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Nation special report

ISLAMABAD: In wake of ongoing operation against opposition leaders and what the PTI government brands looters of national wealth, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was arrested by a 12-member National Accountability Bureau (NAB) team on Thursday in a multi-billion-rupee case related to the award of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) import contract.

NAB Chairman Javed Iqbal the same day also signed the arrest warrants of another PML-N leader, Miftah Ismail, as well as former managing director of Pakistan State Oil Sheikh Imranul Haque.

According to reports, Khaqan Abbasi was on his way to attend a press conference, accompanied by PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal and spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb, when he was arrested on the Thokar Niaz Baig interchange.

Abbasi initially resisted the arrest but eventually conceded. He was shifted to NAB office in Lahore after a medical check-up. He is currently being taken to NAB Rawalpindi. Ismail is also being probed in connection with the LNG import case. After Abbasi’s arrest, teams in Karachi and Islamabad were dispatched to take the former finance minister into custody.

By evening, a NAB team had secured warrants to enter Ismail’s house in Karachi for a search and arrest operation. However, it eventually returned empty-handed as Ismail was not at home. Both leaders had earlier been placed on the Exit Control List to restrict their movement abroad.

Earlier, it was reported that  Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has on Thursday skipped the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Rawalpindi appearance in a case pertaining to the LNG scandal.

The erstwhile premier wrote a letter to the anti-corruption watchdog and sought time to appear before it. “I received the NAB notice yesterday and it was not possible for me to appear before the bureau on such a short notice. “Shahid Khaqan Abbasi sought three-day time from the NAB Rawalpindi for appearance.”

Let it be known that Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was summoned by the NAB in case pertaining to the LNG scandal as department has launched formal investigations against him, and had called for him for the first time.

According to the NAB notice, “Shahid Khaqan Abbasi possesses vital information regarding the LNG scandal. The national exchequer suffered loss worth billions of rupees owing to illegal contracts.” The Pakistan Muslim-League (Nawaz) leader earlier appeared thrice before of the NAB during the inquiry. 

In a post shared on Twitter, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif — also facing cases by NAB — condemned Abbasi’s arrest.

“We strongly protest Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s arrest. The institution of NAB has become Imran Khan’s puppet. Our spirits cannot be wavered by such cheap tactics,” he said.

While speaking to the media, PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal strongly protested the arrest and any other arrests  made to silence those who question the government. I have a question: does no civilian in this country have the right to serve this country? If we do, we will be prosecuted,” he added.

LNG case

According to media reports, the inquiry against Abbasi is being conducted directly under the supervision of NAB chairman.

On Jan 2, the NAB Executive Board had authorised two investigations against Abbasi, being former minister for petroleum and natural resources — one for his alleged involvement in irregularities in LNG import and the other related to the appointment of Naeemuddin Khan as president of the Bank of Punjab.

The former prime minister had said several times in the recent past that he had not committed any illegality in the award of contracts for LNG import and, therefore, he could prove his innocence at any forum.

He was of the view that the import of LNG was the need of the hour in 2013 when the country was facing an acute shortage of gas.

In the case, not only Abbasi but former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was also accused of misusing authority by awarding the contract of LNG terminal to 15 companies of their choice.

It is the first NAB case against Abbasi, who had served as prime minister for almost a year after the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif by the Supreme Court on July 28, 2017.