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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 October 2018

Pakistan seizes 21 vehicles that Qatar royal hunters imported illegally

It is understood the vehicles entered the country before current prime minister Imran Khan took office

Brand new luxury Toyota vehicles imported from Japan are inspected at Manila port on June 11, 2008 following the arrival of 200 vehicles. Latest figures by the Philippine automotive manufacturers shows auto sales are up despite the political concerns, rising petroleum price and inflation. Car sales as of February increased 14.3 percent compared to January and February performances in 2007. AFP PHOTO/ROMEO GACAD / AFP PHOTO / ROMEO GACAD
Brand new luxury Toyota vehicles imported from Japan are inspected at Manila port on June 11, 2008 following the arrival of 200 vehicles. Latest figures by the Philippine automotive manufacturers shows auto sales are up despite the political concerns, rising petroleum price and inflation. Car sales as of February increased 14.3 percent compared to January and February performances in 2007. AFP PHOTO/ROMEO GACAD / AFP PHOTO / ROMEO GACAD

Pakistan has confiscated 21 luxury vehicles belonging to and intended to be used on hunting trips by Qatar's ruling royal family.

Customs officials in Islamabad confirmed that the seizure was made because the cars had been illegally imported without proper duty being paid.

The vehicles were taken from the warehouse and compound of a textile factory in the suburbs of the Pakistani capital.

Two officials in the Qatari Embassy in the city confirmed to The National that the vehicles belonged to the Royal family and had been brought to Pakistan "for hunting trips" in several different consignments "over the past year".

The warehouse they were taken from belonged to Saifur Rehman, a former senator and close friend of Pakistan's former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. All the cars has official diplomatic number plates, the embassy officials said. However the new government of Prime Minister Imran Khan has ordered an inquiry.

The Qatar Embassy issued a letter stating that the vehicles belonged to Qatari Sheikh Mr Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani, the former prime minister of Qatar. The luxury vehicles were BMWs, Toyota Land Cruisers and Nissan Prados.

Mr Rehman did not comment despite repeated requests from The National.

It is understood that the past Sharif government waived duty on the vehicles for three months under a legal regulatory order. The Qatari royal family apparently did not pay applicable customs taxes, nor did they take the vehicles back to Doha.

Four-wheel-drive vehicles from royal families brought in and used for hunting are sometimes left behind in Pakistan as gifts for political leaders.

Arabs, including the Qatari royal family, frequently visit Pakistan for the hunting of houbara bustards, a rare bird.

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Normally, however, diplomatic immunity would apply in such a case of confiscation of property.

"Under customary international law and international conventions dealing with diplomatic personnel, there is a principle of diplomatic inviolability that extends to diplomatic vehicles," Osama Malik, an Islamabad based lawyer on international law told The National.

"These cannot be impounded, nor custom duties levied against these as soon as diplomatic credentials are confirmed by the foreign office these may be released."

In December last year, an Arab hunting party were arrested by Pakistan paramilitary officials in the southwestern province of Baluchistan. Three consulate officials, nationals of Qatar and Oman, were also detained.

Pakistan has repeatedly come under criticism from conservationists for issuing permits for hunting houbara bustards birds.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the bustard as a vulnerable species with its global population ranging from 50,000 to 100,000. The species has almost vanished on the Arabian peninsula, however the houbara is the official bird of Pakistan’s Baluchistan province. Estimates suggest that 30,000 to 40,000 of the birds migrate to Pakistan for up to six months each year.