The Federal Tax Ombudsman (FTO) has directed disciplinary proceedings against officials of Pakistasn Customs responsible for the illegal detention of iPhones and laptops.
This follows three complaints filed against the Collectorate of Customs at Islamabad International Airport (IIAP) for the release of cell phones and laptops detained by customs authorities.
The complainants arrived at the airport from Malaysia on January 19, 2023, with four laptops and five cell phones in their possession. Customs officials detained five cell phones and a laptop without issuing a receipt, estimating the total value of the goods to be around Rs2 million.
During the hearing on March 16, 2023, the complainants provided copies of the purchase invoices of the impugned goods, arguing that the items were for personal use. The customs representative claimed that new laptops and cell phones are not allowed under baggage rules and were therefore detained. However, the FTO observed that baggage rules were amended to allow an incoming passenger to bring in duty-free one laptop/computer (whether old or new), and the import of mobile phones was not disallowed.
The FTO found that the illegal detention of four laptops and the removal of one iPhone-14 by customs staff constituted maladministration. The complainants were illiterate and working in Malaysia as machinery operators, and the customs staff should have facilitated them instead of harassing them, according to the FTO.
As a result, the FTO ordered the release of the detailed laptops and iPhone-14 and legal action against the customs officials responsible. The FTO recommended that the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) direct the collector of customs IIAP to personally investigate the matter and initiate necessary disciplinary proceedings against any official found responsible for the removal of the iPhone-14. The collector was also directed to release the detained cell phones to the respective owners/passengers subject to payment of duty and taxes on PTA’s web-based system (DRIBS).
The FTO’s decision to take disciplinary action against customs officials responsible for the illegal detention of iPhones and laptops is a significant step towards ensuring that government officials act in accordance with the law and protect the rights of citizens. The FTO’s findings also highlight the need for greater transparency and accountability in the customs and tax collection process, as well as the importance of educating citizens about their rights and the rules governing the import and export of goods. The release of these detained goods will also contribute to the ease of doing business in Pakistan.