Show-cause notices issued over technical defects in Abbasi’s indictment

Published December 2, 2020
In this file photo, former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi arrives at the Parliament house. — AP
In this file photo, former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi arrives at the Parliament house. — AP

KARACHI: An accountability court has issued show-cause notices to the National Accountability Bureau and judicial officials over ‘technical defects’ in framing of charge in a reference against former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, former finance minister Miftah Ismail and former Pakistan State Oil (PSO) managing director Sheikh Imranul Haq, it emerged on Tuesday.

NAB in Dec 2019 had filed a reference in the liquefied natural gas (LNG) import contract case against 10 accused, including Mr Abbasi, Mr Ismail and Mr Haq.

Sources told Dawn that an accountability court in Rawalpindi took up the matter last week to frame charges against the nominated suspects through video link from Karachi.

The Rawalpindi accountability court (AC) had requested the administrative judge of the accountability courts in Karachi, Abdul Ghani Soomro, to make arrangements for the indictment and recording of the statements of the nominated suspects before an accountability court in Karachi.

The indictment proceedings were supervised by a clerk in Karachi instead of court registrar

The sources said that Karachi’s Accountability Court-II Judge Aaliya Latif Unnar presided over the proceedings through video link for framing of the charge against the former premier and other suspects. All the suspects were present, they added.

The Rawalpindi AC judge indicted all the suspects, who pleaded not guilty and opted to contest the case.

However, judicial sources told Dawn that the entire process became “defective” since the proceedings at the court in Karachi were supervised by a lower division clerk instead of the registrar, or assistant registrar, of the ACs as per common practice.

The sources said that the judicial staff and a special public prosecutor, who is deputed by NAB, also failed to obtain signatures on certain documents, which is required under the law.

Therefore, Judge Unnar issued show-cause notices to an assistant director of NAB, who was present during the proceedings, and the judicial officials to explain why action may not be taken against them for defects in the procedure of the indictment.

The judicial officials said that the lower division clerk was not authorised to supervise the process since it was the job of the administrative courts’ registrar or assistant registrar.

In the reference, NAB alleged that one company had received benefits of over Rs21 billion between March 2015 and September 2019.

Additionally, the reference stated that the national exchequer would suffer a loss of Rs47bn by 2029 because of the contract.

Former Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority chairman Saeed Ahmed Khan, Ogra chairperson Uzma Adil Khan, chairman of the Engro group Hussain Dawood, former chairman Port Qasim Authority Agha Jan Akhtar, former member Ogra Aamir Naseem, former PSO MD Shahid M. Islam and Abdul Samad have also been named in the reference.

NAB believed that corruption of some Rs20bn had occurred in the scam.

Mr Abbasi was arrested in connection with the case in July 2019 on the allegations of awarding a 15-year contract for a terminal against the rules when he was the petroleum minister in former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s cabinet.

The case was reportedly closed by NAB in 2016 but then reopened in 2018.

On Jan 2, NAB’s executive board had authorised an investigations against Mr Abbasi, being the former minister for petroleum and natural resources, for his alleged involvement in irregularities in the import of LNG.

Published in Dawn, December 2nd, 2020

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