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.

Related


Exposed: UK Daesh cell fundraising for jailed jihadi brides

Updated 29 November 2020

Exposed: UK Daesh cell fundraising for jailed jihadi brides

  • Fake donation by undercover reporters reveals sophisticated terror network

LONDON: A Daesh fundraising operation based in the UK seeking to free Western jihadi brides from Syrian refugee camps has been exposed by the Mail on Sunday newspaper.
Undercover journalists spoke with a “fixer” in Turkey before exposing a “courier” in London collecting what he thought was a £4,500 ($5,987) donation to the operation.
But the brown envelope hidden at the “dead drop” by undercover journalists contained only a crossword book. In response to the revelations, London’s Metropolitan Police have opened an investigation.
The Syrian camps targeted by the operation for escape bids include Al-Hol, where Shamima Begum, who fled Britain aged 15 to join Daesh, was held.
A report last week revealed the existence of an Instagram group called Caged Pearls, run by British women detained in Al-Hol who are raising money to finance their escape from the camps.
The page promotes awareness of its mission through a poster reading: “Al-Hol — The cradle of the new Caliphate.”
One woman raising funds in the camp was named as “Sumaya Holmes,” who had been smuggled out of the camp and traveled to Turkey.
Holmes is said to be the widow of a British Daesh fighter who died in Syria, and the current wife of a Bosnian extremist serving jail time in his home country.
Holmes asks for donations on her Facebook page and posts pictures of women holding up posters begging for help.
One poster said: “I am a sister from camp Al-Hol and I need $6,000 so that I can escape from PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party). Please, I ask everyone to help me and donate as much as they can.”
Holmes captioned the image: “This is my friend and she is in need of help. She sent me this photo yesterday. Please, even if you can’t help, pass it to those who can donate to her.”
Another image posted by Holmes shows a woman holding a piece of paper that says: “I am your Muslim sister in Al-Hol camp. I need help from my brothers and sisters to be freed from the hands of the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces). I need $7,000 to be able to get out with my children.” The message added: “You can trust Sumaya Holmes on Facebook, she is trying to help me raise money needed.”
A Mail on Sunday reporter posed as a drug dealer who had converted to Islam. They messaged Holmes on Facebook to offer support and money.
Holmes then requested to communicate on Telegram, an encrypted messaging app favored by extremists and criminals for its high levels of security and privacy.
She asked for a Bitcoin donation but the undercover reporter declined. She then suggested making a bank deposit in an associate’s account in Jordan, and then hawala, an Islamic method of transferring money that uses a broker system. But the undercover journalist declined again.
Holmes finally provided details of a man called “Anas” in London who could collect funds in person. When an offer to donate was made, Holmes accepted.
In the meantime, she had been actively posting her support for Daesh on Facebook. In one post, she described the Chechen who beheaded teacher Samuel Paty last month as a “hero.”
In London, a second undercover reporter set up a meeting with “Anas” to deliver cash for the operation.
But the reporter changed the plan and left an envelope containing only a crossword book at the agreed-upon location.
As the journalists watched carefully, a man wearing a white crash helmet soon arrived on a scooter.
He found the package and messaged the reporter: “File received, let me check the money and tell you.”
He soon discovered the ruse, telling the undercover reporter: “There are no money in the envelope, there is only a book? It seems that you are not serious about your subject.”
When confronted again, “Anas” denied any involvement in the exchange, which would be illegal under British law had the envelope contained cash. “No, no, I don’t take anything, you are wrong,” he said.
Later, Holmes also denied her involvement. “That’s not true, good luck with publishing your lies,” she said.
The latest estimates suggest that about 300 of the 900 Britons who traveled to Syria to join Daesh are back on British streets.
Dr. Vera Mironova, a Daesh expert and research fellow at Harvard University, said: “To escape from the camps costs about $18,000 and the success of these campaigns shows the sheer amount Daesh are able to raise online.”
She added: “Once the women are smuggled out, it is impossible to monitor them. The women who collect money online are still with Daesh and are trusted and supported by members worldwide. They work with a network of supporters globally.”