KARACHI: A larger bench of the Customs Appellate Tribunal issued a single consolidated unanimous judgement to set aside the Order-in-Original and “vacate the show cause notices” issued by Customs Adjudication holding National Logistic Cell (NLC), clearing agents, importers and border agents responsible for alleged pilferage, misappropriation/smuggling of goods en route to Afghanistan under the Transit Trade.
A three-member larger bench headed by Customs Appellate Tribunal Chairman Muhammad Tariq, Member Judicial-II Adnan Ahmed and Member Technical Khalid Mahmood had reserved the judgement on September 26 which was announced on 11 November.
The judgment, penned by Muhammad Tariq, disposing off a total of 91 Customs Appeals, read that during the hearing of the appeals at length there was no evidence on record that the appellants actively participated or convinced in the misappropriation/pilfering or smuggling of impugned goods.
Similarly, the judgment continues, the respondents that is the representatives of the various customs departments could also not point out that the goods from the containers were pilfered, smuggled or misappropriated by the appellants or with their connivance.
The bench observed that as per the relevant law, the clearing agents job ends with the filing of GDs, their processing and loading on the containers, and it is the sole responsibility of carrier to safely transit the goods across the country through designated destination via Chaman and Torkham borders.
The tribunal also observed that the stereotyped notices were cyclostyled by Additional Collector Port Qasim and were served upon the appellants.
The perusal of show cause notices, the observation continued, reveals that no specific allegation was leveled against the appellants except that they are clearing agent who allegedly joined hands with the NLC management and misappropriated the goods from the containers on the Pakistani soil.
The judgement also observed that the responsibility of the appellant companies was restricted to the Karachi Port/Port Qasim until the cargo was loaded into the containers, checked by the customs authorities and are sealed.
Thereafter, it is the sole responsibility of carrier companies and others involved in the safe transportation/transit of the goods across the country, which also include to get receipt from the competent authorities as to the safe and sound arrival of the goods at the destination along with cross border certificate.
Disposing of the appeals that the Tribunal said were identical in nature and the aggrieved persons of which were the NLC, clearing agents, importers and border agents, the judgment said that since all the appellants are allegedly involved in a series of offences in connivance with each other, passing of similar show cause notices and impugned orders, therefore all appeals are decided by this single consolidated judgment.
The larger bench also said that before discussing the merit of the case it observed that a number of appeals are time barred. Since, it continues, a sensitive and of significant important question of law and public importance is involved, some of the appeals have already been admitted for regular hearing. Therefore, in the light of law laid down by the Supreme Court in case reported as PLD 2008 SC 951, the delay is condoned and appeals admitted for regular hearing.
Describing the brief facts of the case, the Tribunal Afghan Transit consignments were cleared from Karachi Port/Port Muhammad Bin Qasim as Afghanistan destined cargo for transportation of consignments to the notified exit points, which are Chaman and Torkham.
“These were a number of consignments, the details of each consignment have been provided in each separate appeal. All the consignments having different goods cleared through GDs were checked, loaded on NLC containers, the containers were sealed in present of Customs authorities, clearing agents, drivers, co-drivers, conductors and other concerned. Thereafter, the consignments were handed over to the NLC which is legally bound to ensure safe and secure transportation up to the destination because it was the sole responsibility of the National Carrier to safely transit the goods across Pakistan through designated routes, i.e. either via Spin Boldak (Chaman) or the Torkham borders.”
“That verification from the information/data provided by the Afghan Government revealed that all the consignments, the details of which are provided in the above appeals did not cross over into Afghanistan”, the judgment talking about the facts of the case said adding that the adjudicating officer held vide the impugned order that the charge against the appellants had been established. Appeals filed by the appellants against the Order-in-Original before the Collector of Customs, Karachi were also dismissed after which appellants approached the Customs Appellant Tribunal.
Over 16 pages of the 26-page judgement occupied the nations of appellant companies and respondent departments of the customs along with the customs appeal number and year.