Sugar scam: Lahore HC declares FIA’s probe team ‘null and void’

The Lahore High Court on Thursday declared the Federal Investigation Agencys (FIA) joint investigation team (JIT) constituted to probe the sugar scam as ‘null and void’, thereby granting a key relief to sugar mills owned by the Sharif family, PTI leader Jahangir Khan Tareen and others.

A two-member bench comprising Justice Shahid Karim and Justice Muhammad Sajid Mehmood Sethi heard a set of petitions filed by sugar mill owners, including the Sharif family and Tareen, in which they had challenged an FIA inquiry and its subsequent report regarding cartelisation and other illegal practices in the sugar industry, Geotv reported.

The petitioners had maintained that the FIA did not have jurisdiction to constitute a JIT to probe the matter. They successfully argued that the agency acted on the federal government’s directives.

The bench noted that while the FIA was empowered to constitute JITs, the laws and circumstances under which an inquiry can be conducted remains to be seen.

Observing that the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) failed to play its mandated role, the high court declared its notice to the sugar mills as null and void.

The bench said FIA’s powers will be discussed in the detailed judgment.

The mills had filed the petitions pleading that the action being taken by the FIA was illegal as it was ordered by the federal cabinet despite having no such jurisdiction.

They said the whole process including the constitution of the Sugar Inquiry Commission and subsequent proceedings by the FIA and the SECP had been done on the direction of Mirza Shahzad Akbar, special assistant to prime minister on accountability and interior.

The petitions said the Federal Cabinet also ordered action against the sugar mills in light of the commission’s inquiry report. It was further contended that the cabinet had no jurisdiction to hold any individual or organization guilty of any alleged offence. The impugned inquiries were in violation of the SECP Act, the Companies Act, the Income Tax Ordinance and the Sales Tax Act.

The petitions argued that the FIA could initiate its proceedings only on a reference sent by the SECP. They argued that an inquiry being held on the order of the federal government could not be transparent and impartial. The act of the FIA was also in violation of a Sindh High Court judgment, added the petitions asking the court to set aside the all impugned actions by the FIA for having been undertaken and issued without lawful authority.

The sugar inquiry committee, headed by FIA Director-General Wajid Zia, had probed sugar price hikes and subsidies obtained by sugar mill owners during the past four years, particularly in 2019.

Among the people named in the FIA report were Tareen and a brother of PTI Minister Khusro Bakhtiar. Tareen was said by the report to have benefitted the most from the sugar crisis, followed by Bakhtiar’s brother.

The report also claimed that companies belonging to Moonis Elahi an ally of the ruling party had also profited from the sugar crisis. Elahi is Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi’s son and a key member of the PML-Q.

The document had not mentioned under whose influence the Punjab government issued subsidies to sugar mills or why the Economic Coordination Council (ECC) approved the decision to export sugar.

Tareen, PTI’s former general secretary, said that out of the Rs3 billion in subsidy given to the sugar mills, Rs2.5 billion were given when the PML-N was in power.