on a credible information reached near a Mazda T3500 Mini truck parked near Football Stadium, New Abadi, Baldia Town Karachi. A person approached the raiding party and introduced himself as driver of the said vehicle. He also informed that the bags of Betel Nuts were loaded from Ghani Chowrangi. According to custom officials, driver failed in producing any documents and stated that goods were owned by one Wali Muhammad.

The adjudicating authority passing the ONO ordered confiscation of the Betel Nuts. Regarding the vehicle, option was given to the owner to get the vehicle released on payment of 20 percent redemption fine equal to the value of the vehicle. The option was however conditional that it was not previously used in smuggling.

The tribunal perusing the case file noted that one Munir Ahmed son of Bisham Khan claimed the goods and vehicle. The appellant/accused maintained before the authorities that the goods and vehicle were seized during transportation within city limits. It was further contended that original receipt of purchase and import documents were presented by the driver but the same were not considered by the customs authorities nor were ever returned to the owner.

The tribunal noted that place of seizure is not a border area nor non-authorized route. It was also held that provisions of Section 103 Cr.P.C were not complied with.

The bench in operative part of the judgment held that case against the appellant is based on presumptions, assumptions, conjectures, rowing and fishing exercise or inquiry and fails the test of judicial scrutiny. Serious omissions and commissions were found in contraventions report as well as in order passed by the adjudicating authority.

The Chairman of the Custom Appellate Tribunal parting with the judgment ordered release of the  confiscated goods on payment of custom duty and taxes along with Rupees 10000 as redemption fine and personal penalty of 10,000.

Interestingly the Betel Nuts are non-importable item rather banned item. The item if imported is liabale to clearance from Plant Protection Department.

The tribunal is working without Member Technical since many months and thus incomplete. Yet another issue is of single member bench hearing cases to be heard by a double member bench, one of which necessarily should be the Member Technical. The lapse is resulting in decisions against the department causing loss of millions every day.