Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was arrested by a 12-member National Accountability Bureau (NAB) team on Thursday in a multi-billion-rupee case related to the award of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) import contract.
NAB Chairman Javed Iqbal the same day also signed the arrest warrants of another PML-N leader, Miftah Ismail, as well as former managing director of Pakistan State Oil Sheikh Imranul Haque.
According to DawnNewsTV, Abbasi was on his way to attend a press conference, accompanied by PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal and spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb, when he was arrested on the Thokar Niaz Baig interchange.
Abbasi initially resisted the arrest but eventually conceded. He was shifted to NAB office in Lahore after a medical check-up. He is currently being taken to NAB Rawalpindi.
Ismail is also being probed in connection with the LNG import case. After Abbasi's arrest, teams in Karachi and Islamabad were dispatched to take the former finance minister into custody.
By evening, a NAB team had secured warrants to enter Ismail's house in Karachi for a search and arrest operation. However, it eventually returned empty-handed as Ismail was not at home.
Both leaders had earlier been placed on the Exit Control List to restrict their movement abroad.
Abbasi snared by NAB
NAB had summoned the former premier in the LNG case today but he did not appear before the bureau. According to the team investigating Abbasi, the former premier had only answered 20 out of the 75 questions he had been asked. They said that despite giving him time, Abbasi had continually asked for more time to answer these questions.
PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz shared a NAB arrest warrant for Abbasi, dated July 16.
As per the arrest warrant, Abbasi is "accused of commission of the offence of corruption and corrupt practices under Section 9(a) of National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), 1999."
NAB Chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal directed the former premier's arrest under Section 18(e) and Section 24(a) of the NAO.
Abbasi "shall be produced before the court for authorisation of detention for such period as may be necessary for finalisation of the investigation", the arrest warrant added.
According to sources, he will be presented in court tomorrow due to the shortage of court hours today. Accountability judge Chaudhry Ameer Khan is expected to hear NAB's request for a transit remand.
In a post shared on Twitter, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif — also facing cases by NAB — condemned Abbasi's arrest.
"We strongly protest Shahid Khaqan Abbasi's arrest. The institution of NAB has become Imran Khan's puppet. Our spirits cannot be wavered by such cheap tactics," he said.
While speaking to the media, PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal strongly protested the arrest and any other arrests "made to silence those who question the government".
"I have a question: does no civilian in this country have the right to serve this country?"
"If we do, we will be prosecuted," he added.
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto also took to Twitter to condemn the arrest. He said that "the selected accountability and selected arrests only expose the selected government".
"Arrests of the opposition, censorship of the media and selected govt, nothing ‘Naya’ about this Pakistan. It’s the same old Zia/Musharraf type dictatorial Pakistan. Such tactics will not deter the resistance," he wrote.
The inquiry against Abbasi is being conducted directly under the supervision of NAB chairman.
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.
Additional reporting by Rana Bilal in Lahore