Lahore: Goods worth Rs460m go missing from Customs store
LAHORE: Smuggled vehicles and other goods worth more than Rs460 million have been found missing from the Customs state warehouse in Lahore, according to a stocktaking report compiled by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR).
The report detailing stocktaking of vehicles, liquor and miscellaneous goods seized by the Customs authorities and kept in its Shahnoor Studio warehouse on Multan Road during nine years between March 2002 and March 2011 was finalised and submitted to the FBR chairman and member (customs) in May.
The report recommended immediate suspension of all officers whose “omissions and commissions had led to revenue losses in the warehouse”. It proposed these officers should be proceeded against under the Efficiency and Discipline Rules and references against them should be sent to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for prosecuting them.
The chief collector (North) is said to have formed a three-member committee to “re-examine” the findings of the audit report. The committee has met recently and is in the process of finalising its report.
Senior FBR officials in Islamabad who provided a copy of the stocktaking report to Dawn on Tuesday said a “powerful mafia of b Customs officials involved in the scam was making strenuous efforts to somehow hush up the matter to avoid action”.
The report pointed out that some 36 vehicles of different makes and models worth over Rs20 million were not to be found in the warehouse. These vehicles were found entered in the registers but were actually “missing on the ground”, it said. Apart from the missing vehicles, the stocktaking team found that 73 vehicles out of a total of 361 “found on the ground” had not been entered in the warehouse registers.
There is a possibility that these vehicles were not entered in the warehouse registers “with the intention of illegally removing them without leaving any trace of theft and misappropriation”, said the audit report. The careless attitude of the custodians of the warehouse could be the other possible explanation for not entering the particulars of those vehicles in the registers.
Additionally, the report said “different parts worth Rs14.4 million of the majority of the vehicles detained in the warehouse have been removed and stolen, causing a loss of Rs28.8 million in their (current) value”.
The stocktaking team estimated the losses resulting from misappropriation, illegal and fraudulent release, replacement and sales of miscellaneous goods like seized cloth, auto parts, tyres, hardware, etc. at more than Rs400 million.
Similarly, high quality liquor seized from passengers at the (Lahore) airport was either not recorded on the inventory registers with the intention of “misappropriating it” or is claimed by the caretakers of the warehouse to have been “destroyed”.
“It’s a huge scam that involves some very powerful and well-connected officials who are trying to cover up their illegal actions,” an FBR official told this reporter by telephone from Islamabad. He said the people involved were trying to hoodwink the higher authorities by “recovering the 36 missing vehicles. But the particulars of these vehicles do not match with those recorded in the registers.”
The audit underlined various “tactics” used by the seizing officers of the anti-smuggling organisation and airport and superintendents of the warehouse to “create an environment perfectly conducive to misappropriation”.
“Seizing officers used inventory format of their own choice, keeping the descriptions of seized goods vague and making their subsequent identification impossible. This opened the door to the replacement of foreign origin seized goods with local and cheaper ones.”
Also the seizing officers were accused in the audit report of deliberately ignoring prescribed inventory format to “create heaps of indistinguishable goods, which could be easily substituted”. The seizing officers did not take samples of miscellaneous seized goods to guard against and establish any subsequent replacements.
Warehouse keepers also used their own format which was short and helped keep the description of goods vague.
Additionally, the report said, they did not care to ensure that all goods received in warehouse were entered in the records.
“Usage of improper formats for inventory and registers coupled with non-entry of goods in the records perfected the arrangements for subsequent massive misappropriations, leaving no trace behind.”
The FBR officials said the authorities concerned had yet to take action against the officers who were involved in the theft and misappropriation of the seized vehicles and goods or were found negligent of their duty although the audit report clearly fixed the responsibility for that. Instead, they said, efforts were being made and witnesses were being pressurised to retract their statements to protect those found responsible for the theft and cover up their crime.