LNG graft travesty to keep haunting investors

Cases like these are often referred to as politically motivated

Zeeshan Jaffri May 18, 2024
The writer is an entrepreneur and social worker based in Karachi


The National Accountability Bureau has withdrawn its case of alleged corruption in the Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) deal Pakistan’s then government had struck with Qatar in 2015.

Only two of about a dozen accused in one of the longest standing corruption cases were politicians: Pakistan’s former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and ex-finance minister Miftah Ismail. The rest of the individuals who were implicated in the baseless corruption case represented Pakistan’s biggest public and private sector corporate entities including the country’s largest oil importer and retailer Pakistan State Oil, the operator of second biggest seaport Port Qasim Authority, regulators Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority and Engro Corporation, one of Pakistan’s biggest conglomerates.

Those exonerated by NAB include businessmen and executives like Hussain Dawood, Samad Dawood, Uzma Adil Khan, Sheikh Imranul Haq, Agha Jan Akhtar, Saeed Ahmed Khan, Aamir Naseem and Shahid Islam.

Worrisome however is the fact that all individuals kept facing numerous court hearings, appearing before and responding to endless questions of NAB investigators and were thus given irreparable reputational damage only to know after about a decade that they are not guilty.

Cases like these are often referred to as politically motivated. This particular case is being blamed on former prime minister Imran Khan, who is now himself in jail facing cases involving charges ranging from concealing income from selling precious state gifts to illegally solemnising his third marriage.

No matter who victimised whom in this LNG saga, the ultimate sufferer happens to be Pakistan as a country. The LNG deal was not a local affair but a government-to-government agreement between Pakistan and Qatar which left a huge stigma on the face of Pakistan as a sovereign guarantor and investment destination.

The April 30 verdict did not come as a proof of innocence for Pakistan’s ex-PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and his co-accused but as a big question mark on the country’s whole judicial system as well as the seriousness to honour obligations under international contracts as a sovereign nation. The message that NAB investigators sent out to the world last week is least likely to fetch Pakistan a good repute.

On the face of it, this years-long trial appears to be part of a routine domestic justice system, but the acquittal of those individuals after more than eight years of prosecution-cum-persecution puts to question Pakistan’s status as a reliable international business partner.

Qataris, who might be keen initially to see justice prevail in the alleged corruption case, now must be thinking bad about what we did to the multi-billion dollars energy trade deal involving themselves.

Engro Corporation, which had set up the ill-fated but most-needed LNG terminal at Port Qasim, was quick to publicise it as soon as NAB acquitted its officials later last month. And understandably so, for a business group reputation stands the first and foremost concern.

The corporation should not have been maligned in such a frivolous corruption case for serving the national interest by building Pakistan’s first LNG terminal in a record 330 days. It was established as one of the most cost-efficient gas terminals in the region.

Engro Corporation has reportedly announced that it would look to make investments in other developing countries in the next five years.

One should not wonder if this decision is motivated by what the group’s senior management has been going through during the last eight years or more in this politically motivated corruption case.

Broadly speaking, this is not how nation-states operate in the highly globalised contemporary world.

On the one hand, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and SIFC are urging international investors to invest in the Pakistani economy that, despite being heavily hit by inflation and soaring debt, is resilient and set to grow up to 3% this year. And on the other hand, a flawed system of accountability prevalent in the country is keeping foreign investors away from Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 18th, 2024.

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