Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Interior and Accountability Shahzad Akbar reiterated on Saturday that strict action would be taken against those involved in the sugar crisis and the manipulators behind the hike in its prices.
Speaking at a press conference here, he said that inquiry into the sugar scandal was being carried out impartially as per the law.
He said there were reports that sugar prices would be increased in Ramazan, adding that action had been taken against those who were involved in artificial price hike through speculation.
“To check artificial price hike of sugar through speculation, ex-mill price of sugar has been fixed at Rs80 per kilogram in Punjab,” the SAPM said. “None of the governments in the past has done so.”
Responding to the allegations made by estranged PTI leader Jahangir Tareen, Mr Akbar said: “No one is being targeted as this investigation is not person-specific.”
He referred to the objections raised in front of media by Mr Tareen a day earlier over the allegations of fraudulently misappropriating shareholder’s money and committing money laundering through the sugar business by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).
Mr Akbar said that Mr Tareen’s reservations that he was being targeted in the inquiry were “incorrect and the inquiry is being carried out impartially”.
The special assistant started his media talk by giving a brief background of the history of sugar crises in the country, which dates back to Gen Ayub Khan’s era. He said that the federal cabinet had ordered an inquiry into the sugar crisis in May last year after FIA-led inquiry commission submitted its report.
Mr Akbar said that he was facing immense pressure during the process and all stakeholders, including the Pakistan Sugar Mills Association, had voiced concern against the ongoing inquiry.
“Accountability is not an easy task. You cannot make friends while doing it,” he remarked.
He said that actions were being taken against those involved in the sugar scam on the recommendations of the sugar commission report that was transparent and the government had not provided protection to anyone.
The special assistant said that three FIRs had been registered in the light of the findings of the report.
“The sugar mills have been manipulating the situation. Since ex-mill price is not determined by the authorities, the vacuum gives space to profit mafia and these are the people who neither own mills nor are sugarcane growers and not even authorised dealers, but they operate the network of price setting through verbal communications,” he said.
“FIA officials in Karachi and Lahore conducted operations against these manipulators and confiscated their laptops and mobile phone sets, and it was unearthed that there were 16 WhatsApp groups to set future sugar price,” he said.
“However the sugar mills too are not innocent and they are part of this chain and benefit from these price manipulations,” Mr Akbar added.
He said that the “additional benefits” were deposited in fake or benami bank accounts. Only in the Lahore zone of FIA, 10 FIRs had been registered against 40 major manipulators or brokers operating 464 personal bank accounts which showed Rs106 billion turnover during this season, he said. These accounts had been frozen and based on the ledgers of these accounts, 392 fake/benami personal bank accounts had been identified, showing a turnover of Rs666bn, he said. But these accounts have not yet been frozen and their data has been forwarded to the State Bank of Pakistan and the FBR for action under the “know your customer” (KYC) regime.
The special assistant also spoke about the new provincial law titled “Punjab Prevention of Speculation in Essential Commodities Ordinance 2021, which has been enforced recently.
He said that the law covered sugar, edible oil, ghee, wheat flour and rice, and price speculations of these items had been made a crime under it.
“Besides the whole supply chain of sugar has been streamlined through only two offices, that of the cane commissioner and the relevant deputy commissioner,” he added.
He highlighted that the sugar inquiry commission report was presented to the federal government in May 2020 and at that time three types of actions were taken — penal action, administrative action and legislative reforms.
“The journey from May 2020 till now was not an easy task, he said. The Federal Board of Revenue was asked to launch a forensic audit of the sugar companies.
Mr Akbar said that revenue generation from the sugar industry had shown 100 per cent increase and the FBR had found out the embezzlement of taxes in sugar industry amounting Rs400bn in five years and taken action against sugar mills in Punjab and Sindh involved in it.
“The sugar commission report was challenged in the courts but the courts upheld the report and asked the government to take action,” Mr Akbar said, adding that the report had recommended investigations against nine major sugar mills.
He said that the Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) had started to impose fines on sugar mills as the stay order on CCP orders had been vacated by the courts due to efforts made by the government.