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.
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.