Pakistan ephedrine import scam reaches Supreme Court

The News Desk in Islamabad/Dawn
Asia News Network

Islamabad (Dawn/ANN) - An embarrassment with serious political ramifications may engulf Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani as the role allegedly played by his younger son in the import of proscribed drug "ephedrine" and subsequent attempts to hush up an inquiry into the matter have reached the Supreme Court.

A three-judge SC bench comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, Justice Khilji Arif Hussain and Justice Tariq Parvez ordered Regional Director of the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) Brig Fahim Ahmad Khan and Deputy Director Abid Zulfiqar on Tuesday not to relinquish their charge and continue to investigate the issue without yielding to any pressure.

The officers were posted out on Monday to frustrate the probe.

ANF's Director General Maj-Gen Syed Shakeel Hussain was also transferred on an order backdated to March 21 after the court had issued an order on March 29.

The court had taken up an application moved by Advocate Mohammad Akram Sheikh on behalf of Brig Fahim who accused the authorities of obstructing the investigation.

On March 29, the court had turned down a request by the ANF about withdrawing the case against the import of the proscribed drug.

"Prima facie we are of the opinion that transfer/posting of ANF DG Maj-Gen Syed Shakeel Hussain, Brig Fahim and Abid Zulfiqar in colourable exercise of powers is not free from extraneous consideration," the chief justice observed.

The court also decided to issue notices to acting secretary of the narcotics division Zafar Abbas, ANF DG Shakeel Hussain, Brig Fahim, Ali Musa Gilani, health secretary and the directors of Berlex Lab International, Multan, and Danas Pharmaceutical, Islamabad.

Attorney General Maulvi Anwarul Haq was asked to assist the court at the next hearing on April 20.

Musa Gilani, son of the prime minister, was linked to the controversy when the name of Tauqir Ahmed Khan surfaced during the investigation. The latter said he was personal secretary to Musa Gilani and got the out-of-turn quota approved by the health ministry against rules and regulations.

Subsequently, Berlex Lab and Danas Pharmaceutical were given the quota to import 6,500kg and 2,500kg of ephedrine on March 25, 2010, and April 15, 2010, respectively, for export purposes.

Commonly known as poor man's cocaine, the chemical is also used to manufacture medicines for common cold, flu and asthma.

Rules do not permit a quota of more than 500kg. The two companies later sold the chemical to local manufactures and unknown people in violation of law.

The court ordered the authorities to maintain status quo and not to issue any order without the concurrence of the court and till a decision. If in the meantime, it said, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister and former health secretary Khushnood Akhtar Lashari and Ali Musa Gilani or anyone else wanted to record their statements they should be provided a fair opportunity in accordance with the law.

Both were repeatedly summoned by the investigating team but they did not turn up.

Brig Fahim informed the court about his meeting with Khushood Lashari at the Prime Minister's House on March 24 after notices had been sent to Lashari and Musa Gilani.

In his affidavit submitted to the court, Brig Fahim said Lashari told him in a maligning and threatening manner that the prime minister was very upset and worried because of the summons issued to his son.

Brig Fahim alleged that Lashari wanted to make full use of his office to suppress/distort/misdirect the investigation against himself and Musa Gilani and suggested that the ANF should focus on the two pharmaceutical companies. "Both the companies will be ruined and the state machinery will be with you.........," he quoted Lashari as saying.

The issue was raised in the National Assembly in January and former health minister Makdoom Shahabuddin set up a fact-finding committee. It submitted a report which was never brought to the record of the house.

In its order, the court noted that under the Anti-Narcotics Force Act of 1997, posts of the ANF director general and field directors were usually held by serving defence personnel of the ranks of Major Gen and Brig, respectively.

But surprisingly, the establishment division by means of the April 6, 2012, notification repatriated Maj-Gen Shakeel Hussain and gave Zafar Abbas, Acting Secretary of Narcotics Control (BS-21), additional charge of the ANF Director General.