Smuggled phones can be unblocked in the black market for Rs 2,000’: BS or Not?

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Senator Mian Mohammad Ateeq Sheikh raised concerns in a Senate standing committee a few days ago over Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) blocked phones being unblocked illegally on the black market. He said that it is costing approximately Rs 2,000 to Rs 3,000 to unblock smartphones, depending on the model and make of the phone.

As per PTA records, there are approximately 3 million smuggled or non-custom-paid smartphones in the country. The first phase of blocked these phones began on April 30, 2019. PTA has the option of getting a blocked phone unblocked by registering it with  DIRBS – a device verification and blocking system by PTA. However, for this the unpaid custom duties need to be paid first. According to Senator Ateeq, doing so would bring north of Rs 30,000 per blocked phone approximately, although cheaper phones have less duties on them.

If the claims are true then there is not only a major drain on the revenue for the national exchequer but also a dire threat to the data security of the general population of Pakistan. Profit decided to test the claim on our BS meter.

Methodology

Profit reached out to a number of people directly involved with importing, sales and repairing of mobile phones in Pakistan to seek their take on the possibility and consequences of such operations taking place in the black market. Among those interviewed are shop owners and vendors operating in Lahore’s Hafeez Center and Islamabad’s Blue Area, Peshawar Mor, and Karachi Company, and Director SmartLink Technologies, Muhammad Ahmed Butt, who is also an official distributor, wholesaler and retailer of mobile phones operating out of Hafeez Center in Lahore – the biggest mobile market in Punjab.

Findings

There are two ways a non-compliant phone be made compliant without paying customs duty to the authority.

  1. If your mobile shop vendor has a phone of similar make or model, say broken or damaged, but with functioning motherboard and PTA compliant, he can simply transfer that motherboard to your phone, changing the IMEI number and all the necessary details that PTA may require. However, this option is slightly more difficult and more expensive than the second one, which is the common practice, at least in Hafeez Center Lahore.
  2. If you have access to the passport number and/or CNIC number of any Pakistani citizen who has travelled abroad in the past one year, you can add these details and make your phone compliant without needed to pay any charges.


This second option is what has led to black market changing of non-compliant phones to compliant ones. The number of phones made compliant is in hundreds of thousands according to some estimates from the government as well as those who operate in the mobile market.

Ahmed said, “The customs duty on a new iPhone is north of Rs 45,000. But in Hafeez Center some iPhones have been made PTA compliant for as low as Rs 1,000.” For reference, the price of iPhone XR in Pakistan, as of the moment this article is being written is around Rs 164,000, with customs duty of Rs 60,000 plus. During Profits own visit to Hafeez Center in Lahore, we came across numerous shop owners willing to unblock PTA blocked phones for a charge of Rs4,000 to Rs6,000.

The shopkeepers in Islamabad had more to add. A mobile repair shop owner operating in the Karachi Company area of Islamabad, named Samiullah explained further. “If I have a legally purchased and registered smartphone, I have an IMEI number that is also legal and registered. So if I change the IMEI of another phone to the same as my phone, it will start to work. However, if my IMEI is blocked, then all phones with the same IMEI will also be blocked,” he told Profit. That said, PTA or any authority in Pakistan for that matter has no power to figure out how many devices are being operated on a single IMEI number.

Another shopkeeper from Blue Area Islamabad, Usman Ghani dealing in high-end phones, primarily Samsung and Apple said, “The person changing the IMEI number knows it’s illegal, and the person getting it changed also knows it’s illegal. So this is one of those things where you know a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy who can do it.” However, from Lahore a shopkeeper in Hafeez Center was nabbed by the Federal Investigation Authority for this very crime.

“One person here in Hafeez Center made more than 500 phones PTA compliant from the same computer system by entering random citizen’s data,” informed Ahmed. “One of the passport numbers this particular person used belonged to a senior officer from FIA who had travelled abroad recently with his family. When that officer went to get a phone that he brought with him to get PTA compliant, he got to know that another phone had already been made compliant on his data.

Profit’s verdict:

Given the statements by market insiders, there is no denying that indeed mobile phones are being made PTA compliant without payment of the due custom duties, at least in areas where there are major mobile hubs like the Hafeez Center. Side by side the passport and national identity card numbers of unsuspecting citizens are also being misused. Although PTA does plan to take strict actions, re-block some suspicious phones and put heavy penalties of jail time and fines on those who are involved in such activities, in the short run it remains to be seen how this activity is curbed. Therefore, Profit gives the senator’s claims a ‘Real Deal’ rating on the BS meter.

27 COMMENTS

  1. Till the time govwenment will keep making difficult rules, which basically target at withdrawing the right of luxury from common man which he rarely enjoys, this will continue to happen, now mobiles are being sold in pakistan are being sold at the highest price in the world, PTA approved iphone xs plus costs u around 250k, thats totally ridiculous, gov cant control the mafia, but gov continues to snatch the bread out of common man’s mouth.

  2. Its very dangouers game start due to the wrong policy of Govt.if Govt want to genrate revnue just impose 2000 to 3000 fix on each mobile. People (shopkeepeers) who are paying 2000 to making thier phones complaint from non complaint. And this 2000 is going in someone personal pocket instead of Govt. As Govt is asking 30000 to 45,000 which is foolishness act by Govt.
    Govt should impose fix duty and start collecting revenue.i can gurantee in one month they will Genrate multi millions. Those peoples are selling mobile phones but it seems that they are selling some kind of illegal product.
    Govt highup should invole mobile unions and impose duty on practial grounds.

  3. The link provided by PTA was not working properly, I came back from Dubai in Aug 2018 but could not turn any sim on because of some reasons. Later on when i inserted the sim i got SMS that my mobile is non compliant and would be blocked. For the sake of registration i followed the link and provided the information but i could not register my mobile in category which allowed me to bring one phone free on my passport details. The amount of tax on my mobile is 51k and ironically this is not the current value of my phone. I sent an email to PTA but didnt get any reply.

    Govt should impose reasonable amount of tax if they really want the public to pay duty otherwise black markets would flourish .

    • Its exactly happened with me, as well
      The illiterate person handling all the process and creating a environment for the people’s whos doing illegal import, nonsense people’s made imran as well a nonsense

    • Haleem what ever you said was 100% right actually the issues arising right now is the high budget phones have duties which are even higher than the actual value of phone then why would citizens of pakistan go for the custom duty honestly , they would rather go for the illegal procedure or black will flourish jo baat❤️

  4. The link they provided is not working properly. I came from KSA on 10th of May and one mobile should be register free of cost but when I tries to register my mobile phone manually, after completing the whole procedure I got text from 8483 that you have to pay 9K then your mobile will register in DIRBS. What does it mean? If one mobile is free, instead of registration they sent text for tax.
    Govt. should take some steps so the inconvenience which is created by PTA should be demise.
    Instead of generating revenue for the state they are just imposing their monopoly and this is not in the favour of state.

  5. Govt to khod faida nai utha rahi mobiles phone ko block kr k .
    Faida to sirf Hekars ko ho raha hai Jo 2000 main mobile ko pta see regt kerwa k de rahe Hain logo ko .

  6. Go to fucking hell PTA… What do u expect when u impose so much of tax on a mobile phone…my phone costed me around 20K but the tax that i have to pay now too is 20K to get it unblocked. So nice of u..fakk offf

  7. If possible PTA 50 percent less off non custom mobile amount and take action in black market in big city off pakistan

  8. We Support All Black Market Persons Who Unblocked Our Mobile Phones. Because Government Ka Dimaaghi Tawaazan Bohut Hi Zyaada Khraab Ho Chuka. Ma Ney IPhone SE Used Liya 17K Ka Oor Uss Par Tax Maanga Ja Raha Ha 9 Thousand Plus So Why We Pay To Government. Inn Had Haraamoon Ki Government Ko Tax Dena Hi Haraam Ha Jo Aafat Bann Kar Aaye Huway Hain. Begerat Bakwaas Kartay Hain K Low Cost Mobile Par Tax Kam Ha Jhootay 38% Ley Rahay Hain. We use all illegal Methods To Unblock Our Mobile Phones.

  9. I bought Sony Xperia Z5 Compact Mini 7,200 and when I checked it’s non compliant, I register it and check it’s tax so what I saw the tax is 8,632. Lolxxx PTA I can just laugh on your cheapest thinking that you hoping from peoples. I’m just waiting to block my phone and go to market Unblock only in 1,500 rs. Thanks Black Marketing we Support you all. Good Work, keep it up.

  10. Pta ko chaye ke Texas Mai Kami kare.amir tih Tex pay Kar dega garib kha se kare ga govt yar kuch toh Karo is awam ke liye Jo tm ko doaye deqa

  11. Ye policy thk Hy nai q k bahir k mob Jo k ham nee 7000 k Lia Hy us pe 8000 tax dollars Mai le rhy Hy govt g awam sari ameer Mai plzz ye system easy kre tax itna khai jitna AP hazam kr ske gharerbo ka Paisa kb tk kha paoge?

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