ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court of Pakistan has questioned the legal authority of customs officials operating within the country, observing that their focus is on seizing personal belongings of citizens instead of preventing smuggling at border crossings.
The three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, and comprising Justice Ayesha Malik, and Justice Athar Minallah, heard a case on customs authority, prompting inquiries into the lawfulness of officials’ actions in city operations, market raids, and checkpoint setups.
The court stressed the need for a clear understanding of customs officers’ powers and jurisdiction to prevent the illegal trade of goods, including smuggled dollars, wheat, and fertilizers to Afghanistan.
Justice Ayesha noted that instead of stopping smuggling, the customs officials paid more attention to individual actions.
She added that the attention of the customs officials was diverted towards apprehending the citizens’ vehicles and other belongings, rather than where these items were smuggled from.
She asked what law authorised the customs officials to conduct raids at markets and set up checkpoints.
She continued that the main question was about the powers and jurisdiction of the customs officers.
Justice Minallah asked the customs officials whether the smuggling law applicable to an item caught in the city.
He added that the Customs officials were not responding to the court’s queries properly and they needed to be more prepared.
Justice Ayesha observed that the Customs officials operated in the cities every day, far from the borders.
CJP Bandial inquired whether the seizure of goods on the highway near Multan would be smuggling or a matter related to customs duty.
“Is it correct for the customs authorities to stop citizens inside the city and ask for documents?” he asked.
He recommended that the customs officials should facilitate the economy besides seizing smuggled goods.
The court later adjourned the hearing for two weeks, giving time to the customs authorities to prepare for the case.
It was revealed in a meeting held in December last year that the government had failed to stop the smuggling of the dollars to Afghanistan that was underway using orange crates and with the connivance of law enforcement agencies.
It also emerged during the meeting that the Customs Act was not in conformity with the new limits set for outbound currency flow, hampering the registration of criminal cases against the smugglers.
The participants of the huddle expressed their concerns over the smuggling of dollars, imported wheat and fertiliser to Afghanistan.
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar emphasised the relevant authorities to devise a robust and proactive roadmap to curb the cross-border smuggling of various items in order to bring economic and financial stability to the country.