Isaf container scam: Afghan, Italian missions evading probe, says official

KARACHI: The Afghan and Italian consulates in Karachi have been accused of being involved in issuing fake no-objection certificates (NOCs) for the clearance of Isaf cargo destined for Afghanistan, which were eventually pilfered in Pakistan.

The allegations, made in a report prepared by the office of the federal tax ombudsman, have been submitted to the Supreme Court which is hearing the case into the Isaf container scam.

Despite repeated attempts, the Italian and Afghan envoys have refused to answer queries sought by the federal ombudsman and Customs Intelligence unit, sources within the two offices say.

“A detailed questionnaire has again been sent to the Italian consulate regarding the matter. The Customs Intelligence has been pursuing the case since last August, but they persistently ignore us. The same goes for the Afghan consulate in Karachi,” a senior official said.

According to the report, on April 8, 2010 the directorate general of Customs Intelligence, after receiving specific information that a container (No SOLU7066253) with illegally-declared goods had left Karachi for Peshawar, registered a case (FIR 40/2010) at I & P Branch, Customs House, Peshawar.

On April 10, 2010, two persons (a customs clearing agent of M/s Tayyaba Agencies and a transporter of M/s Umair International) were arrested from Karachi. During interrogation, the clearing agent confirmed that the container belonged to M/s Lunar Products of Kabul. On April 13 last year, the same container was found in a dismantled condition on the Ring Road, Peshawar. The proprietor of the said premises was also arrested.

By this time the Customs Intelligence came to know about the arrival of a second container of the same company at Karachi port. Its physical examination yielded 36,000 cans of beer and 4,800 bottles of Scotch whisky. The container was earlier declared to contain “Coca Cola (10,800 cans), Sprite (10,080 cans), soda water (9,600 cans), mineral water (12,720 cans) and sparkling water (3,600 cans)”.

The value of the “declared” goods according to the invoice had been shown to be Rs1.3 million. However, the value of goods plus the amount of unpaid customs duties worked out to be in excess of Rs15 million.

The investigation team arrested Muhammad Sohail, a local representative of M/s Lunar Products in Pakistan. According to his statement, Mateen, a foreign national of Afghan origin and settled in Sweden, had contacted him for engaging his services for the clearance of Isaf cargo from Karachi.

Mateen gave Sohail authorisation of Isaf headquarters on the basis of which he obtained recommendatory letters of the Afghan Consulate-General in Karachi. “In fact, Isaf was not found to be having anything to do with the scam. The Isaf representative in the British High Commission confirmed that no nation participating in Isaf had claimed to have utilised the services of M/s Lunar Products. However, the recommendatory letters written by Afghan Consulate General were confirmed to have been genuinely issued, though on the basis of what turned out to be fake Isaf letters during the investigation,” the report said.

During the investigation of the container scam, the investigating team suspected that possibly five containers belonging to M/s Supreme Foods and 22 containers belonging to M/s ES-KO had been cleared under dubious circumstances.

The report added that while M/s Supreme Foods’ containers, like Lunar, probably never crossed into Afghanistan, the clearance was done under fake cross-border certificates. The 22 containers belonging to M/s ES-KO were apparently cleared on the basis of fake NOCs issued by Afghan Consulate, Karachi. It was also suspected that many more containers belonging to M/s ES-KO had also been cleared against fake NOCs issued by the Italian Consulate, Karachi. “As the Italian Consulate has apparently dilly-dallied to respond in the matter, the Office of Federal Tax Ombudsman intends to closely monitor this investigation, as also the allegedly fake NOCs issued by the Afghan Consulate, Karachi,” the report added.

A representative of the Italian embassy in Islamabad, Mr Sergio declined to comment about the whole affair.

Afghan embassy’s press attaché Abdul Rahim also declined to speak about the matter.

A senior official probing the matter conjectured that since these foreigners have diplomatic immunity, they think they can get away even with ‘criminal’ activity. “But they forget that even if one has diplomatic immunity, one can’t get away with organised crime in the host country,” he said, adding that the courts in Pakistan are expected to press criminal charges if the embassies and their consulates concerned do not respond.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 29th, 2011.


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