SC throws out disqualification plea against PM Abbasi

AML chief files petition over alleged corruption in award of LNG import contract from Qatar

Hasnaat Mailk February 12, 2018
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Monday dampened the excitement of opposition parties when it threw away a petition filed by Awami Muslim League (AML) chief Sheikh Rashid, seeking disqualification of Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi over alleged corruption in the award of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) import contract.

A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, heard the plea, filed through PPP senior lawyer Sardar Latif Khosa, requesting the top court to order the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to initiate action against Abbasi in this regard.

After initial arguments of Khosa, the bench observed that the case did not fall under the preview of Article 184(3) of the Constitution.
However, it observed that the petitioner might approach NAB about the matter.

“We believe that NAB is an independent body,” the chief justice said and added, “Let NAB take care of this.”

Top court to take up plea against PM Abbasi

Interestingly, before the start of the hearing, PTI Chairman Imran Khan in his message on twitter expected that today (Monday) details about the LNG deal will be made public in the Supreme Court.

“The nation desperately waits, as the secrecy surrounding this multibillion dollar deal with Qatar has aroused all manner of suspicions.”

However, the bench rejected Sheikh’s plea. The chief justice observed that the apex court does not want to repeat the episode of Reko Diq, Pakistan Steels Mills wherein the country suffered huge financial loss due to the court’s intervention.

“You know how much cost has been awarded by International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in Karkey rental power project.”

Last year ICSID awarded of Rs80 billion in Karkey case by raising serious questions in the Rental Power Project case. The chief justice also stressed that the top court shall not interfere in matters of political nature.

During the hearing, Khosa alleged that details of the contract are not being provided to parliament, adding former prime minister’s closed aide Saifur Rehman played a role in finalising the deal.

“Instead of working on the previous government’s planning, the PML-N-led government has signed different contract, which is not transparent.”

SC to hear LNG corruption case against PM Abbasi from February 12

However, the bench told him that the incumbent government signed the contract with the Qatar government, which is a good thing.
Even the court refused to refer the matter to NAB for probe.

In the petition, the premier had been accused of corruption in the LNG contract awarded in 2015, as the minister for petroleum and natural resources.

It stated that importing LNG without an agreement was illegal, calling into question the integrity of PM Abbasi.

It said transparency was a must when awarding contracts of public importance. The petitioner prayed that the top court declare it as a matter of fundamental rights.

The legal expert appreciated the court’s decision not to interfere in the financial matters that may affect foreign investment.

During the days of former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, the Supreme Court had also taken up financial deals during the PPP regime.

Likewise, it passed coercive orders in matters related the LNG contract, Rental Power Projects, Safe City Project, etc. The Supreme Court proceedings had not only badly affected the PPP politically but the court’s decisions also affected foreign investment.

Karkey was awarded a $560 million contract to make arrangements for supply of electricity through generation plants installed on three ships to overcome power crisis in the country.

The initial contract was for five years. However, PPP-Patriots leader Faisal Saleh Hayat and the current foreign minister Khawaja Asif approached the top court against the contract awarded by the PPP government.

In 2012-13, then NAB prosecutor general KK Agha attempted to settle the issue with Karkey but the then chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry stopped his efforts and warned NAB officials of strict action in case a settlement was reached with the Turkish firm.

Karkey’s case is not the only one where Pakistan had to bite the dust. In the Reko Diq case, the ICSID dismissed Pakistan’s allegations of corruption against the Tethyan Copper Company Pty Ltd (TCC).
Later, the TCC made a claim of $11.5 billion – a claim Pakistan had vehemently rejected. Now the quantum stage has started, with both the federal and Balochistan governments involved, and the TCC may agree to an out-of-court settlement.