|Ephedrine probe taken to PM’s Secretariat|
28 May 2012
ISLAMABAD, May 27: The Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) is aggressively investigating the ephedrine scam, shifting its focus from the beneficiary drug companies and former ministry officials to the staff of the Prime Minister’s Secretariat.
A source told Dawn that the ANF recently questioned the chief security officer of the PM House, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Imran Mahmood.
The ANF investigators also questioned Mehdi Abbas, a ‘trusted’ subordinate of Principal Secretary to Prime Minister (PSPM) Khushnood Lashari, one of the main suspects in the scandal.
Asked about the line taken by the ANF investigators during the questioning of the two officials, the source declined to disclose the nature of the investigation. “I can only confirm that the ANF officials have met SSP Mahmood and Mr Abbas.”
According to the source, Mr Abbas was in Mr Lashari’s team also when the latter was federal health secretary. It was during this period (2010-2011) that the ministry allowed an unprecedented quota of ephedrine which is a controlled substance.
Mr Lashari denies all allegations levelled against him.
The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) had fixed a quota of 22,000kg of ephedrine for Pakistan for 2010-11, but the then health director-general, Rasheed Juma, allowed a quota of around 31,000kg.
Mr Juma claims to have done so under pressure.
During the third week of April, the ANF investigators wrote to the chief security officer of the PM House, asking him to provide complete record of people who visited the place from January 2009 onwards.
The move angered the prime minister who used a public speech to scold the ANF staff, asking them to refrain from approaching his staff directly “for such information”.
Supreme Court lawyer Salman Akram Raja, who is representing Mr Lashari and Ali Musa Gilani (younger son of the premier and one of the accused) in court, seems to be furious over the “open-ended investigations undertaken by the ANF staff”.
“It is simply malicious. The investigators are putting pressure from various quarters to get evidence against my clients,” remarked Mr Raja when asked about the status of the inquiry.
There is no evidence against Mr Gilani that he pressurised the then health director-general to issue the substance to some selected drug companies, according to Mr Raja.
“For the past 10 months, the ANF officials have been busy in investigating the case and yet they are shying away from forwarding a challan to the court,” he said.
Answering a question, Mr Raja said his services were hired not by the government but by Mr Lashari and Mr Gilani in personal capacity.
The scam came under the spotlight when the ANF informed a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry that the ephedrine quota worth Rs7 billion had been given to two Multan-based companies on the insistence of an “influential person”. The case was registered last year after two pharmaceutical companies — Danas Pharmaceutical and Berlex Lab International — were held responsible for obtaining export quotas for the substance in collusion with some health ministry officials.
In the first week of May, the INCB informed the ANF that ephedrine was being smuggled from Pakistan to Iran. An INCB delegation is due to visit Pakistan in July to investigate the matter.
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