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.


Fears of Islamophobia in the UK even as record number of Muslim MPs elected 

Updated 15 December 2019

Fears of Islamophobia in the UK even as record number of Muslim MPs elected 

  • MCB warning comes after Johnson’s landslide election result
  • UK saw a record number of 220 women elected to the House of Commons   

LONDON: There is a “palpable sense of fear amongst Muslim communities” in the UK, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has warned, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson secured a crushing victory in the 2019 general election.
“We entered the election campaign period with longstanding concerns about bigotry in our politics and our governing party. Now we worry that Islamophobia is ‘oven-ready’ for government. Mr Johnson has been entrusted with huge power, and we pray it is exercised responsibly for all Britons,” the MCB’s Secretary-General Harun Khan said. 
The warning came as accusations of Islamophobia within the Conservative Party continue to plague it.
Despite concern that Islamophobia is “oven-ready” for government, a record number of Muslim MPs were elected on Thursday, with 19 winning seats in the general election; an increase of four from the last election in 2017.
Of these, 15 belong to the Labour Party and the other four, including Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid, are Conservatives. 
As the UK saw a record number of 220 women elected to the House of Commons, this trend was also seen in the number of Muslim women, with 10 winning seats. 
Despite this, Muslims are still not proportionally represented in parliament.
Only 3 percent of the UK’s 650 MPs are Muslim, whilst the country’s Muslim population stands at around 5 percent.
The MCB’s concerns about bigotry and Islamophobia were echoed on Thursday by ex-party chairwoman Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the first female Muslim cabinet member.
Warsi said the Conservative Party “must start healing its relationship with British Muslims,” and the fact that her colleagues in the party had retweeted comments from Islamophobes Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins was “deeply disturbing.” 
She added: “An independent inquiry into Islamophobia is a must — the battle to root out racism must now intensify.”
The Tory peer has repeatedly called for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, and told BBC Radio 4’s Today program in November that the party had a “deep problem” with Islamophobia. 
“Remember, we’re now four years into these matters first being brought to the attention of the party … the fact that we’re still prevaricating about even having an inquiry, and the kind of inquiry we’re going to have, shows just how dismissive the party have been on the issue of Islamophobia.”

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Labour MP for Bolton South East Yasmin Qureshi (L) attend a general election campaign event in Bolton, Britain December 10, 2019. (Reuters)


Later in November, Johnson apologized for the “hurt and offence” that had been caused by Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, and said that an inquiry into “every manner of prejudice and discrimination” would begin by Christmas. 
Despite apologizing, he remained silent about his own comments on Muslim women wearing the niqab in his Daily Telegraph column in August 2018, when he wrote that Muslim women wearing it “look like letter boxes” or “bank robbers.”
Fourteen party members were suspended in March after posting Islamophobic or racist comments on social media, and a member who had previously been suspended in 2015 for comments on social media was due to stand in local elections this year. 
Peter Lamb was readmitted to the party after he had served a suspension and apologized for his comments.
Lamb, who has since quit the party, tweeted in 2015: “Islam (is) like alcoholism. The first step to recovery is admit you have a problem.”
Yasmin Qureshi, a female Muslim Labour MP, has held her Bolton South East seat since 2010 and was re-elected on Thursday for the fourth time.
Speaking to Arab News, Qureshi said many Muslims were “very fearful and very disappointed” at Johnson’s victory.
“Generally, you can say whatever you want about Muslims in this country now and nobody is really bothered, nobody challenges it, and if it is challenged, it is very mildly dealt with.
“Islamophobia is a big issue and although everybody rightly spoke about anti-semitism, there was not as much emphasis and talk about Islamophobia.
“Islamophobia is not just in the Conservative party, it is actually in the establishment. It is especially present in the media in this country; most of the newspapers of our country are very right-wing and anti-Muslim.
She added: “It doesn’t matter whether you malign Muslims, it’s essentially okay, you can get away with it. That is sadly a reflection of the current state of affairs in the UK.”