LHC declares FIA’s sugar inquiry JIT as ‘null and void’

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court on Thursday declared the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) joint investigation team (JIT) team formed to probe the multi-billion-rupee sugar scam as ‘null and void’.

The ruling is a relief to sugar mills owned by the Sharif family and PTI leader Jahangir Khan Tareen who recently returned to the country after seven months abroad.

A two-member bench comprising Justice Shahid Karim and Justice Muhammad Sajid Mehmood Sethi heard a set of petitions filed by sugar mill owners challenging the inquiry the report of the FIA against illegal practices by the sugar industry.

The petitioners had maintained that the FIA did not have jurisdiction to constitute a JIT to probe the matter and acted on the federal government’s directives.

The bench noted that the FIA was empowered to constitute JITs but the laws and circumstances under which an inquiry can be conducted remains to be seen.

It observed that the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) failed to play its mandated role. The high court declared its notice to the sugar mills as null and void. The bench said FIA’s powers will be discussed in the detailed judgment.

The mills owners had filed the petitions pleading that the action being taken by the FIA was illegal as it was ordered by the federal cabinet.

They said the whole process including the constitution of the Sugar Inquiry Commission and subsequent proceedings by the FIA and the SECP had been done on the direction of special assistant to prime minister Shahzad Akbar.

The petitions said the federal cabinet also ordered action against the sugar mills in light of the commission’s inquiry report. It contended that the cabinet had no jurisdiction to hold any individual or organization guilty of any alleged offence.

The petitions argued that the FIA could initiate its proceedings only on a reference sent by the SECP. They argued that an inquiry being held on the order of the federal government could not be transparent and impartial.

It said the FIA’s actions were in violation of a Sindh High Court judgment and asked the court to set aside all impugned actions by the FIA for having been undertaken and issued without lawful authority.

The sugar inquiry committee, headed by FIA Director-General Wajid Zia, had probed sugar price hikes and subsidies obtained by sugar mill owners during the past four years.