LAHORE - In yet another explosive development, NAB has arrested former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and is searching for former Finance Minister Miftah Ismail in a corruption case pertaining to a multi-billion LNG deal.

The action on Thursday, which came after signing of their arrest warrants by National Accountability Bureau Chairman Javed Iqbal, invited a strong reaction from the opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.

Miftah seems to have gone underground while raids were also underway to arrest former managing director of Pakistan State Oil Sheikh Imran-ul-Haq, officials said. The names of the suspects were already put on the exit control list to stop them from fleeing abroad.

Accompanied by police guards, a NAB team intercepted Abbasi on the Lahore-Islamabad motorways and took him to a Bureau’s facility in Lahore. He was later shifted to Rawalpindi for interrogation.

Sources said the PML-N leader initially showed some resistance and asked the raiding party to show him arrest “warrants”. He was shown the warrants and taken into custody. Abbasi will be produced before an accountability judge on Friday (today).

Abbasi has been arrested for his involvement in the Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) scandal, said a statement released by the accountability bureau.

On the other hand, a NAB team raided the house of Miftah Ismail in Karachi but returned empty handed as, according to sources, he had left the house at 3pm - before the raiding party’s arrival.

The NAB team, along with the police officials, was denied entry to Miftah’s house, but was later allowed in on the intervention of two female officers who were part of the team. NAB came in action in Karachi hours after the arrest of Abbasi in Lahore.

While the anti-corruption officials were at Miftah’s house, PML-N workers and supporters started gathering outside, chanting slogans against Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government.



Opposition reaction

This high-profile arrest comes amid growing political confrontation between PTI government and opposition parties.

Many opposition leaders and workers protested the fresh arrest pointing out that two former prime ministers (Abbasi and Nawaz Sharif of PML-N) and one former president (Asif Zardai of PPP) were now in the lockup.

PML-N leader and former Sindh Governor Muhammad Zubair spoke to the crowd outside the ex-minister’s house. Condemning the raid, he said PML-N will continue their struggle to ensure release of party leaders.

PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif and Vice President Maryam Nawaz and spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb also strongly condemned the NAB action.

Shehbaz, who is also Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly and is himself facing corruption probes by NAB, said in a Tweeter post that “the institution of NAB has become Imran Khan’s puppet. Our spirits cannot be wavered by such cheap tactics”.

“My country fellows, another elected prime minister has been arrested! Will every person elected by you have to face the same kind of lawlessness, insult and injustice?” asked Maryam, who herself has been convicted in a corruption case along with her father Nawaz Sharif.

Speaking to the media, PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal strongly protested the arrest of Abbasi and others “made to silence those who question the government”. He said, “I have a question: does no civilian in this country have the right to serve this country?” Ahsan added, “If we do, we will be prosecuted.”

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto also took to Twitter to condemn the arrest. He said that “the selected accountability and selected arrests only expose the selected government”.

“Arrests of the opposition, censorship of the media and selected govt, nothing ‘Naya’ about this Pakistan. It’s the same old Zia/Musharraf type dictatorial Pakistan. Such tactics will not deter the resistance,” he wrote.

Sources familiar with the development say the government is likely to step up crackdown on corruption-tainted politicians despite protests by opposition parties.



Details of NAB action

According to sources, several police guards and NAB officials stopped the vehicle of Shahid Khaqan Abbasi near Lahore’s Thokar Niaz Baig on the Motorway while he was travelling along with other party leaders including Ahsan Iqbal and Marriyum Aurangzeb to have a meeting with party President Shehbaz Sharif.

“I am a free man. Bring warrants and arrest me,” the former PM told one of the police guards when they stopped him on the road.

Marriyum recoded this conversation which was later posted on the social networking sites. In the video, she could be heard saying, “Don’t worry Sir. I am recoding the video.”



Arrest Warrants

The arrest warrants issued on July 16, a copy of which was also shared by Maryam Nawaz on Tweeter, reads that Abbasi is “accused of commission of the offence of corruption and corrupt practices under Section 9(a) of National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), 1999.”

NAB chairman directed his arrest under Section 18(e) and Section 24(a) of the NAB Ordinance. The former PM will be produced before the court for authorisation of detention “for such period as may be necessary for finalisation of the investigation”, according to the warrants.

A NAB official said the bureau will produce Abbasi before a court on Friday for a transit remand. The inquiry related to LNG import is being conducted by NAB Rawalpindi under the supervision of NAB chief Javed Iqbal.



LNG case

Early this year, the Executive Board of the NAB had authorised two investigations against Abbasi, who is also a former minister for petroleum and natural resources. The inquiries were related to irregularities in LNG import deals and the appointment of Naeem-Uddin Khan as President of the Bank of Punjab.

Abbasi strongly denies the allegations of any wrongdoings in the award of contracts for LNG import. He claims that he can prove his innocence at any forum. According to him, the LNG import was the need of the hour in 2013 since the country was facing worst shortage of gas.

In addition to Abbasi, former PM Nawaz Sharif has also been accused of misusing his authority by awarding the contract of LNG terminal to 15 companies of their choice.

Abbasi had served as prime minister for almost one year after Nawaz Sharif was disqualified by the Supreme Court in 2017.

Reportedly, the Karachi NAB in its regional board meeting had closed the inquiry against Abbasi in 2016 when the PML-N was in power. The PTI had strongly objected to the decision stating that the inquiry was closed on political pressure.



Our staff reporter from Karachi also contribute to this story.