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February 9, 2018
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Why did a trader held for selling stolen medicines walk free within hours?

Karachi

February 9, 2018

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If you’re a trader based in Kharadar’s Katchi Gali, the so-called medicine market of Karachi, and deal in medicines stolen from government-run and armed forces-run hospitals, you need not worry about being nabbed by law-enforcers since neither FIA nor the provincial drug administration has the jurisdiction to take any legal action against those involved in such business.

Every day hundreds of poor patients and their attendants are handed prescriptions by doctors in government-run hospitals and told to purchase the medicines or surgical supplies from medical stores. The public health centres seem to be perpetually out of medicines and medical supplies because their stocks, worth millions of rupees, end up being routed to Katchi Gali traders since dealing in stolen medicines and hospital supplies is not a crime or cognisable offence as per FIA and Sindh drug administration officials.

This came to light when the shop of a Katchi Gali trader, Abdullah Shaikh, was raided by FIA officials and a provincial drug inspector last week. A large quantity of stolen medicines were seized, while the trader was taken into custody and shifted to FIA’s Anti-Corruption Cell.

An examination of the medicines seized revealed that they had been stolen from various hospitals of the armed forces of Pakistan as they were stamped “Pakistan Defense Forces”, while medicines supplied to various public hospitals of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh government were also among the confiscated drugs.

Interestingly, the arrested trader, Shaikh, who confessed to carrying and selling medicines belonging to armed forces and government hospitals, was released on the same night and the very next morning, he was back at his shop in Katchi Gali because, according to FIA officials and the provincial drug administration, possessing and dealing in stolen medicines is not a “cognisable offence” under relevant laws.

“We have not registered any FIR against the accused because we cannot take any action against him. If the medicines have been stolen from Sindh government’s hospitals, this does not fall under our domain,” Assistant Director of FIA’s Anti-Corruption Circle Ali Murad told The News when he was asked why the accused was released without any legal action.

According to the FIA official, taking action for possession and sale of medicines or supplies stolen from Sindh or KP hospitals was not under their purview because FIA is a federal agency and can “only investigate and prosecute crimes conducted on the federal level.”

When asked why they didn’t take action against the accused trader for possessing drugs stolen from Pakistan Defence Forces’ hospitals, Murad said, “Such people are charged under the army act.”

When questioned if the FIA had stopped investigation and prosecution of the accused trader, he said FIA could only take action against a medicine dealer if he was selling spurious drugs. He added that in Shaikh’s case, the provincial drug inspector who accompanied them on the raid would file a complaint against him in the Drug Court.

According to Murad, medicines worth Rs4-5 million were seized from Shaikh. He further said that now the investigation would “move very slowly” because they will write to the pharmaceutical companies to identify their stock and to become a complainant in the case so that legal action could be initiated.

Speaking to The News, Sindh Acting Chief Drug Inspector Adnan Rizvi said that the Drugs Act had no section dealing with stolen medicines in the country. It is a non-cognizable offence but the drug inspector can register a case and file a complaint against such a person under the Drugs Act’s Section 30, which deals with any violation of the drugs act, he said.

The News has learnt that by the time this report was filed, the concerned inspector of the Provincial Drug Administration Sindh, Ghulam Hussain Lakho, had not filed any report with his department nor any formal complaint had been made to the Drug Court because, according to the drug inspectors, selling stolen medicines is not a cognisable offence.

However, the former chief of Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan, Dr Muhammad Aslam, believes otherwise. He insisted that the possession and sale medicines stolen from government hospitals was a double crime under both the Drugs Act and the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and any person involved in such a crime could face rigorous punishment as well as heavy fine and sealing of his business.

“Under the Drug Act, no person can sell any medicines without bill warranty and if he does so, it is very much a cognizable offence,” said Aslam. He added that at the same time, if a person possesses stolen property, it is a criminal offence under sections 411 and 413 of the PPC, which state, “Whoever habitually receives or deals in property which he knows or has reason to believe to be stolen property, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

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