LAHORE: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Thursday arrested former prime minister and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz senior vice-president Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in the LNG (liquefied natural gas) import contract case.

Unlike previous high-profile cases, NAB chose not to describe grounds of Mr Abbasi’s arrest, saying it would submit a charge-sheet against him in the accountability court, thus causing the PML-N to claim that the anti-graft body had not yet secured any “strong evidence” against him.

Prime Minister Imran Khan was present in Lahore when Mr Abbasi was arrested. The PML-N has termed the arrest continuation of ‘worst political victimisation’ at the behest of Mr Khan and said it would continue raising voice against the “inept PTI government’s anti-people polices” even if “NAB-Niazi unholy alliance” put all PML-N leadership behind bars.

• Raid conducted on former finance minister Miftah Ismail’s house but he was not there • Shahbaz says anti-graft body is carrying out the task of eliminating PML-N

A NAB team intercepted Mr Abbasi’s car at Thokar Niaz Baig interchange, close to the bureau’s provincial headquarters, when he was coming from Islamabad, along with PML-N secretary general Ahsan Iqbal and information secretary Marriyum Auranzeb, to attend a press conference of Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif in Model Town.

NAB officials told Mr Abbasi that the bureau had issued his arrest warrant and asked him to go along with them. Mr Abbasi was seen in a video saying “I am a free man at the moment. Show me arrest warrant and take me with you.”

Ms Aurangzeb said the NAB officials did not have an arrest warrant with them. “One of the officials showed the arrest warrant on his Whatsapp account on a mobile phone. Like the Joint Investigation Team was formed in the Panama Pap­ers case on a Whatsapp call, now a former premier had been arrested on a Whatsapp message,” she said.

However, she added, one of the officials rushed back to the NAB office and brought with him a photocopy of the arrest warrant.

When the official showed Mr Abbasi the photocopy of his arrest warrant, he put up no resistance and was taken to the NAB’s Thokar Niaz Baig office where he was “offered tea and his medical examination was conducted” before he was shifted to the bureau’s Rawalpindi office. NAB official Chaudhry Asghar said that “we do not have original arrest warrant at the moment therefore we have arrested the ex-premier on the basis of a photocopy of the warrant.”

In a press release NAB only said it had arrested Mr Abbasi in the LNG import contract case. Asked why no grounds of arrest had been shown, the bureau’s spokesperson Nawazish Ali Asim said: “Mr Abbasi will be produced before the accountability court of Islamabad on Friday (today) where grounds of his arrest will be revealed.”

The arrest warrant issued by NAB chairman retired justice Javed Iqbal says: “Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is accused of commission of the offence of corruption and corrupt practices under section 9(a) of NAB Ordinance 1999 and Schedule therefore I direct his arrest.”

Ahsan Iqbal regretted the presence of Rangers officials during the arrest of Mr Abbasi. “During the Faizabad sit-in the government had requested for deployment of Rangers. It was told that they (Rangers) would remain behind and would not take part in action but today I saw presence of Rangers along with the NAB officials who had come to arrest the former premier,” he said. The PML-N leader accused PM Khan of involving state institutions in his acts of “vengeance “against the PML-N.

However, a NAB official clarified that the Rangers were only deployed at the bureau’s Lahore office for security and “no special assignment was given to them in this regard”.

“We will not let Imran Khan become Hitler of Pakistan. NAB has become ‘N-League Accountability Bureau’. Today is another black day for Pakistan’s democracy,” Mr Iqbal said

PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif also condemned the arrest of Mr Abbasi. “Imran Khan Niazi wants to put all opposition leaders in jail. Go ahead with your plan, we are not afraid,” he said.

“The crime of Mr Abbasi is that he is a loyalist of Nawaz Sharif. The country cuts a sorry figure in the world because of such actions by Imran Niazi. NAB has been carrying out the task of eliminating the PML-N,” Mr Sharif said.

PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said in a tweet: “Selected accountability and selected arrests only expose our selected government. Arrests of opposition, censorship of media & selected govt. nothing ‘Naya’ about this Pakistan. It’s the same old Zia/Musharraf type dictatorial Pakistan. Such tactics will not deter the resistance.”

PML-N vice-president Maryam Nawaz said: “Another elected premier is arrested today and he is given punishment for staying loyal to Nawaz Sharif.”

NAB arrested Mr Abbasi after he did not comply with the bureau’s notice requiring him to appear before the investigators on July 18. However, Mr Abbasi has regretted that he could not appear before NAB because he was busy in some engagements in Lahore.

According to NAB headquarters, the anti-graft watchdog has also issued arrest warrants for former finance minister Miftah Ismail and former managing director of the Pakistan State Oil Imranul Haq.

Mr Abbasi is accused of awarding a 15-year contract for a LNG terminal against the rules when he was petroleum minister in former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s cabinet. The case was closed by NAB in 2016 but reopened in 2018.

Mr Abbasi had said earlier that he had not committed any illegality in the award of the LNG import contract and therefore could prove his innocence at any forum.

Raid on Miftah Ismail’s house

Hours after the arrest of former prime minister Abbasi, NAB officials raided the residence of a key member of his cabinet, Miftah Ismail, in Karachi’s Defence area, but returned empty-handed as the former finance minister was not found at home.

Though there was no word from NAB officials about the motive behind the raid and its link with Mr Abbasi’s arrest, a senior leader of the PML-N, Mohammad Zubair, said that personnel of the anti-graft watchdog had searched Mr Miftah’s residence.

“I went to his [Miftah’s] house when I came to know that there were NAB officials outside the residence,” Mr Zubair told Dawn. “At around 6:30pm NAB officials with women personnel went inside his house and carried out a detailed search. He was not there. He has not been in contact with his family or any PML-N member as his phone has remained switched off since afternoon. We and his family are concerned about him and no one yet knows his whereabouts.”

Syed Irfan Raza from Islamabad and Imran Ayub from Karachi also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, July 19th, 2019