–12-member team of anti-graft watchdog arrests former premier after no-show in probe
–Shehbaz Sharif condemns ‘revenge tactics against PML-N under guise of accountability’
LAHORE: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Thursday arrested former premier and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Senior Vice President Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in a case pertaining to the awarding of a multi-billion rupee liquefied natural gas (LNG) import contract.
Abbasi, accompanied by PML-N leaders Marriyum Aurangzeb and Ahsan Iqbal, was on his way to Lahore to attend a press conference when he was intercepted by a 12-member team of the anti-graft watchdog near the Thokar Niaz Baig interchange. The former premier initially resisted NAB’s effort to arrest him but soon gave in.
The former premier was later shifted to Islamabad where he will be produced before an accountability judge on Friday.
On July 16, NAB Chairman Justice (r) Javed Iqbal had signed Abbasi’s arrest warrant under Section 18(e) and Section 24(a) of the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), 1999. The NAB chairman also signed the arrest warrant of former finance minister Miftah Ismail in the same case.
It is worth mentioning here that on Thursday, a NAB team raided Ismail’s residence in Karachi but he was not there and his cellphone was also switched off.
According to an image of the arrest warrant shared by PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz on Twitter, the former premier is accused of commission of the offence of corruption and corrupt practices under Section 9(a) of NAO, 1999. The warrant states that the former premier should be produced before the court for authorisation of detention for such period as may be necessary for finalisation of the investigation.
میرے ہموطنو! آپ کے ووٹ سے منتخب ہونے والا ایک اور وزیر اعظم گرفتار ! جو آپ کے ووٹ سے آئے گا، کیا یہی لا قانونیت، توہین اور ناانصافی اس کا مقدر بنے گی؟ pic.twitter.com/iKvx47rjrR
— Maryam Nawaz Sharif (@MaryamNSharif) July 18, 2019
The anti-corruption watchdog had summoned the former premier in the LNG case on Thursday, however, he skipped the hearing. According to the investigation team, the former premier had only answered 20 out of the 75 questions he has been asked. They said that despite giving him time, Abbasi had continually asked for more time to answer these questions.
“You are requested to appear on 18-07-2019 at 10 am at NAB Islamabad before Investigation Officer Malik Zubair Ahmed, deputy director, for discussion and recording your statement being the minister of petroleum and natural resources on LNG terminal,” said the NAB notice that was served to Abbasi, adding that “you are advised that failing with this notice may entail penal consequences as provided in serial 2 of the schedule of the NAO, 1999.”
PML-N CONDEMNS ABBASI’S ARREST:
PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif, along with party leaders Ayaz Sadiq, Ahsan Iqbal and Marriyum Aurangzeb, condemned the arrest of former premier Abbasi and questioned the transparency of accountability in the country.
Addressing a press conference, he said, “If there is accountability, where is it? This is the worst revenge against the PML-N under the pretense of accountability.”
“Abbasi was arrested in an unprofessional manner; when he asked for an arrest warrant, the NAB officials just stared at each other’s faces. Then the NAB DG came himself and showed a WhatsApp message. Later, all he got was a photocopy instead of a warrant signed by the NAB chairman,” claimed the opposition leader.
“Imran Khan is a proud and egotistic prime minister. His philosophy is to not let anyone play if he cannot play,” Shehbaz said as he added that the premier has ruined the country’s economy in the past 10 months and the arrests of opposition leaders are an “attempt to distract the nation from the government’s performance”.
It is worth mentioning here that on Wednesday, NAB had banned the sale, purchase, and transfer of all properties belonging to Shehbaz and his family members.
Earlier on Thursday, soon after Abbasi’s arrest, Shehbaz tweeted that the “institution of NAB has become Imran Khan’s puppet. Our spirits cannot be wavered by such cheap tactics”.
On Jan 2, the NAB Executive Board had authorised two investigations against Abbasi, being former minister for petroleum and natural resources — one for his alleged involvement in irregularities in LNG import and the other related to the appointment of Naeemuddin Khan as president of the Bank of Punjab.
The former prime minister had said several times in the recent past that he had not committed any illegality in the award of contracts for LNG import and, therefore, he could prove his innocence at any forum.
He was of the view that the import of LNG was the need of the hour in 2013 when the country was facing an acute shortage of gas.
In the case, not only Abbasi but former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was also accused of misusing authority by awarding the contract of LNG terminal to 15 companies of their choice.
It is the first NAB case against Abbasi, who had served as prime minister for almost a year after the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif by the Supreme Court on July 28, 2017.
Interestingly, during the previous PML-N government, the Karachi NAB in its regional board meeting had closed the inquiry against Khaqan Abbasi in December 2016. But the PTI opposed the decision and claimed that “the inquiry was stopped despite the fact that it had been proved that the contract had been awarded in a non-transparent manner”.
The then Karachi NAB director general had remarked in a meeting: “After exhaustive discussion it has been decided that it is an ongoing project and any intervention by NAB at this juncture will jeopardise the efforts of provision of LNG from the project of public/national importance. It is, therefore, decided [to close the] inquiry [at] our end.”
However, the NAB inquiry had revealed that the management of Inter State Gas Systems (ISGS) and Sui Southern Gas Company Limited (SSGCL) selected M/s Engro as a successful bidder for LNG terminal at Karachi Port in a non-transparent manner.
The NAB inquiry found that the SSGCL signed a 15-year contract with a subsidiary company of Engro for re-gasification of LNG at fixed daily processing charges.
The government authorised the Pakistan State Oil to procure LNG on behalf of the SSGCL.
At the time of closure of the inquiry, incumbent Finance Minster Asad Umar had said: “NAB closed down inquiry against Khaqan Abbasi, though it was confirmed that irregularities had been committed in the award of the LNG contract.”
However, NAB reopened the inquiry against Abbasi in October 2018.
In February, Abbasi appeared before NAB and recorded his statement.
In April, the government imposed a travel ban on Abbasi, former finance minister Miftah Ismail, and five other persons in the same case.