Abbasi records statement in LNG import scam

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Tuesday appeared before the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and recorded his statement in the Rs220 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) import scam.

According to NAB, Mr Abbasi remained in the bureau’s Rawalpindi regional headquarters for over two hours where he was asked 70 questions by the members of a combined investigation team (CIT) of the anti-graft watchdog.

Also read: Let’s ask questions about our LNG deals

The CIT also gave a questionnaire to the former prime minister and asked him to respond by Feb 29 so that NAB could review his replies in the light of accountability laws.

The inquiry against the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader is being conducted directly under the supervision of NAB Chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal.

On Jan 2, the NAB Executive Board had authorised two investigations against Mr 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 Mr 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 Mr 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.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) had raised the issue at different forums, including parliament, but not moved NAB in this regard.

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 Mr Abbasi in October 2018 and summoned him on Tuesday.

Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2019