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.


Indonesia’s Indrawati to stay on as finance minister

Updated 19 min 25 sec ago

Indonesia’s Indrawati to stay on as finance minister

  • Widodo has since Monday tapped more than a dozen candidates for ministerial posts
  • Indrawati, a former managing director of the World Bank, has been finance minister in Southeast Asia’s largest economy since 2016
JAKARTA: Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said on Tuesday she had been asked by President Joko Widodo to stay on in her post as his new cabinet takes shape for a second five-year term in office.

Widodo has since Monday tapped more than a dozen candidates for ministerial posts, including his presidential election rival Prabowo Subianto, who looks set to be defense minister.

The candidates — all wearing white shirts — have come to the presidential palace to be interviewed by Widodo, with most declining to confirm the positions offered ahead of an official announcement expected on Wednesday.

After meeting Widodo, Indrawati said she had agreed to stay on as finance minister and to ensure policies supported the president’s priorities such as improving human resources, creating jobs and executing government budgets well.

“Indonesia I think is facing a very dynamic and uncertain global economy and an economic slowdown that is pressuring the whole world,” Indrawati said.

“Therefore, a continued policy is needed in order to be able to guard our economy from the challenge of this global slowdown,” she said, noting she also discussed ways to narrow Indonesia’s current account and trade deficits.

Indrawati, a former managing director of the World Bank, has been finance minister in Southeast Asia’s largest economy since 2016, spearheading tax reform efforts, seeking to capitalize on a tax amnesty program in 2016-2017. She is now one of the longest serving finance ministers in Indonesia, having also held the post in the previous administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

“Sri Mulyani is seen as a key architect behind the fiscal discipline in recent years and many wish for her continued leadership in driving deeper fiscal reforms,” Bank of America wrote in a note.

The make-up of the cabinet is being closely watched to see how many technocrats — who are more likely to fall in with Widodo’s plans for boosting growth and investment — were included.

Other ministerial candidates who came to the palace on Tuesday included Basuki Hadimuljono, who is credited with driving infrastructure projects as public works minister in Widodo’s first term, and Siti Nurbaya Bakar, environment minister in the first term.

On Monday, Nadiem Makarim, the chief executive of tech startup Gojek and media tycoon Erick Thohir, a former chairman of Italian soccer club Inter Milan, were among those confirming they had been asked to join the cabinet.

Speaking to media ahead of his inauguration on Sunday, Widodo said around 16 ministers in the new cabinet would come from political parties out of an anticipated 34 posts.