In a decisive move to clamp down on smuggling, the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has issued a directive to all Customs field formations, mandating the lodging of First Information Reports (FIRs) against individuals involved in the smuggling of goods valued at Rs. 5 million or above. This also includes smuggled vehicles, wherein vehicles valuing over Rs5 million will be subjected to FIRs.

The new policy also requires the initiation of property forfeiture proceedings for cases involving seized goods worth Rs. 10 million or more.

This marks a significant shift from previous practices where the decision to file FIRs was left to the discretion of Customs staff. Reports suggest that this discretion has been misused in the past to favor certain importers, with FIRs being sidestepped and only contraventions issued.

Under the new guidelines, for smuggling instances where the value of seized goods falls below Rs. 5 million, the decision to lodge FIRs will be made on a case-by-case basis. Factors such as the offender’s history, the nature of the offense, and the category of the seized goods will be considered.

The authority to authorize FIRs now rests solely with the Collector, who is tasked with ensuring the legality and bona fides of each seizure before proceeding.

The FBR has also highlighted that despite the introduction of stringent punishments for smuggling under the Customs Act, 1969, as amended by the Finance Bill, 2020, there has been a lack of enforcement, particularly in high-value cases. It has been observed that FIRs are not being filed consistently in cases where the value of seized goods exceeds Rs. 10 million, despite the legal requirement to do so.

To ensure compliance with these new measures, the FBR has requested monthly reports on FIR lodgings from the Collectorates/Directorates, with the first report due on June 6, 2021. This step is expected to enhance transparency and accountability within the Customs department and serve as a deterrent against smuggling activities.