SC dismisses Sheikh Rasheed’s plea seeking PM’s disqualification

  • Top court tells petitioner to approach NAB for investigating LNG import contract

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Monday dismissed a petition filed by Awami Muslim League (AML) chief Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed seeking disqualification of Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi under Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution over alleged corruption in the award of a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) import contract.

As a three-member bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar took up the petition, the court observed that the matter does not fall under Article 184 (3) of the Constitution, related to protection of fundamental rights under which the apex court takes up cases. The bench ruled that the case can be taken to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), which is an independent institution.

Justice Ijazul Ahsan added that NAB can summon the respondents if it deems fit.

Moreover, the bench inquired as to how, under the petition, the premier can be deemed not to be truthful and honest as per Article 62 of the Constitution.

Dismissing the petition, the chief justice remarked that they do not want to repeat the history of Reko Diq, Karkey and Pakistan Steel Mills cases. He added that the petitioner should know what those decisions cost Pakistan in the eyes of the world. “Such [political] cases caused us a lot of embarrassment on global level,” Justice Nisar observed.

At the outset of the hearing, Rasheed’s lawyer Latif Khosa claimed that the government is abusing its powers and committing serious violations of court orders.

Asked by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar to inform the court about facts of the case, Khosa said there are vast reserves of natural gas within Pakistan.

An interesting scenario then occurred. Khosa, who paused his arguments due to the sound of thunder, said the thunderclap was the result of “misdeeds like LNG [illegal contracts]”.

“Rain is a blessing from Allah, you continue your arguments,” the chief justice quipped while addressing Khosa, before adding: “Thundering clouds seldom rain.”

Khosa urged the court to send the case to NAB, but the court refused to entertain the request, saying the petitioner would have to approach relevant institutions himself.

The petition alleged that Abbasi indulged in massive corruption in the LNG contract awarded in 2015 as the minister for petroleum and natural resources. The counsel further requested the court to order National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to initiate an investigation against the PM in this regard. The petition states that importing LNG without agreement is illegal, calling into question the integrity of PM Abbasi. It points out that transparency is a must when awarding contracts of public interest.

The petitioner prayed to the top court to declare it as a matter of fundamental rights.

In 2013, the PML-N government launched the LNG project and then prime minister Nawaz Sharif in league with the then petroleum minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi decided to handle the import and transmission of LNG at Port Qasim through their blue-eyed persons, the petition alleged.

For this purpose, a terminal on rental basis was illegally arranged and Nawaz Sharif’s business friend Hussain Dawood was selected since he owns a terminal in the chemical zone of Port Qasim, the petition contended.

Hussain Dawood also owns Engro Group which is a subsidiary of Dawood Group and Elengy Terminal Pakistan.

As per the rental agreement, the Engro Group / Elengy Terminal was to be paid Rs27.20 million per day irrespective of whether the terminal was used or not and astonishingly the payment of rent was to be made by the Pakistan State Oil without any transparent competitive bidding, the petition alleged.

The petition argued that the sitting prime minister and other respondents by allegedly concealing material facts and misrepresentation before the public at large had committed corrupt and illegal practices and, therefore, should be prosecuted strictly in accordance with the law since the agreement to supply LNG to Pakistan by Qatar Gas had been signed on a long term 15-year basis without adhering to the minimum standards of transparency and customary international terms and conditions.

The petitioner had prayed the court to declare the looted and plundered money having been procured by virtue of illegal contracts and should be recovered from the alleged ill gotten assets of the respondents.

The secretaries of the ministries of petroleum and natural resources and law and justice, the Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Ltd, Sui Southern Gas Company, Ogra, the Pakistan State Oil and Elengy Terminal Pakistan had been made respondents in the petition.