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Investigation of customs scam at Torkham station takes new turn

Investigation of customs scam at Torkham station takes new turn

ISLAMABAD: A major customs scandal at Torkham border station has taken new turn as Afghan authorities confirmed to Pakistani side that certificate of origin in case of 378 consignments of apple were found fake.

Prime Minister Imran Khan had already assigned to probe alleged scandal of clearing vehicles without payment of duty and taxes at Torkham border station to Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

The FBR had also established separate joint investigation team under the supervision of Federal Board of Revenue Member Legal Dr Arsalan Subuctageen to ascertain facts of this alleged massive scam.

The Customs Intelligence had raised red flag about this alleged scam but the customs officials in their counter reports had termed it completely wrong arguing that nothing of this happened.

With this latest confirmation, now again the alleged scam is heading towards proving stance taken out by customs intelligence as correct one but lets wait what FIA and FBR’s own investigations found correct and held anyone responsible and found guilty for causing massive losses to the national exchequer

Official documents and background interviews of top customs intelligence as well as FBR officials disclosed that in order to check misuse of exemption on account of import of apple, the Afghan authorities were forwarded to ascertain their veracity. In course of this verification process, the certificates of origin furnished against 541 consignments cleared from customs station Torkham during the period from 1-7-2019 to 31-10-2019 were forwarded to concerned Afghan authorities through FBR/Ministry of Foreign affairs vide Collectorate’s letter C.No.1 (28) TEC/App/2019/1944 dated 31-11-2019.

In response, the Afghan authorities confirmed to Pak embassy in Kabul that the certificates of origin in respect of 378 consignments were found fake. In official response it was informed that they used the word fake twice in official communication.

It is relevant to mention here that imports of edible goods from Afghanistan are exempt from tax collection whereas in case of importing from other countries the importers had to pay 17 percent per kilogram as duty on their imports to Pakistan including the apple bringing in from Iran.

Now the certificate of origin in case of 378 consignments related to apple was sent out to Afghanistan for verification/authentication but now afghan authorities declared majority of these certificate of four months period as fake.

Now Model Customs Collectorates Peshawar Appraisement lodged FIR this week on 7-4-2020 but interestingly no staff of customs was held responsible for accepting these fake certificates.

Earlier, the Customs’ Chief Collector North in his report had denied any involvement of staff into this scam. On the issue of suspicion of foreign loaded apples cleared from Torkham without payment of duty and taxes, he had responded that the customs intelligence Peshawar intercepted the vehicle more than 50 km away from customs station Torkham. Correlating the goods of declaration (GD) on presumption that the same has escaped from custom station is not supported by any lawful/ prosecutable evidence to prove that the vehicle has been allowed by the custom staff of customs station Torkham without payment of duty and taxes. Therefore, the allegation seems to be lacking of any evidence to implicate the staff of customs at Torkham.

However, again, if lawful evidence surfaced during investigation which connects seized goods to illegal clearance from CS Torkham, the same may be shared with the Board/this office. Punitive action will be immediately initiated against the staff found responsible for illegal clearance if any.

Now the customs intelligence high-ups argued that they had pointed out again and again that such practices were underway and was still continuous till the border was closed causing heavy losses to the national exchequer. Now they are proposing that all certificate of origin to all commodities on which exemptions are granted must be verified because they suspect that the exemptions on grapes, apricot, onion, pomegranates, vegetables and dry fruits might also be misused for the purpose of evading due taxes.

The FBR must stop accepting such certificates without verification or they should start collecting duty/taxes in shape of pay orders till the verification is done.