ISLAMABAD: Former finance minister Miftah Ismail was arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Wednesday after the Islamabad High Court (IHC) rejected his plea for bail extension in the LNG terminal case on the grounds that there were not “extraordinary circumstances of hardship”.
The court also rejected the application for extension filed by former Pakistan State Oil (PSO) managing director Sheikh Imranul Haque.
Both men were taken into custody by NAB officials as soon as they left the courtroom.
NAB prosecutor Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi read out the testimony of former petroleum secretary Abid Saeed, the approver in the case.
The prosecutor informed the court that the approver had disclosed Ismail’s role in the country suffering a loss of Rs1.54 billion because the previous government of the PML-N had awarded the contract to a specific company at more than double the preferred rate.
Ismail’s counsel, Haider Waheed, told the court that NAB had first issued a call-up notice to his client on July 15 and when he announced protests, it issued arrest warrants against him on July 16.
He maintained that NAB wanted to arrest Ismail over political reasons.
Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani asked whether or not the government had announced that the country was currently suffering losses because of the current LNG price.
He noted that the country had suffered losses in international arbitration cases in the past and the representatives of the current government signing LNG agreements might be considered suspects five years from now.
The judge added that the government should probably seek a no-objection certificate (NOC) from NAB before signing such agreements.
“Instead of writing to the prime minister for approval, they [government representatives] should perhaps should send an email to the NAB chairman,” Justice Kayani remarked.
Ismail’s lawyer argued that NAB had been unable to present evidence of corruption against his client and therefore there were circumstances of hardship in the case. He added that his client’s bail should be extended on these grounds.
IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah remarked that the Supreme Court, in a case related to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, had set a standard for granting bail in NAB cases.
He added that there should be extraordinary circumstances of hardship for the court to grant bail in NAB cases and the
He told the defence lawyer that Ismail’s bail could only be extended if he could convince the court that his client was facing these circumstances.
In response, Waheed said NAB was misusing its powers and its actions were politically driven.
On the court’s query as to whether Ismail had negotiated the rates in the LNG contract, Waheed said his client was part of an eight-member committee assigned the task of fixing the price.
He added that said the decision to purchase LNG from Qatar had already been made by the time his client took charge of his office.
“The LNG terminal was set up later and incumbent government paid extra charges for the commodity,” he maintained.
However, the court rejected the bail application.
Speaking to reporters, Ismail said he was not expecting the court to reject his bail application.
“However, I hope the court will deliver justice,” he added.
On July 18, NAB had arrested former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi for his alleged involvement in the LNG case.
In 2018, the anti-corruption watchdog had initiated an inquiry against former premiers Abbasi and Nawaz Sharif over alleged misuse of authority.
Abbasi and others had been accused of illegally awarding LNG terminal contract for a period of 15 years to a company of their liking in violation of defined rules, ‘thus inflicting billions of rupees losses to the national exchequer’.
The inquiry was initiated after the NAB Karachi office closed a similar inquiry against Abbasi for his alleged role in the award of a multi-billion rupee contract for the import and distribution of LNG.
The PML-N government in its tenure from 2013-2018 completed two LNG terminals while just days before completion of its term on May 31, it stopped the Port Qasim Authority (PQA) from going ahead with bidding for the allocation of a site for constructing a third terminal.