Illegally imported Iranian fruit upsets Pakistan apple cart

Vendors sell apples on a street in Quetta on July 26. (AFP)
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Updated 15 October 2020

Illegally imported Iranian fruit upsets Pakistan apple cart

  • Iranian apples brought in as Afghan imports to avoid taxes are undercutting native growers
  • Edible goods from Afghanistan are exempt from tax, while other countries have to pay a levy of 17 percent

KARACHI: Growers and officials in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province — where over 85 percent of Pakistan’s apples are produced — say Iranian apples are being smuggled into the country through the Afghanistan border to avoid import taxes.

Smuggling has long been a feature of trade in Balochistan — which borders Iran — where there is a thriving black market in goods ranging from guns and narcotics to duty-free cigarettes and second-hand Toyotas.

Balcohistan growers say Iranian origin apples — produced and sold at a lower price than the Pakistani variety — are being brought in as Afghan imports, harming local business and making it hard for them to even meet their costs.

By law, trade in Iranian goods must be conducted through the Taftan border crossing or other entry points on Pakistan’s border with Iran.

But officials explained that by sending their produce through the Afghan border instead, the Iranian traders are circumventing the Sales Tax Act 1990, which states that edible goods imported from Afghanistan are exempt from taxes. All other countries pay a 17 percent per kilogram levy on exports to Pakistan.

An importer has to pay Rs56 per kilogram ($0.34) of apples shipped through Pakistan’s border with Iran, and only Rs8 through the Torkham border with Afghanistan, a customs official said.

Akhtar Kakar, vice president of the Balochistan Chamber of Commerce, said traders were evading paying higher taxes by documenting Iranian apples as imports from Afghanistan. Apples were being sent from Iran to Afghanistan and then exported by Afghan traders to Pakistan, he claimed.

Abdul Rauf, a senior official at Balochistan’s Agriculture Research Department, said Pakistan had produced 564,693 tons of apples during 2017-18, of which 480,169 tons (85 percent) were produced in Balochistan.

Customs officials said 55,362.403 tons of apples were imported through the Torkham border in 2019-20.

None of the officials or growers interviewed could specify how many Iranian apples are being smuggled into Pakistan via Afghanistan.

“Growers, who are already depressed by severe climate change, are faced with huge financial losses due to the (illegal) import of Iranian apples,” Samiullah Kakar, a grower in Kan Mehtarzai, a town in Balochistan, said.

Muhammad Salim, a collector of customs appraisement in Peshawar, admitted that Iranian apples may be being smuggled into Pakistan, but said growers might be exaggerating the extent of the problem.

“The illegal flow of Iranian apples cannot be ruled out due to the significant exemption of duty/taxes available to Afghan-origin apples,” Salim said, adding that the origins of agricultural produce, including apples, could not be ascertained through visual or physical examination or even through a lab test.

Salim said the high tax on apples brought in from the Iran border compared to through Afghanistan “provides attraction to unscrupulous elements to push the illegal flow of Iranian apples into Pakistan using different modes.”

He urged the Commerce Ministry to formulate “rules of origin” and prescribe a credible certification mechanism.

“The duty and other import levies structure on apples (should) be reviewed in consultation with all stakeholders so that the huge difference (in taxes) on Afghan-origin apples may be curtailed and balanced to avoid the illegal flow of Iranian apples into Pakistan.”

Kakar at the Balochistan Chamber of Commerce demanded that the government stop Iranian produce from being imported via the Torkham border at once.

“We demand that this be stopped immediately, as the country’s own produce is also available,” he said.

Kakar said it cost a grower Rs800 to produce a crate of apples in Pakistan, which would sell for Rs1,600.

“But when apples arrive from Iran, where it costs far less to farm, the prices drop to Rs1,000 for mountainous apples and as low as Rs400 for apples being grown in plain areas,” he said.

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Two accomplices in Kenya’s Westgate attack jailed for 33 and 18 years

Updated 48 min 49 sec ago

Two accomplices in Kenya’s Westgate attack jailed for 33 and 18 years

  • Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa, both 31, were found guilty on October 7 of conspiring with and supporting the four assailants
  • The convicted men were in regular contact with the attackers who at midday on September 21, 2013, stormed the upscale Westgate mall in the Kenyan capital

NAIROBI: A Kenyan court Friday handed prison terms of 33 and 18 years respectively to two men accused of conspiring with the Al-Shabab extremists who attacked Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in 2013, killing 67 people.

Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa, both 31, were found guilty on October 7 of conspiring with and supporting the four assailants from the Somalia-based extremist group who died in what was then Kenya’s worst terrorist attack in 15 years.

The accused asked the judge for leniency, saying they had already served seven years behind bars and had family to care for.

“Despite mitigation by their defense lawyers on their innocence, the offense committed was serious, devastating, destructive, that called for a punishment by the court,” Chief Magistrate Francis Andayi told a Nairobi courtroom.

He sentenced the men to 18 years for conspiracy and 18 for supporting extremists, but ordered they serve both terms together. Abdi was also given an additional 15 years for two counts of possessing extremist propaganda material on his laptop.

He will serve 26 years and Mustafa 11, taking into account their pre-trial detention.

The convicted men were in regular contact with the attackers who at midday on September 21, 2013, stormed the upscale Westgate mall in the Kenyan capital and began throwing grenades and firing indiscriminately on shoppers and business owners.

A four-day siege ensued — much of it broadcast live on television — during which Kenyan security forces tried to flush out the gunmen and take back the high-end retail complex.

Although there was no specific evidence Abdi and Mustafa had provided material help, the court was satisfied their communication with the attackers amounted to supporting the armed rampage, and justified the guilty verdict for conspiracy.

The marathon trial began in January 2014. A third accused was acquitted of all charges.
The Westgate attack was claimed by Al-Shabab in retaliation for Kenya intervening military over the border in Somalia, where the extremist group was waging a bloody insurgency against the fragile central government.

Kenya is a major contributor of troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which in 2011 drove Al-Shabab out of Mogadishu and other urban strongholds after a months-long offensive.

In a car the attackers drove to Westgate, police found evidence of newly-activated SIM cards used by the gunmen. Their communications were traced, including calls to Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa.

A fourth defendant, Adan Mohammed Abdikadir, was acquitted in early 2019 for lack of evidence.

The Westgate attack was the deadliest incident of violent extremism on Kenyan soil since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, which killed 213 people.

But since the assault on the shopping complex, Al-Shabab has perpetrated further atrocities in Kenya against civilian targets.

In April 2015, gunmen entered Garissa University and killed 148 people, almost all of them students. Many were shot point blank after being identified as Christians.

In January 2019, the militants struck Nairobi again, hitting the Dusit Hotel and surrounding offices and killing 21 people.

Al-Shabab warned in a January statement that Kenya “will never be safe” as long as its troops were stationed in Somalia, and threatened further attacks on tourists and US interests.

That same month, Al-Shabab attacked a US military base in northeast Kenya in a cross-border raid, killing three Americans and destroying a number of aircraft.