Will Jahangir Tareen return to Pakistan and face the music?

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ISLAMABAD: Will PTI leader and former general secretary of the party, Jahangir Tareen, return to Pakistan from Britain and face a host of inquiries and investigations against him for his alleged role in the sugar price hike earlier this year? 

After his arrival in London nearly two weeks ago, Tareen, while referring to speculations in the media about his trip to Britain, had tweeted that there is nothing to worry about. “Since I recovered from my illness in 2014, I have to have regular biannual checkups with my doctors in the UK. I will get a clean bill of health and be back soon.”

However, he did not give a timeframe to travel back to Pakistan and left his programme open-ended. But a general impression is that he will return but it can’t be said when. He will come back at the time of his choosing. In his absence, Tareen and other sugar mills owners have challenged the report of the sugar commission in the Islamabad High Court (IHC).

As Tareen stays put at his sprawling estate in London, his archrival, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), has launched a barrage of attacks on him, accusing the government of allowing him to slip out of Pakistan when he was required here for a host of investigations and inquiries. 

The PTI is repudiating such claims but none from it has defended Tareen as far as the sugar scam is concerned. It is an open secret that he has been one of the prime architects of the PTI’s victory in the 2018 general elections by weaning away a multitude of ‘electables’ to its fold from other political parties.

The PPP too has taken exception to Tareen’s departure from Pakistan, but its tirade is less severe than that of the PML-N with which he was associated for quite some time before joining the PTI. At one time, he worked very closely with the then Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif.

As Tareen is living in his farmhouse in Britain, some PML-N affiliates have been circulating on the social media video clips of his property with uncharitable commentary. The same was done by former minister of state, Abid Sher Ali.

However, Tareen has refrained from responding to the harsh criticism emanating from the UK and Pakistan. The twitter account of his son, Ali, who is accompanying him, is also silent on their denunciation.

Tareen’s detractors have persistently demanded of the government to put his name on the Exit Control List (ECL). However, such calls seem frivolous and inconsequential because there is no point in doing so when he has already left Pakistan.

By the time Tareen departed for London, the government was engaged in preparing the cases to be referred to different agencies for the probe. It was after he left for London that it firmed up the cases and handed them over to various departments for further investigation and inquiry.

Under the action plan announced by the government to fix sugar mafia, federal and provincial institutions have been asked to initiate criminal, regulatory and tax-related proceedings against those identified in the sugar commission report.

The government has already sent a reference to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to investigate over Rs29b subsidy allocated and disbursed to the sugar industry by provincial and federal governments over the last five years, saying that it will take on all mafias one by one. Everyone will be held accountable, no matter how rich or politically powerful. No exceptions can be made.

The government has announced that the sugar cartel, which was allegedly involved in the shortage and price hike of the commodity, tax evasion, undue export subsidy for many years, will face the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP).

Seven different investigations and actions have been ordered against sugar barons. The FBR is looking into alleged sales tax fraud, mill owners showing reduced income and benami transactions. It has been directed that adjudication on cases and recoveries should start within 90 days and ordered to conduct a forensic audit of all mills besides those mentioned in the sugar commission report.

The CCP is investigating cartelisation as the government asserts that sugar mills caused damage to the people and the CCP failed to check this in the past. The SBP has been directed to probe the companies that showed alleged fake exports and were involved in default of loans or sold pledged stocks. The SBP will also submit a report to the finance ministry within 90 days and will mention companies and their frauds by name, besides imposing heavy fines on the violators.

The FIA and SECP are inquiring into the alleged stock fraud, shareholder fraud and other types of corporate fraud such as underwriting. The FIA is investigating the matter of alleged fake exports to Afghanistan and money laundering as the government says every receipt will be checked and the FIA will file cases in the courts within 90 days against those who did this.

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