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March 12, 2013

Clearing agents seek SC help in containers scam


March 12, 2013

KARACHI: The Karachi Customs Agents Association (KCAA) has appealed the Supreme Court of Pakistan that those clearing agents having no role in ISAF containers scam should not be harassed or arrested by investigation agencies.
Saifullah Khan, president of the KCAA, made this appeal to the apex court at a meeting of clearing agents held on Monday to discuss the notices issued by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for fresh inquiry regarding missing containers scandal. “Our members are afraid of closure of their business, which had thousands of dependents, due to fears of arrests after the issuance of notices,” he said, adding that the culprits should be brought to task but those who had provided evidence should not be made part of the investigation or trial.
The meeting decided to give legal shelter to customs agents nominated in the case and the KCAA would approach a senior advocate for assistance.
The office of the NAB recently issued hundreds of notices for investigation against clearing agents, importers and officials of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR). The notices have been issued after the directives of the Supreme Court in the latest order in the case of ISAF container scam, under which the apex court expressed displeasure over the NAB’s slow proceedings. Around 180 clearing agents have been accused in the fresh notices. The clearing agents are of the view that the latest investigation is based on the Federal Tax Ombudsman (FTO) findings in ISAF containers scam, in which the FTO established that at least 7,922 transit containers were pilfered within Pakistan over the last four years.
“This conservative estimate is based on the containers that did the impossible task of “completing the Karachi-Afghanistan-Karachi round trip” in less than eight days,” according to the FTO findings presented to the Supreme Court.
The clearing agents said that there are two type of Afghan transit trade, including commercial (offloaded within

Pakistan territory at Amangarh/Chaman) declared customs exit stations and non-commercial (going beyond border inside Afghanistan).
They said that there are possibilities of completing a trip by a container in less than eight days in the case of non-commercial transit cargo. A trip from Karachi to Amangarh and back to Karachi can be completed in four to five days and Karachi-Chaman-Karachi trip can be completed in two to four days.
The clearing agents said that their role is clear and they are working on behalf of importers and process only documents. “It is a carrier, which transports the goods,” Saifullah said, adding that if pilferage was detected then the carrier should be examined. Saifullah said that the clearing agents’ role ended at a time of handing over the invoice to the customs officials and the national carrier from the Karachi Port area. Since long, the customs agents were silent over the issue but it was felt that to protect some culprits the clearing agents were being unnecessarily investigated.
The meeting discussed that in the current situation if references are filed in the courts against 180 clearing agents involved without taking into account proper investigation and if arrested the livelihood of 180 companies will be totally devastated without any fault or criminal activity. Most of the agents are white collar people who even cannot afford the exorbitant lawyers’ fees and amount of surety / guarantee required to be submitted in the court for bails, it was observed.

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