190614 Shahid Khaqan Abbasi
Shahid Khaqan Abbasi Image Credit: AFP

Islamabad: After the recent arrests of former president Asif Ali Zardari and opposition leader in the Punjab Assembly Hamza Shahbaz, Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has reportedly set its sights on former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.

According to a senior official of the anti-graft agency, the NAB has decided to formally convert its inquiry into an investigation against the former prime minister, in Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) scandal, and he may be taken into custody anytime with the approval of the bureau’s chairman.

The case dates back to 2013 and allegedly caused the national exchequer a loss of $2 billion (Dh7.34 billion).

Shahid Sattar — an energy expert and former member of the Planning Commission and the SSGC board of directors — had on July 29, 2015, registered a complaint against Abbasi, who was then the federal minister for petroleum, for allegedly misusing his authority by awarding the import contract.

In June 2018, the NAB approved an inquiry against former premier Nawaz Sharif and Abbasi, accusing them of granting contract an LNG terminal for 15 years to a ‘favoured’ company.

Former finance minister Miftah Esmail was interrogated in the same case in January 2019, by the NAB.

As per NAB law, once an inquiry against a person enters the investigation stage, he or she may be taken into custody.

Abbasi has denined the allegations and described the investigation as a political strategy by the PTI government and the NAB to tame the opposition.

According to the NAB official, the NAB’s Rawalpindi unit has already sent a report of misappropriation of funds and allotment of tenders to certain parties in violation of rules — allegedly by the former prime minister who was then petroleum minister — to NAB headquarters.

Once the NAB chairman gives the signal, the next step will be taken, the official said.

According to NAB documents, the contract for the LNG import and distribution was awarded to the Elengy Terminal, a subsidiary of Engro, in 2013, in violation of the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) rules and relevant laws.

The apex court on September 10, 2018 had directed the NAB to complete the inquiry against Abbasi and others for the alleged corruption in the LNG contract.

According to NAB, at that time it had been recommended that the names of all accused in the case, including Abbasi, should be placed on the Exit Control List (ECL).

However, no such decision was taken. In February this year, the Supreme Court had fixed a plea filed by Awami Muslim League (AML) chairman and Member of the National Assembly (MNA) Shaikh Rashid Ahmad seeking disqualification of then Prime Minister Abbasi over alleged corruption in the award of LNG import contract.

The petition requested the SC to order the National Accountability Bureau to take action against Abbasi.

Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on the other hand while addressing a press conference in Lahore on Thursday had made it clear that he would not take bail against possible arrest by NAB. They have nothing to prove me guilty and my hands are clean, said he. Earlier, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has appeared before the NAB three times to record his statement.