NAB inquriy delays $240m-worth investment in LNG sector

Investment put off after arrest of businessman on money laundering charges

Zafar Bhutta November 10, 2019
Representational image. PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD: The arrest of a Lahore-based businessman by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) about two months ago has caused delay in foreign investment of $240 million in the liquefied natural gas (LNG) sector, say industry players.

NAB - the anti-corruption watchdog - arrested 74-year-old businessman Iqbal Z Ahmed on September 4, 2019 on charges of money laundering. Ahmed owns Pakistan GasPort Limited (PGPL) which is a major shareholder in the second LNG terminal operating at Port Qasim.

Industry players claim that Ahmed, who had also set up a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) extraction plant in January 2005, was about to sign a contract worth around $100 million with Xinjian Petroleum and Engineering Company of China for setting up another LNG terminal in Karachi without involving government guarantees for LNG offtake.

Apart from that, Geneva-based oil and gas trading firm Trafigura will pour $140 million into the terminal project along with provision of a credit line of over $1 billion for the import and sale of LNG. “Pakistan desperately needs energy solutions and foreign investment to encourage other investors but the arrest has delayed the process,” remarked an industry player.

Industry people point out that the NAB chairman had stated that no businessman would be called to the office of the anti-corruption watchdog and instead a questionnaire would be sent to him.

In early October, NAB released a new standard operating procedure (SOP) regarding businessmen, which included the notice to be issued to the accused. The notice will give details and reasons for the accusation and seek a written reply.

If the reply is found unsatisfactory or needs further explanation, a questionnaire will be sent to the accused. The NAB regional director general will examine the reply to each question and if found unsatisfactory, the businessman will be summoned as per law and the SOP.

Industry sources emphasised that businessmen should be treated according to the set SOP in a bid to revive confidence of the business community. When asked for comment on Ahmed’s arrest, a NAB spokesperson said the matter was sub judice in the court of law where they were presenting their point of view. After hearing views of NAB and the accused, the accountability court had sent Ahmed on remand, he said.

“As far as NAB is concerned, we always believe in conducting inquiries and investigations as per law and after the arrest of an accused, we present him in the accountability court,” the spokesperson said.

“In the court, we not only present the grounds on which the accused has been arrested but also seek his remand for further investigation as per law. The accused also has the right to present his case in the court of law.”

Published in The Express Tribune, November 10th, 2019.

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