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Seized luxury car to be handed over to Bulgarian embassy

LAHORE: A Customs appellate tribunal has held that the Bentley Mulsanne seized last year in Karachi by the Customs had not been smuggled into the country but was imported in the name of the Bulgarian ambassador to Islamabad.

“We hold that the impugned vehicle has been seized without jurisdiction by the Customs Department,” the two-member tribunal said in its verdict on Tuesday on an appeal filed by a claimant of the luxury car.

The tribunal ordered the department to hand over the car to the Bulgarian embassy or the foreign affairs ministry.

The tribunal comprised Arif Khan, its chairman, and Abdul Basit Chaudhry.

The Customs had recovered the Bentley Mulsanne from a house in Karachi’s Defence Housing Authority in September last year. According to the department, the car was stolen from the United Kingdom and later smuggled to Karachi, where it was illegally registered with Sindh’s Excise and Taxation Department.

Customs appellate tribunal finds Mulsanne vehicle, seized last year in Karachi by Customs, was not smuggled but imported in Bulgarian envoy’s nam

The Customs registered an FIR and arrested two suspects — Jamil Shafi, the car’s claimant, and Naveed Bilwani.

Shafi claimed during investigations the car was sold to him by Bilwani, who agreed to complete the documentation process and other requirements.

But Bilwani said he had only helped broker a deal between Shafi and Naveed Yamin as a guarantor. He claimed that Yamin had received cash and pay orders from Shafi as payment against the vehicle.

The tribunal observed in its order that the car was imported by the Bulgarian embassy in the name of its ambassador in Pakistan and was cleared by the Customs department in 2019 against a bona fide exemption certificate issued by the foreign affairs ministry.

It said no discrepancy or violation was pointed out by the Customs regarding clearance of the car.

The Customs seized the vehicle after receiving a report from Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA).

As the vehicle was stolen from Britain and the NCA is investigating the case, “we find it to be prima facie a case of Interpol, duly represented in Pakistan by the National Central Bureau (NCB), Islamabad”, the tribunal said.

It noted that the case should have been handled by the NCB in coordination with the NCA.

The tribunal further observed that the record established the ownership of the car in the name of the Bulgarian embassy. It said the embassy cannot disown the vehicle and if the vehicle was stolen from the embassy, an FIR must be lodged or the car should be disposed of by the embassy.

If the Bulgarian embassy had disowned the car after learning about the British agency’s report regarding theft, the vehicle should have been handed over to the NCB for further action in coordination with British authorities, the tribunal added.

It ordered the authorities concerned to hand over the car to the Bulgarian embassy as it was “the lawful owner”.

“In case the subject embassy refuses to take possession of the impugned vehicle, the same shall be recorded in writing and the vehicle be handed over to the ministry of foreign affairs along with reports of National Crime Agency (UK) for further necessary action at their end,” the verdict said.

The tribunal ruled that the applicant, Jamil Shafi, had no “locus standi to seek the release of the car on payment of duty/taxes”.

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