Tuesday May 28, 2024

Speculative pricing, money laundering: Cases filed against 10 major sugar mafia groups

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has registered 10 cases against 10 major sugar mafia groups in the country which in connivance with mill owners earned approximately Rs110 billion during the last one year through ‘speculative pricing’ commonly known as ‘Satta’.

By Ansar Abbasi & Jawwad Rizvi & Numan Wahab & Zahid Gishkori
March 26, 2021

LAHORE/ISLAMABAD: The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has registered 10 cases against 10 major sugar mafia groups in the country which in connivance with mill owners earned approximately Rs110 billion during the last one year through ‘speculative pricing’ commonly known as ‘Satta’. The first FIR has been registered against Malik Abad Satta Group that includes Malik Abad, Asad Pervaiz Butt and Sheikh Sajid. The second case has been registered against Multan Satta Group that includes Rashid Multan, Amir Asif, Qaiser Saleem and Owais Bilal. The third case has been registered against Maulvi Zaheer Satta Group that includes Waqas Ashraf Chawla and Maulvi Zaheer.

The fourth FIR has been registered against Malik Majid Satta Group that includes Sufyan Malik, Furqan Baba and Zahid Malik. The fifth case has been registered against Khurram Dawai Satta Group. This group includes Khurram Shafi, Khurram Dawai and Nadeem Aftab.

The sixth case has been registered against Mirza sugar Satta Group that includes Sheikh Amir Waheed, Mirza Nadeem, Mustansir Gogi and Asad Bhaiya.

The seventh case has been registered against Tufail Goga Satta Group comprising Sheikh Tufail, Imran Tufail, Sohail Butt and Junaid alias Goga Butt.

The eighth case has been registered against Bhalli Satta Group that includes Mahmood Bhalli, Aslam Bhalli and Haji Heera.

The ninth case has been registered against Paracha Satta Group that includes Atif Paracha and Mushtaq Paracha.

The 10th case has been registered against Butt Sugar Satta Group that includes Omar Salahuddin and Faisal Ziauddin.

The accused gambled for Tareen Group, Sharif Group, Alliance Group, Al-Mueez (Thal Group) and Hamza Sugar Mill. It has also been learnt that money laundering on a very large scale was also committed in this Satta process.

The FIA anti-corruption circle had registered an FIR against Jehangir Tareen’s JDW group and Gourmet Bakers & Sweets Pvt Ltd, Lahore, under Sections 420, 468, 471 and 109 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), read with Sections 3/4 of Anti-Money Laundering Act 2010.

According to the FIR, during the course of inquiry against the sugar mafia, “it has transpired that sugar industry barons, sugar-brokers & their Satta agents (speculative pricing players), in active connivance with sugar mills, have transformed into a clandestine sugar Satta mafia and are operating in a collusive but secret mode, especially through electronic means/ WhatsApp groups to dishonestly and fraudulently maneuver, manipulate and artificially hike sugar prices, amidst hoax of impending sugar-stocks shortages (while sugar-stocks are lying ‘unsold’ or ‘sold/un-lifted’ in mills & godowns and demand-supply gap is artificial)”.

The inquiry revealed “the Satta-mafia had already fraudulently ramped-up the (speculative) ex-mill price by Rs20/kg in last one year (from Rs70/kg on Feb 11, 2020 to Rs90 per kg on March 21, 2021; they are now conspiring to pump it upwards of Rs110 per kg in Ramazan.”

It was revealed that “even the leading registered businesses in the country, like Gourmet Bakers & Sweets Pvt Ltd Lahore, are being facilitated by Satta-mafia agents to commit huge accounting & tax-frauds in a very organized manner by concealing their actual sugar consumption & consequently business turnover.”

The FIR further said that Malik Abad Ali (speculative pricing player) was intercepted and interrogated.

“Digital evidence (two smartphones & one HDD), one ledger pertaining to Satta and 45 miscellaneous ledgers were taken into custody through seizure memo.

Review of manual ledgers and communication on digital media (cyber forensic-analysis to retrieve any deleted data is underway) seized from Malik Abad Ali revealed that innumerable secret WhatsApp Satta Groups were being operated by the Satta Mafia.

Examination of seized digital media (cyber forensic-analysis underway), ledgers and on-spot interrogation of Malik Abad Ali (key Satta-player) during search & seizure also revealed clearly that he was one of the main Satta players actively involved in sugar Satta, in connivance with and on behalf of various sugar-industry barons and others.

He not only works in active connivance with JDW Sugar Group but also works for Ashraf, Sheikhoo and other sugar-mills. He operates through front-men/ other Satta-agents Sajid Ali s/o Maqbool Hussain and Asad Pervaiz Butt s/o Khalid Pervaiz Butt.”

The FIR said Malik Abad Ali has also been abetted and assisted by owners and officials of various sugar mills and their role may be ascertained during the course of investigation.

Earlier it was shared by the FIA that they had constituted 20 teams to dislodge the sugar mafia as stern action will be taken against the profiteers and money launderers involved in the unlawful artificial shortage of sugar along with price increase and the investigation will be carried out by Director FIA Lahore.

The FIA had unearthed a huge financial scam of money laundering by the sugar mafia.

The price of sugar was deliberately being increased through artificial shortage and gambling on the price. The mill price of sugar was increased from 70 to 90 rupees in just one year through artificial ways, sources added.

The startling investigations carried out by the FIA further revealed that the sugar mafia made 110 billion rupees in last one year through Satta (gambling) on the price of sugar. The sources of FIA claimed that hundreds of fake accounts were made to conceal the money earned through illegal means.

All the major sugar groups including Tareen Group, Sharif Group, Alliance Group, Hamza Group and Thal Group were allegedly backing the gamblers, the investigations further revealed. The FIA gathered solid proofs from 32 mobile phones and laptops.

Meanwhile, a special team of the FIA claimed on Thursday to have found some "sugar-brokers and Satta agents who have earned billions of rupees through "speculative pricing" by creating many groups in Sindh in the past one year.

These agents are operating on the pattern of what FIA team claimed on Wednesday that its investigators detected Rs110 billion by the "sugar mafia" since February 2020 in Punjab.

"We have sent a confidential report against the sugar mafia to FIA Sindh. They [FIA Karachi] would take action against all those sugar mills, brokers and agents who have transformed into a clandestine sugar "Satta Mafia" that hiked sugar artificial price," revealed a senior official associated with the FIA probe team.

Our inquiry report on Sindh sugar mafia has determined that "Satta Mafia" was operating in a collusive but secret-mode, especially through electronic means/WhatsApp groups to fraudulently maneuver, manipulate and artificially hike sugar prices, amidst hoax of impending sugar-stocks shortages in the province, added the official familiar with the content of this report.

FIA Karachi team, according to informed officials, is all set to operate against around a dozen sugar mills, some of them are owned by some politicians, which according to investigators were involved in money laundering, selling out of the book sugar and linked with brokers and agents created artificial price hike in the province.

The intelligence available with FIA's inquiry team, as sources claimed, revealed that the "Satta Mafia" is operating in Sindh and mostly agents are allegedly working in active connivance with sugar mills linked with Omni Group and two politicians in Karachi.

"The active connivance of the sugar mills owners is also evident from a preponderance of evidence unearthed during inquiry which shows that sugar mills are selling sugar on loose receipts with no record in Sindh," said an FIA official.

"You would see a serious crackdown on such agents, brokers and mills owners and based on our investigations some cases would be registered against them soon," the official added. Meanwhile a special audit team of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has created a demand of estimated Rs469 billion tax against 81 sugar mills, some of them directly owned or co-owned by politicians.

The FBR started a probe against 89 sugar mills’ alleged irregularities pointed out by the Sugar Inquiry Commission (SIC) in 2020. "We have imposed a tax of Rs404 billion on 61 sugar mills till 28th February this year. Our audit teams have created an estimated tax of Rs65 billion against 20 sugar units, whose cases are still pending in different courts," a senior official told Geo News.

President Pakistan Sugar Mills Association Iskander M. Khan says, "FIA and FBR teams are playing to the gallery. Tax notices, FIA notices and NAB notices – all are being served on millers. Sugar industry is being hit hard by the government. This industry has almost collapsed. Institutions are misleading Prime Minister Imran Khan. The government should review a crackdown on the millers to save the industry."

Jehangir Khan Tareen told this correspondent that "no tax demand has been created against his mills in these audit proceedings as of this date.

“We are fully cooperating by providing all details as required by the FBR," he said. After the much-discussed WhatsApp JIT and the recently revealed ‘WhatsApp governance’ in Punjab, we now have the WhatsApp sugar mafia...

This mafia has recently been exposed by the FIA for its alleged role in fraudulently hiking sugar prices. A key government official, who is well informed about the details of this scam, told this correspondent that a total of 16 WhatsApp Satta groups have been activated after the 2020 Sugar Commission report.

The WhatsApp communications of the mafia, unearthed by the FIA, as well as a study of over 100 ledgers (katcha khatas) clearly show that at least 30 major Satta players in the Punjab are fraudulently hiking prices allegedly on behalf of various sugar mills including Jehangir Tareen’s JDW, The Khusro Bakhtiar family’s RYK, The Sharifs’ Ramzan Sugar Mills, the Al-Mueez Group and others.

It is said that 16 WhatApp Satta groups activated after the Sugar Commission report of 2020 have been uncovered by the FIA after an analysis of 34 smartphones, six laptops, two Central Processing Units (CPUs), one Hard Disk Drive (HDD) and one Digital Video Recorder (DVR) seized recently. FIA investigators have found that these WhatsApp Groups are continuously mutating.

It is said that the 16 identified WhatsApp groups have hundreds of members. The WhatsApp groups include the Sugar Dealers WhatsApp Group; Pak Sugar Info WhatsApp Group; Three Star Sugar Traders WhatsApp Group; Sugar Business WhatsApp Group; Sugar Pakistan WhatsApp Group; Sugar Traders WhatsApp Group; All Pakistan Sugar WhatsApp Group; Sugar Dealers Pakistan WhatsApp Group; Sugar Trade Exchange WhatsApp Group; Pakistan Sugar Group WhatsApp Group; Sugar Merchants WhatsApp Group; Sugar WhatsApp Group; Azad Ready Sugar WhatsApp Group; Sugar Merchants Gold WhatsApp Group; and Live Sugar Groups Pakistan WhatsApp Group. The FIA probe also uncovered five major Satta players in Karachi.

It was found that the (speculative) ex-mill price which, at the start of the inquiry by the Sugar Commission, was Rs70 per kilo had been ramped up to Rs90 per kg by the same mafia by these betting and gambling groups.

Text and voice messages of the WhatsApp sugar mafia also clearly reveal that if there is not a major clampdown on their activities now, the group is determined to increase ex-mill sugar prices by another Rs20 to Rs110 per kg in Ramzan-ul-Mubarak. They plan to do this by raising and proliferating a hoax alarm about a sugar shortage — translating into Rs. 110 billion illicit flows.

It is also revealed that the proceeds of Satta are parked in innumerable fake and unrelated third party bank accounts identified by the FIA from WhatsApp messages and deposit-slips shared in the WhatsApp chats. “It’s a new phenomena that has been discovered,” the source said.

Last year, it is revealed, forward delivery orders issued by mills were traded on these WhatsApp groups. It is also said that since restrictions of lifting within 15 days have been placed in the crushing production cycle, the mills’ stocks are being traded through simple text or voice messages by agents without any delivery order whatsoever. In such a scenario, the mills can take the plea that their sugar is lying unsold.

Meanwhile, sugar supply to the wholesale markets has disrupted across the Punjab following the registration of FIRs against the sugar dealers and millers. Babar Centre, the main hub of sugar wholesale dealers located in Lahore, was giving a deserted look, as the dealers hid themselves anticipating raids and arrest by the FIA.

No fluctuation in the price of sugar was recorded in Thursday trade. The ex-mill price of sugar was in the range of Rs9150-9200 per 100kg bag while wholesale rates were Rs9400-9450/100kg bag.

In retail, sugar was sold in the range of Rs100 to 105 per kg in the absence of any check by the Punjab government. The Punjab government has not been fixing sugar rates for the last more than eight months since the sugar crisis surfaced in the country and prices rose upward without any hurdles. However, the dealers stopped the trading after the FIA action against them. During a visit to the Babar Centre, no owner or dealer was there while the staff and workers were there.