The authorities are out to spoil the fun for those using luxury vehicles without paying the customs duty
he trade-in non-custom-paid (NCP) luxury vehicles has turned into a significant racket. The Customs Department has therefore geared up its effort to plug the revenue leak and is coming down hard on those involved in the business in the provincial metropolis. To this end, various wings of the Customs Department, including the Enforcement, Intelligence and Appraiser offices, have stepped up their campaigns to haul up NCP vehicles.
An important question in this regard is: how do a large number of NCP vehicles make their way to metropolitan Pakistan, particularly Lahore, after allegedly being smuggled into the country through the porous Afghan border? There are, after all, scores of pickets set up by various law-enforcement agencies that supposedly keep up round-the-clock vigil.
Scores of NCP vehicles are estimated to be plying the city roads in spite of the campaigns launched from time to time by the concerned government departments to check their sale. Experts say the huge price differential makes them so attractive that many people are willing to risk what they see as an unlikely discovery and consequent cost in penalties.
Speaking to The News on Sunday, Additional Collector Aneeqa Afzal of the Customs Enforcement Wing says that busting the gangs involved in the smuggling of NCP vehicles and keeping a check on the movement of these vehicles in the city is not a simple job. It is, she says, a gigantic undertaking. She says the job involves tireless 24/ 7 vigilance and monitoring by the Customs Department. She adds, “By the grace of God, we have a well-trained staff equipped with latest devices and IT equipment. That is why we are able to generate substantial revenue for the government.”
She goes on to say that all the branches of the Customs Department discharge their duties both independently. However, they also maintain efficient coordination. She says, “Despite the scarcity of human as well as material resources, the Customs Enforcement has been playing a pivotal role in the anti-smuggling campaigns. Our efforts to seize NCP vehicles have been quite extraordinary”. During the last eight months, Customs Enforcement has seized NCP vehicles worth Rs 722 million
She says the reason why some otherwise law-abiding citizens end up purchasing these vehicles is that the dealers do not disclose their NCP status. Instead, the sellers dupe the purchasers using bogus documents.
Scores of NCP vehicles are estimated to be plying the city roads in spite of the campaigns launched from time to time by the concerned government departments to check their sale.
She says that the reason why most people are attracted to NCP vehicles is the false perception that they can go scot-free. However, she says, the Customs Department in Lahore has made it almost impossible for both the seller and the purchaser of NCP vehicles to get away with such transactions. “Everybody should keep in mind that if a person is caught with an NCP vehicle, they will not lose their money but also be put behind bars.”
Revealing the modus operandi of some of the gangs, she says the sellers “generally get luxury vehicles registered with the Excise Department in accordance with the law. There is no wrongdoing at this stage. Shortly after they get the number plates, they smuggle in more vehicles of the same model and same colours. The same numbers are then displayed on these vehicles. “These NCP vehicles with the same number plates ply the roads either in the same city or in some other cities”, she says. “This makes it difficult to distinguish the NCP vehicles from those for which the customs duty has been paid. But thanks to the unmatched expertise of our staff, we have been successful in nabbing some of the culprits,” says the additional collector.
Deputy Collector Ali Mohtashim says, “we cannot say exactly how many NCP vehicles are plying the city roads.” At the same time, he says, “our performance has improved significantly. This fact can be gauged from the statistics. The Customs Enforcement has impounded 118 luxury NCP vehicles during the last eight months, thus seizing about 15 vehicles a month”, he says.
He says that “there are three types of tampering methods to conceal the international identity (chassis number) of NCP vehicles smuggled into the city: grinding, hammering and cutting and welding.” Mohtashim says that only NCP vehicles with genuine chassis numbers are sent to the auctions carried out on a regular basis by the Customs Department to generate revenue. The others are confiscated and handed over to various government departments against nominal charges.
Ali Assad, the Deputy Director of Customs Intelligence, Lahore, says, “we have a strong network of informers in the city. These informers are our eyes and ears. Once we get a tip-off, we spring into action and carry out a raid to where the NCP vehicles are parked either by the sellers or a purchaser”. In recent times, he says, some dealers have used social media applications to sell NCP vehicles. That’s why we keep a constant eye on this as well. He says special arrangements are made to keep the vehicles in good shape at Customs Intelligence warehouses until those are auctioned.
The writer is a senior journalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org