Islamabad skyline
The Pakistan government has launched a probe to investigate the shortage of fuel and price gouging that occurred last year. Image Credit: Agency

Islamabad: The Pakistan government has launched a probe to investigate the shortage of fuel and price gouging that occurred last year and the possible role of oil companies in the petrol crisis.

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday asked his Special Assistant on Petroleum Nadeem Babar to step down and also removed the petroleum secretary over the fuel crisis.

The two officials have been asked to step down temporality to ensure the investigation can proceed free from any influence, said federal minister Asad Umar, adding that it does not suggest that the two are involved in any criminal activity. “The whole chain of the oil industry would be investigated as the crisis caused billions of rupees worth of loss to the nation,” he added. The organizations under probe include Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA), petroleum division, Port Authority and Maritime Ministry.

Khan’s instructions are clear that “those who are responsible and involved in this crime will go to jail” the minister said. The government is determined to expose and hold the perpetrators to account especially the “big cartel and mafias” in the oil industry that have become stronger in the last decades, he said. After the investigation, “criminal cases would be filed against those involved in the criminal acts.”

Criminal acts

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has been directed to conduct a forensic investigation into the “criminal acts” that led to the fuel crisis and submit a report within 90 days.

Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) would initiate a forensic audit of top 10 oil marketing companies which were allegedly involved in petrol crisis in June 2020. FIA will investigate whether the oil marketing companies were involved in price profiteering and hoarding, if they complied with legal obligations on maintaining inventory, and any actions that come under ‘criminal activity’.

In June last year, Pakistan witnessed a serious petroleum shortage after which PM Imran Khan ordered an inquiry commission to fix responsibility. The initial 163-page report held the oil marketing companies responsible for triggering the fuel crisis by delaying supply to petrol pumps and earning Rs6 to 8 billion illegally by manipulating fuel prices.

It also uncovered a wide range of irregularities in the country’s oil sector without any check and balance and at least Rs250 billion worth of oil smuggling from Iran.