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LAHORE: Rejecting the notion that the Punjab government “unjustifiably” fixed the ex-mill and retail prices of sugar at Rs 80 and Rs 85, respectively, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Interior and Accountability Mirza Shahzad Akbar has claimed that the prices were fixed in accordance with the data provided by sugar mills about their purchase and recovery ratio per maund of the sugarcane.

“Before determining and notifying the ex-mill prices, we had collected data from the cane commissioner Punjab office and the provincial industries department while sugar mills associations also shared their data containing information at which rate they had been purchasing the sugarcane and what was their recovery ratio per maund,” the premier’s aide said while addressing a news conference at the Directorate General Public Relations (DGPR) on Wednesday. Shahzad was flanked by Special Assistant to the Punjab Chief Minister Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan.

He said according to the government, the sugar mills had been purchasing sugarcane at Rs 259 per maund, and their aggregated recovery ratio was at 10.4 percent. “However, the data provided by sugar mills associations “without any documentary proof” suggested that they were purchasing sugarcane per maund at Rs 265 and their aggregated recovery ratio was at 9.3 percent,” he added.

The SAPM mentioned that the sugar prices would have been Rs 5 or Rs 6 less had the government determined the rates according to the data collected by the government. “Though we were sincere in fixing this decades-old issue, we notified the rates after thoroughly analyzing the sugar associations’ data,” he said, adding that the government had also calculated 15 percent profit margin in these rates.

Speaking about the JDW Sugar Mills case, the SAPM said while carrying out “across the board” accountability the most difficult thing is to ask (about illegalities) from “our closed ones”, but questioning is crucial. “If your slogan is of supremacy of law, across the board accountability and due process of law then there will be questions, and it is not possible that closed ones would be spared in case of anything suspected illegal,” he stressed.

Negating the impression that the PTI regime is targeting any particular person, the premier’s aide said the federal government following the findings of the sugar commission report 2020 had decided to go after all the sugar barons of the country.

Under this strategy, the SAPM claimed they had taken actions against all the 80 sugar mills of the country and registered at least 10 FIRs against 13 sugar mills which are being probed for their alleged involvement in money laundering and running a well-knitted network of satta players (speculative pricing players).

“We have not arrested anyone because all (suspects) are businessmen and their “assets are within the country”, but the FIA had issued summons to all the heads (CEOs and CFOs) of the sugar mills,” Shahzad said, adding that the government is meting out the same treatment with all the sugar mills, including the JDW and the Sharif group.

“One last thing I wanted clear is that it is repeatedly being asked why the government in the sugar commission report only targeted only nine sugar mills out of the 80,” he said, adding that only two sugar groups contribute to the 50 percent of the country’s total production. The JDW sugar mills produce 20 percent of the total production, he added.

To a questioner what message the PTI lawmakers were trying to give by accompanying Jahangir Tareen during his appearance before the Lahore High Court (LHC) on Wednesday, the SAPM said that there is a very clear difference between the status of an accused and a convict.

“If I hadn’t been holding this position, it is quite possible that I would be accompanying him (Tareen) during his today’s appearance because it is the part of our culture,” he said but added that “no one is being push to the wall”.

Meanwhile, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on Wednesday served call-up notices to five sugar mills and summoned their chief financial officers (CFOs) for their alleged involvement in sugar satta business and money laundering.

As per the notices, the copies of which are available with Business Recorder, the FIA has directed the CFOs of Chanar Sugar Mills (Kiyyani Group) and Hussain Sugar Mills (Hussain Group) to appear before a combined investigation team on April 13 at the agency’s Temple Road office.

Similarly, the CFOs of Itehad Sugar Mills (Itehad Group) and Kashmir Sugar Mills (Al-Shafi Group of Companies) were summoned on April 4 while the CFOs of Two-Star Sugar Mills (Umer Group/RYK) have been summoned on April 15, 2021.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021