Pakistan’s ex-finance minister held over $16bn Qatar gas deal

Pakistan's former finance minister Miftah Ismail speaks with Reuters in Islamabad. (Reuters/File)
Updated 08 August 2019

Pakistan’s ex-finance minister held over $16bn Qatar gas deal

  • Ismail is also being investigated for allegedly granting a 15-year contract for an LNG terminal in Karachi to a “favored” company

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s former Finance Minister Miftah Ismail was arrested on Wednesday following investigations by the country’s anti-corruption watchdog into a multibillion-dollar liquefied natural gas (LNG) import contract with Qatar.

Ismail was as an adviser to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 2017 and was later appointed federal minister for finance for a month. He is considered to be a close aide of Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) vice president and former premier who finalized the $16 billion deal with Qatar during his time as petroleum minister.

The deal with Qatar was agreed in 2015 for a period of 15 years.

Abbasi is already held by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in connection with the LNG case, which the anti-corruption agency claims caused a loss of $2 billion to the Pakistan treasury.

“My client is innocent as there is no evidence of corruption or embezzlement in the LNG deal against him,” Haider Waheed, the lawyer representing Ismail, told Arab News after his client’s pre-arrest bail was rejected.

Waheed accused the NAB of “political victimization,” saying the LNG deal was finalized before Ismail took charge of his office in the PML-N government. “This is a long legal battle now and we will continue challenging the NAB’s abuse of power,” he said.

FASTFACT

Anti-corruption watchdog faces claims of ‘political victimization.’

Ismail is also being investigated for allegedly granting a 15-year contract for an LNG terminal in Karachi to a “favored” company. He denies the allegation.

Sheikh Imran ul-Haque, former managing director of Pakistan State Oil, was also arrested on Wednesday in the LNG case.

Pakistan, a country of 208 million people, is running out of domestic gas and has turned to LNG imports to alleviate chronic energy shortages that have hindered its economy and led to a decade of electricity blackouts. 

The country imports 500 million cubic feet per day of LNG from Qatar under a 15-year agreement at 13.37 percent of Brent crude price. Under the government-to-government agreement, the price can only be reviewed after 10 years of the contract.

In Pakistan, the NAB’s anti-corruption campaign has become a topic of fierce political debate, and its focus on Prime Minister Imran Khan’s political foes has prompted accusations of a one-sided purge. The government denies targeting political opponents.

Khan won power last year vowing to root out corruption among the country’s political elite and views the investigations into veteran opposition politicians as long overdue.

“This is the worst kind of political victimization by Imran Khan’s government,” Senator Mushahidullah Khan told Arab News. “This government is trying to hide its inefficiency and incompetence by jailing opposition leaders who have served this country with dignity.”

Khan rejected allegations of corruption and kickbacks in the LNG deal, saying that gas imports had helped the country revive a crumbling industry and create millions of jobs.

“Instead of thanking us for ending hours-long blackouts, the government is putting our leaders in jail for nothing,” he said.


S.Korea official says US-N.Korea dialogue seen starting soon

Updated 25 min 36 sec ago

S.Korea official says US-N.Korea dialogue seen starting soon

  • South Korea will hold a meeting with Japan to discuss intelligence-sharing pact
  • The agreement will expire on August 24

SEOUL: The United States and North Korea are expected to reopen denuclearization talks soon and it would “go well,” a senior South Korean official said on Thursday, boosting hopes for progress in negotiations after a prolonged stalemate.
South Korea’s deputy national security adviser Kim Hyun-chong gave his upbeat assessment after meeting with US envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun in Seoul.
“My impression was that North Korea and the United States would carry out dialogue soon, and it would go well,” Kim told reporters after the one-hour meeting, without elaborating.
Working-level talks between the United States and North Korea have yet to restart since they were stalled by the failed second summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi in February.
Trump and Kim met again in June at the inter-Korean border and agreed to reopen negotiations.
The South Korean official also said that South Korea’s presidential National Security Council will convene later on Thursday to review an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan, that Seoul had threatened to scrap amid a spiralling diplomatic and trade spat.
The General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) could expire on Saturday if either side decides not to roll it over.
According to Kim, the South Korean official, Biegun raised the issue, which has worried Washington as the accord is instrumental in three-way efforts to counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.
“I’ve told him we’ll carefully examine it and make a decision in a way that serves our national interest,” the South Korean deputy national security adviser said.