–Judge refuses PML-N leader’s demand to hand him in NAB custody for 90 days
ISLAMABAD: An accountability court on Friday granted the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) 13-day physical remand of former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who was arrested a day earlier in a case pertaining to the awarding of a multi-billion rupee liquefied natural gas (LNG) import contract.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) senior vice president was presented before Accountability Judge Bashir Ahmed, where the bureau requested for a 14-day remand.
As the hearing went underway, Abbasi, while pointing towards the NAB officials, said: “They are seeking remand. Give them remand.”
The former premier lamented that he has “fully cooperated with NAB but he was still arrested”, adding: “I know why they are asking for remand.”
He then asked the court to grant NAB 90-day physical remand. However, judge Bashir noted that “on the basis of the law, one-time 90-day remand could not be granted”.
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. On July 16, NAB Chairman Justice retired Javed Iqbal had signed Abbasi’s arrest warrant under Section 18(e) and Section 24(a) of the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), 1999.
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 offense of corruption and corrupt practices under Section 9(a) of NAO, 1999.
On January 2, the NAB Executive Board had authorized 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 jeopardize the efforts of the 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 authorized the Pakistan State Oil to procure LNG on behalf of the SSGCL.
At the time of closure of the inquiry, incumbent Finance Minister 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.