LAHORE: For many years, the Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) has uncovered a mega scam involving the registration of used, smuggled and stolen vehicles, primarily trucks and buses, by a gang comprising officials of the Punjab excise and tax department and private individuals on the basis of bogus army auction vouchers.
The anti-graft watchdog that conducted its inquiry in 2017 found that registration of as many as 7,013 vehicles was questionable, with 4,000 of them being registered on the basis of false vouchers while record of other vehicles also could not be confirmed, thereby causing a loss of Rs 300 billion to the exchequer directly and indirectly.
In normal procedure, individuals or groups purchasing surplus military vehicles at the army’s free auction earn these coupons to register for new identification numbers and health certificates for motor vehicle inspection (MVE) against nominal taxes. After processing a case and collecting a registration charge, the data entry operator of the excise department refers it to the relevant section for document/voucher authentication. An excise inspector then transfers the case to the appropriate unit of the army for voucher inspection. After the voucher has been properly checked, the case is sent back to the excise department for registration/allocation of the new vehicle number.
Yet this common practise was totally ignored in this fiasco. The anti-graft watchdog study showed that between 2015 and 2018, 7,013 vehicles were registered.
Inquiry unearths dubious registration of 7,013 vehicles causing loss to exchequer
Dharti News is also available with a copy of the ACE article.
The study said the investigation was initiated after it emerged that the truck that was used in a bomb blast in Lahore in August 2017 had been given a fake registration number. Before the explosion, the explosive-laden truck carrying chassis No. FB-113KA-14454, was parking on Outfall Lane, Lahore.
The suspects detained by the police’s Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) at that time had disclosed around a network of private persons who had licenced about 3,000 vehicles on the basis of fake documentation with the connivance of government officials of the MVE and Vehicle Fitness and the excise department. As the truck used in the terrorist attack on Outfall Road was also among them, seven government officials were arrested by the CTD after further inquiries into the blast.
The study showed that in the Badami Bagh Lorry Adda, one of the biggest industries in Punjab, bogus registration numbers were allocated to decades-old buses and trucks re-manufactured.
The importation of thousands of commercial vehicles during all these years was estimated to have been impacted by the false registration, with the result that the government could not raise more than Rs300 billion that could have been produced by import duties and other fees/taxes under different heads, including customs duty, advance income tax, port charges, regulatory duty, according to the report. For each commercial vehicle, under different heads, the government should have produced at least Rs9 million by import duties as well as fees/taxes.
Role of TikTok star
The ACE inquiry also found that the controversy involved TikTok actor Khurram Riaz Gujjar, known for sharing his videos with a few lions. During the inquiries, the teams find evidence in his accounts of Rs40 million purchases.
On digging further the anti-graft body discovered that the gang that used to sell each one for Rs1.2m to the old bus and truck manufacturers was paying Rs200,000 for each false registration number. In addition to a record of false vehicle registration, it was suggested that the identification cards of people living in different corners of Punjab were used without their permission in the scam.
“According to the record, it was found that 1,290 vehicles were registered on the basis of military auction vouchers in the name of a poor man, Qaswar Abbas,” the study read.
Mr. Abbas was a resident of South Punjab and was unaware of the abuse of his identification card when the ACE team reached out to him. “Abbas said he was Khurram Riaz Gujjar’s employee once and never took part in any auction,” the article added.
The investigation team also collected details of the 996 vehicles that were registered on behalf of one person, Ali Areezi Shah, a stamp vendor, from the excise department. He also said that he had nothing to do with the whole process, claiming he may have misused his identification card.
Similarly, they were interrogated when the ACE squad uncovered hundreds of vehicles registered on the basis of fake army vouchers under the names of two other people, Talal Tayyab and Mohammad Adil Butt. According to the inquiry report, they said they were unaware of the matter in their written statements and had never engaged in the sale of cars.
It claimed that the ACE had reported from the related quarters that the network of private individuals and government officials had prepared fake military auction vouchers for criminality through the illicit registration of cars, the preparation of fake fitness certificates for subsequent purposes, the tremendous loss of the national exchequer and the development of safety and security hazards for thousands of passengers.