Former finance minister Miftah Ismail was on Wednesday arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) after the Islamabad High Court rejected his request for an extension in his pre-arrest interim bail in the LNG import case.
Ismail, a PML-N leader, is wanted by NAB in connection with an inquiry against the authorities, including minister for petroleum and natural resources, the secretary concerned and others regarding illegal award of LNG terminal-1 to a private company.
The bail application submitted by former managing director of Pakistan State Oil Sheikh Imranul Haque, another suspect in the LNG corruption case, was also rejected.
IHC Chief Justice Justice Athar Minallah, who was heading a two-judge bench that heard the former finance minister's application, stated that the Supreme Court had set a standard for granting bail in NAB cases.
"Bail in NAB cases can only be given in cases of hardship," the judge ruled, rejecting Ismail's petition.
A NAB team took Ismail and Haque into custody soon after the verdict and they were taken away.
At the outset of the hearing, Justice Minallah stated that previous judgements of the apex court existed on granting bail under the NAB law, and that Ismail's lawyer would have to convince the court that he was seeking bail extension due to circumstances of "extreme hardship".
In response, Haider Waheed, the lawyer representing Ismail, questioned why NAB wanted to arrest Ismail despite his cooperation in the investigation.
"NAB wants to arrest my client due to political reasons," he said.
The lawyer stated that when the deal for the LNG supply was being finalised, Ismail was working as a non-executive director of the Sui Southern Gas Company. He said the initial negotiations to purchase LNG from Qatar had already been done by the time Ismail took charge of his office.
The country did not import LNG at exorbitant rates during Ismail's tenure, Waheed argued.
Opposing his arguments, NAB prosecutor Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi said the contract of the LNG terminal had been awarded at more than double the preferred rate.
"The national exchequer has suffered a loss of Rs1.54 billion till now due to the erroneous award of contract," he said, adding that the then PML-N government had wanted to award the LNG terminal contract to a specific company.
Muzaffar informed the bench that former petroleum secretary Abid Saeed had become an approver in the case and that he had "revealed Miftah Ismail's role in his statement". The prosecutor then proceeded to read out Saeed's testimony.
The investigation officer of the LNG case told the court that LNG rates were not compared with the market standards while awarding the contract.
'NOC from NAB'
Resuming his arguments, Ismail's lawyer said that NAB had earlier stated before the IHC that it did not seek Ismail's arrest. "NAB should explain what new has transpired between then and today," he added.
He said Ismail had been issued a call-up notice on July 15 while arrest warrants against him were issued on July 16.
"The arrest warrants were issued after Miftah Ismail's leader announced protests," Waheed said.
The IHC bench wondered whether the LNG plant should be shut down if the current rates are resulting in losses. The judges asked the investigation officer whether the PTI government had issued a statement supporting the closure of the LNG plant due to losses.
Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani, the other member of the bench, observed that Pakistan had suffered losses in international arbitration cases in the past as well.
He said the representatives of the incumbent government that are signing LNG agreements now would be seen as suspect in five years' time.
"The government should perhaps take NOC (no-objection certificate) from NAB" prior to entering into such agreements, Justice Kayani remarked.
The court also inquired what steps the current government had taken to curb daily losses in the LNG plant.
"What the government has done is that it has given the contract on even higher rates [than earlier] now," quipped Ismail's lawyer.
After hearing all arguments, the IHC bench rejected Ismail and Haque's bail applications.
PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz condemned Ismail's arrest in a tweet, terming it the government's "response to historic failures including Kashmir fiasco".
"Even sham accountability joke cannot save [Prime Minister] Imran Khan. His days are numbered," she added.