KARACHI: The sensitive data of Pakistan Customs and integrity of the department are totally at mercy of privately hired persons ‘lappus’ by Customs officers.
These lappus are not only accessing sensitive data of Pakistan Customs but also doing all illegal work for their bosses, which is commonly known as ‘settlement’.
The gravity of situation can be gauged with the recent example where a lappu auctioned of huge amount consignments where importer had paid duty and taxes.
The customs authorities apprehended one person in the case, who was identified as lappu and was working and representing customs officers for the last five to six years.
According to details a First Information Report (FIR) dated November 15, 2019 was lodged at Research and Development Department, Model Customs Collectorate of Appraisement (East) Customs House, Karachi.
The FIR was lodged by Shakeel John, Appraising Officer following a crime of removing goods from Shaheen Container Yard after an illegal auction of goods.
The FIR nominated persons included: Muhammad Zaki; Adeel Ahmed; Meer Rizwan Ali; and concerned staff and management of M/s Pak Shaheen Container Yard.
In the case three lots of consignments were auctioned valuing over Rs12 million on which importer had paid duty and taxes.
The importer namely Abid Japanwala made strong protest on illegal auction by customs authorities and demand recovery of his consignments.
The text of relevant paragraphs of reply submitted by Pak Shaheen to the FIR stated:
“… an LCL cargo bearing IGM No. 402/18 consisting of 10 pallets STC Copper Foil weighing 6053kgs was imported on 21.08.2018 by M/s. Paramount Radiators and forwarded to Pak Shaheen Container Terminal for clearance by the freight forwarders i.e. Facilities Shipping Agency.
“Since the cargo was not cleared within the prescribed time period as per Section 82 of the Customs Act, 1969, an auction lot number PS-216-10-18 was assigned to it and the customs was informed accordingly on October 15, 2018.
“On November 11, 2019, the importer namely Abid Japanwala approached the Terminal and informed that his cargo has been cleared by the customs and requested for rebate in storage charges as his cargo remained at the terminal for more than a year incurring heavy amount of storage charges.
“On receipt of such request from Japanwala the record of the terminal was checked and it was found that, as per record, the said cargo was auctioned by the Customs and on November 08, 2019 the delivery was made to the bidder Babar Saleem through his agent Mir Rizwan Ali.
“When Abid Japanwala was informed about the auction of his cargo, he showed his out of charge GD to the Head of Commercial Naveed Nabi Khan and appeared to be shocked and stated that how can his cargo be auctioned when he deposited the Customs duty.
“After seeing the out of Charge GD, Abid Japanwala was informed that as per customs rules no duty paid consignment can be auctioned and that he should take up his case with Collector (East) directly.
“He was also given a complete set of auction/delivery documents to take up his case with the Collector (East).
“We were later informed that the importer approached the Collector (East) along with the auction documents provided by the terminal as it was feared that some unscrupulous element managed to play fraud depriving the importer of his consignment and depriving the client of demurrage charges.”
The reply further pointed out:
“… On November 15, 2019, the Customs apprehended one Zaki who was working with the Customs staff at the terminal since last five to six years as customs assistant commonly known as ‘lappu’ and during all these years h ad attained the status of focal person of Customs and for all practical purposes he was representing the customs official.
“On November 16, 2019, Akmal Durrani, Assistant Collector posted at Pak Shaheen Terminal, called the concerned staff of Customer Services and interrogated them and also took the video recording of November 08, 2019 in which Zaki can been seen taking subject document from his car.”
The detailed reply by Pak Shaheen Terminal helped the terminal operator to clear its position in this fraud. This resulted that interim challan presented by the customs authorities at the Special Judge Customs and Taxation, Karachi dated December 02, 2019 the name of Pak Shaheen was excluded from the case.
The revelation of Pak Shaheen in its reply is eye opener for Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and other relevant authorities that how privately hired persons or lappus were authorized access to customs records.
This is also surprising that how these unauthorized lappus getting entry to terminal yard.
The presence of lappus in Pakistan Customs is not new. The lappus are working for long time in the department and conducting official works on behalf of senior customs officials.
It is commonly known that the customs officers hire these people for their ‘speed money’.
The lappus as agent create win win situation for both customs officers and importers at the cost of national revenue. As facilitators lappus get huge commission beside their fixed income set by the customs officers.
These lappus have direct interaction with importers on those consignments where misdeclaration made. The customs officers are no where or have no direct links in such illegal activities.
The dangerous aspect of presence of lappus is access to sensitive data of Pakistan Customs, which has also strategic importance.
Recently, Prime Minister Imran Khan pointed out massive corruption in Pakistan Customs. Although the prime minister quoted exaggerated amount but the instant case may be an example that how much the customs collectors are earning through illegal means.
The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has issued many warnings to field formations to avoid the presence of unauthorized persons working within their jurisdictions. But all in vain as presence of lappus are still in the key places of Pakistan Customs.
FBR chairman Shabbar Zaidi, in May 2019 soon after becoming chairman, while taking notice of presence of large number of visitors for making the entire clearance system doubtful, had ordered Customs Wing to strictly restrict, entry into Customs Houses, only to the concerned traders, their authorized representatives and members and relevant trade bodies/ associations.