‘Ill-conceived, half-hearted attempts’: Customs ‘fail’ to prevent smuggling of petroleum

ISLAMABAD: The Federal Board of Revenue has reportedly discontinued its crackdown of 2021 launched to counter smuggling of petroleum into Pakistan.

Sources said that the initial and momentary gains claimed to have been made from the crackdown of 2021 could not be translated into meaningful and sustained deterrence against the smuggling of petroleum.

Sources told that FBR had misconceived the basic idea of how to prevent smuggling of petroleum into Pakistan. The former member custom operation and policy of FBR who had conceived the idea and had devised the strategy of crackdown as well as the present member customs operations who should have improved the idea and it’s implementation strategy could have easily obtained from the federal government an authorisation under Section 7 of the Prevention of Smuggling Act to arrest the smugglers of petroleum for their

This preventive detention would have sent behind bars for a period of at least three months all the smugglers of petroleum and could have left a lasting deterrent impact on the prevention of smuggling, sources added.

Sources also said that the FBR officers could also identify to the Special Judge Customs the names of smugglers of petroleum under section 8 of the Act to help the special judge bind those smugglers in heavy bonds under section 15 and to identify and confiscate their properties made from the proceeds of smuggling.

Sources said that instead of adopting these preventive and much more effective strategies to eradicate the smuggling of petroleum, FBR officers chose to label the owners and operators of the unauthorised petroleum outlets as smugglers in the crackdown of 2021, charged them primarily with the violations of petroleum laws but, interestingly presented them before the courts for proceedings and punishment under the custom laws.

The gross deficiencies and the case killing legal defects in the smuggling cases made during the crackdown were not sorted out and rectified after the transfer of former member customs from the FBR

Rather the new team in FBR discontinued the crackdown whereupon the owners and operators of the unauthorized petroleum outlets who were so eagerly pursued and proceeded against during the crackdown resumed their unauthorised petroleum selling activity once again.

Sources said that the illusory gains of the crackdown of 2021 soon evaporated and vanished due to the crackdown against petroleum smuggling becoming largely a person specific phenomenon in FBR.

Sources said that custom officers did not need any more powers to arrest the menace of smuggling. They needed only the intent and determination and an accountability mechanism to check and hold to account those who lacked that intent and determination.

Interestingly section 8 of the Prevention of Smuggling Act shows that custom officers have the power to initiate the smuggling prevention criminal process before the special judge and section 7 indicates that nothing prevents the custom officers from obtaining the federal government’s authorisation for the arrest and subsequent preventive detention of the smugglers of petroleum.

Sources said that when asked by the Imran Khan government to formulate a law for the confiscation of smugglers’ properties, the former member Customs Operations FBR did not disclose to the government a true picture of the existing legislation on the subject.

Instead under his guidance and direction, the provisions of the Prevention of Smuggling Act dealing with the confiscation of smugglers’ properties were largely copied and reproduced in the form of FBR’s Confiscation of Property Rules thus converting an Act of Parliament into the revenue body’s rules.

Interestingly, these rules too conferred on the custom department carry enough powers to prevent and root out smuggling from the country which the custom department has so far remained reluctant to exercise.

Member Customs Operations Mukarram Jah Ansari on the query of this scribe said that there have been many seizures of smuggled diesel in the past few months all across the country, Balochistan, Sindh & Punjab.

However, the previous strategy of raiding petrol pumps & proceeding against them under petroleum laws & regulations suffered setbacks at legal fora.

He also said that the revenue from import of POL products has shown improvement as compared to last year.

About the reproduction of confiscation of smugglers’ properties, he replied that “I don’t have any ready knowledge about the Confiscation Rules, as I haven’t been involved in drafting them. Probably it was done by the Policy side”.





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