LAHORE: The National Accoun­tability Bureau (NAB) Lahore on Friday wrote to the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSE), requesting them to provide complete details of a business deal and a share transaction by a company named M/s Azgard Nine Limited, whose director Ali Jahangir Siddiqui is an aide to the prime minister and the ambassador-designate to the United States.

A combined investigation team of NAB Lahore has also summoned Mr Siddiqui on March 22, to record his statement in a probe against the affairs of M/s Azgard Nine Limited (ANL).

In this particular case NAB is probing the siphoning off of funds amounting to 23.7 million euros in 2008, used to purchase an Italian Company — Monte Bello SRL. A foreign company ‘Fairtal’ SRL, Sweden was used for the deal which suffered losses along with its shareholders. There are also allegations that shares of a company named Agritech Limited were sold to various financial and government institutions at a price higher than the market rate to settle loan defaults. This resulted in a loss of Rs40bn to various financial and government institutions, the NAB case says.

“The Lahore NAB has written to the SECP and PSE to provide case records of these two matters of the company at the earliest,” an official source said, adding that the bureau had initiated a probe against Mr Siddiqui and other directors of ANL on a private complaint. He said NAB was keen to look into the investigation already carried out by the SECP in this case almost 10 years ago.

The SECP had launched an investigation against ANL for alleged involvement in manipulative and prohibitive activities in 2007-08. According to the SECP’s investigation “during the review period (2007-08), the ANL indulged in active manipulative trading”.

NAB has also warned Mr Siddiqui, a business partner of Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, that failing to comply with its notice (appearing before it on March 22) may entail penal consequences as provided in S-2 of the schedule of NAO 1999.

The JS group had organised the Pakistan Investment Conference in the US in October/November last year, which was attended by business executives of 15 major corporate entities from Pakistan and senior government figures. The conference, it is believed, had helped pitch Mr Siddiqui’s candidature for the position. Mr Siddiqui is currently serving as the prime minister’s special assistant on investment. He got the job, which is equivalent in status to a minister of state, last August.

The case has caused more worries in government circles at a time when Mr Siddiqui’s appointment as the country’s ambassador to the US had come in for severe criticism.

The Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf have lambasted PM Abbasi’s government for considering Mr Siddiqui for the post, citing nepotism.

“The appointment of a non-career diplomat as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US at this critical time for the Pak-US relations is a thoughtless and imprudent decision that needs to be reviewed. Mr Siddiqui may be an exceptionally brilliant banker and businessman but it will be fatal to assume that a successful businessman is also a successful diplomat,” former senator Farhatullah Babar said.

When asked if the government was considering reviewing its decision, PML-N Information Secretary and Climate Change Minister Mushahidullah Khan said: “PM Abbasi is currently abroad. He has appointed Mr Siddiqui US ambassador. This NAB investigation against Mr Siddiqui must be in his knowledge and it will be his prerogative to take any decision in this regard.”

Published in Dawn, March 17th, 2018