Supreme Court suspends contempt proceedings against Customs officers

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) has stayed the contempt proceedings initiated against the Pakistan Customs officers by Sindh High Court (SHC) providing the Customs authorities space to continue undertaking anti-smuggling activities and conduct investigations.

ASO of MCC Preventive Karachi had seized a consignment of smuggled goods. Muhammad Hassan Nadeem, owner of the seized goods, approached SHC securing an order for the release of seized goods. However, ASO refused to release the goods for being smuggled.

Muhammad Hassan then approached SHC praying initiation of contempt proceedings against the Customs authorities.

In response, Collector Saquif Saeed advised Assistant Collector Shafiullah approached Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) against the SHC order of releasing the goods as well as contempt proceedings. Additional Collector Haroon Malik provided all support and assistance to Shafiullah.

The apex court has also stayed release of goods because without the case property, the criminal proceedings would merely be a formality.

A bench of Supreme Court of Pakistan comprising Justice Umar Ata Bandial and Justice Munib Akhtar ordered issuance of notices in a Civil Petition filed by Secretary, Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) challenging an order of a customs appellate bench of High Court of Sindh pertaining to Section 162 and 163 of the Customs Act 1969.

Muhammad Hassan Nadeem, owner of consignment stored at private godowns was respondent in the case. The petition impugns a judgment dated 22-12-2020 by SHC which ordered release of goods seized by the custom officials.

The bench discussed the procedure to be followed under section 162 and 163 of the Customs Act 1969 and powers available to the custom officials. The bench noting the violations of the two provisions by the seizing party and manner in which seizure was made, delay in making of inventory etc ordered FBR to take action against the custom officers/officials.

Faisal Siddiqui and Raja Iqbal Advocates appearing before the Supreme Court raised the points that SHC has allowed application for quashing of FIR and also ordered release of goods and that observations made in relation to search and seizure and the inquiry ordered against the petitioners without looking at the contents of the FIR would facilitate the quashing of such proceedings.

The bench after hearing the counsel for petitioner (FBR) ordered issuance of notices. The bench with reference to FIR said that trial court could consider any application for quashing of FIR without being influenced by the observation and findings recorded in the impugned judgment dated 22-12-2020.

The bench also restrained SHC from any action in contempt applications filed by importer.

The apex court will now decide on key question of enforcement, interpretation and procedure in respect of section 162 and 163, proper application or alleged abuse of powers and punishment in such cases.

It may be mentioned here that all ASO activities that had paused after SHC’s order have now been resumed on the directives of Collector Preventive Saquif Saeed.

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