LNG case and other travesties


LET’S take some names today. Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is owed an apology now that the so-called National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has withdrawn its case of alleged corruption in the LNG deal of 2015.

All co-accused in that case are also owed an apology: former finance minister Miftah Ismail who had his home raided by the police, Sheikh Imran ul Haq the former managing director of Pakistan State Oil who spent time in jail without even knowing what his crime was, Agha Jan Akhtar the former chair of Port Qasim Authority where the LNG terminal was set up, Saeed Ahmed Khan the former chair of the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority, Aamir Naseem former member oil at Ogra, Uzma Adil Khan former chair of Ogra, Shahid Islam former MD of PSO, and of course, Hussain Dawood and his son Samad Dawood. All these individuals were named as co-accused in the reference NAB filed. Of them, three were arrested and held in prison — Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Miftah Ismail and Imran ul Haq. They spent months in confinement before they were even charged.

Abbasi spent 138 days in jail before the first formal charge was brought against him. Miftah Ismail was in jail for 118 days when the first interim charge sheet was filed against all the accused. Sheikh Imran ul Haq spent 112 days in jail without being charged before he was granted bail.

All of these men, along with all of their co accused, today stand exonerated. Those who followed the case knew it all along, but today it is clear as daylight. There was no corruption in the LNG deal. The integrity of honourable men was besmirched purely so that a vindictive politician — Imran Khan — could advance his politics. There was no merit in the case. It was a political witch-hunt.

The integrity of honourable men was besmirched purely so that a vindictive politician could advance his politics.

We knew this all along because many of the co-accused came out of NAB questioning and told us they were being pressured to sign false affidavits against Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. During their questioning they were told if they signed affidavits implicating the former prime minister in allegations of corruption, they would be let off without a hitch. They refused because they knew the allegations to be false. In one case, one of those hauled up for questioning but not named as an accused in the interim charge sheet filed in December 2019, claimed he had been subjected to violence (electric shocks) in order to compel him to sign. He still refused.

It doesn’t end here. False cases of corruption were filed against others too, people who were eventually exonerated but not before their integrity and their honour had been dragged through the dirt and they had been subjected to hideous public vilification campaigns and social media trials. They include Ahsan Iqbal, Ahad Cheema and Fawad Hasan Fawad among others.

As you’re reading this, another such case, though less well known and less publicised, is still being pursued against 13 executives at Pakistan Petroleum Ltd, one of the country’s largest state-owned upstream oil and gas companies. The story here is identical. Frivolous charges brought by the FIA, which in all likelihood will be thrown out by the court, have besmirched the reputations of sound, corporate professionals who left good private sector careers to come and serve in a state-owned entity around a decade ago when the government was trying hard to induct private sector talent for our state-owned entities in an effort to improve their performance. It was as part of this that Sheikh Imran ul Haq became MD of PSO as well.

Some among these 13 individuals have had their homes raided by police, arrest warrants served aggressively against them, their employment terminated and then restored by a high court. But they did not give up, and did not turn against each other. Their case is not political, in the sense that the LNG case was, or the cases against Ahsan Iqbal, Cheema and Fawad were. Their case grows more out of the rackets that permeate public sector entities.

The LNG case is probably the most high profile of all the politicised corruption cases filed during the PTI government’s rule. It implicated a former prime minister, and many others in a corruption case that eventually could not be proved. But the PTI social media machine was able to keep public anger boiling around the case by using a number of tactics that were designed to create suspicion around every decision made during the setting up of the LNG terminal in 2015. They argued the contract price was too high by first comparing it to prices in the spot market, and then to another contract they themselves signed in 2021. They argued no storage facilities were built with the terminal, so its full capacity could not be used. They argued the re-gasification tariff was too high.

Today, we bury all these allegations along with the case. Today, the victims of this style of politics are owed a mea culpa from those who initiated malign campaigns against them. The party leaders, TV anchors and social media trolls who were only too happy to amplify these allegations without considering the facts of the case should apologise. The NAB officials who knew they were pursuing a bogus case and worked to extract confessions where they could not find any evidence should apologise.

But most specifically, Imran Khan should apologise to the country for this politics of witch-hunts. Today, his minions are trying to argue that he had no say in any of this, that he was being used by the army. But this is a gross misrepresentation. The truth is he offered himself as a tool, and was himself vested in the LNG case. It is high time to shut the door on this politics of witch-hunts. We will get nowhere if this continues.

Related posts