SC orders to conduct a forensic audit of Thar Coal Gasification Project; seeks a report within 15 days; CS directed to seize project’s belongings

ICMD, Oct 18, 2018 The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to probe Thar underground coal gasification project. A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar heard the suo motu case regarding Thar coal power project. Prominent scientist and chairman of underground coal gasification project in Thar Dr Samar Mubarakmand appeared for the hearing. The bench ordered the auditor general to conduct a forensic audit of the project and submit a report within 15 days. The Sindh chief secretary was directed to seize the project’s belongings. “The project’s feasibility report is not clear. It was said that 10,000MW of electricity will be produced for 30 years, but according to experts the project will lower underground water reserves and affect the environment,” court adviser Salman Akram Raja informed the bench. “One committee has said that this is a failed project and more funds should not be allocated for it. Those who approved the project should have also looked into it,” he added. At this, the chief justice said, “For the first time I have realised what a billion is. Billions of rupees were spent like [dried] leaves fly from a tree. Rs 3.8 billion have already been spent on this project and who is responsible for this? Does Dr Mubarakmand have to pay this money?” he asked. Where did Dr Mubarakmand’s tall claims go? Should this matter not be sent to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) or a fresh investigation be initiated? “Justice Nisar questioned the court adviser. “A lot of noise was created over the project that something not done by any scientist before was done this time,” the chief justice said. “A 100MW project is not generating even 3MW of electricity,” he lamented. “Pakistan is a poor country and is this how we will continue to waste our money? There are two ways of producing electricity from Thar underground coal gasification project – either through coal or by operating the way plants set-up on the ports do,” the chief justice said. NAB prosecutor Asghar Haider then submitted a report regarding the projects before the bench. “According to engineers, it is not possible to generate electricity from underground coal gasification,” it said. Court advisers Salman Akram Raja and Shehzad Elahi also submitted their recommendations, following which the chief justice asked about the positions of the federal and Sindh governments on the matter. The advocate general Sindh informed the court, “The project was entirely funded by the federal government and only the land belongs to the Sindh government.” Dr Muabarakmand then said, “The project did not cause any environmental degradation. An Australian company was also working on an underground gasification project … lawyers cannot judge this project.” “I knew you will say this,” Justice Nisar said in response to Dr Muabarakmand. “When you made these claims, they were romanticised and it was said that free electricity will be provided but the national exchequer suffered a loss of Rs 4 billion.”

Abraaj Group founder Arif Naqvi paid $20 million to secure cooperation of Sharif brothers for K-Electric sale: WSJ

ICMD, Oct 18, 2018 Arif Naqvi, the embattled founder of Dubai-based Abraaj Group, allegedly paid $20 million to businessman Navaid Malik for his assistance in securing cooperation of Sharif brothers for K-Electric sale, claims an article published in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on Tuesday. The article alleges Malik was tasked with securing cooperation from Nawaz Sharif — former prime minister — and Shahbaz Sharif – former chief minister Punjab — to help Naqvi sell Abraaj’s stake in K-Electric. The Government of Pakistan owns a 24.6 per cent stake in the Karachi-based power utility. After reviewing company documents and emails, WSJ claims that Omar Lodhi — partner at Abraaj — in October 2015 informed Naqvi of Malik’s assurance that former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif was “willing to give a strong endorsement” of the K-Electric deal to Chinese bidders. The email also attributes the businessman saying it is “important for him to share every detail with the brothers and get their blessings as well as their instructions as to how this money [$20 million] should be distributed,” such as “a portion to charity” or “a portion to the election fund kitty”. Abraaj’s undoing began in February when an article from WSJ reported that investors were questioning the use of their investments destined for company’s healthcare fund. Naqvi set up a healthcare fund by securing commitments from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other Western Institutions. The fund’s investments include Islamabad Diagnostic Centre in Pakistan and hospital chain Quality Care India. The article claims that, “documents from liquidators, auditors and investors show that Abraaj moved investor money meant for hospitals and companies into accounts that paid its own expenses, salaries and loans. Abraaj founder Arif Naqvi denies any wrongdoing and says the transfers were appropriate.” The article which highlights some of the known details of the fund’s collapse include using investor’s money to pay for its own expenses, borrowing money against its own stakes in its funds and a highly unstable business model. The article alleges that, “Abraaj has defaulted on more than $1 billion of debt.” The firm also allegedly cooked its books when Gates Foundation asked Abraaj for bank statements of the accounts that held money for the healthcare fund. Following the request on Nov 30, 2017, Abraaj borrowed $140m from Air Arabia and transferred $29m from its own treasury in to the healthcare fund’s account on Dec 5, 2017. However, after providing investors with a letter from Commercial Bank of Dubai confirming the presence of funds [$170m] in healthcare account, the company repaid $140m to Air Arabia and transferred $10m into Abraaj Treasury on Dec 13, 2017. During investigations conducted in 2018, “lawyers for investors in the fund wrote to Abraaj stating that the balance of the fund had been just $16,186 on Dec 1, 2017 and $9.98m on Dec 15 and that Abraaj’s transfer of the Air Arabia money to the fund was ‘plainly improper. The firm was able to attract massive investments for its use of private capital to solve social problems in the emerging markets but has damaged the trust in the entire movement after the fallout. The undoing of the fund has also raised questions on Dubai’s regulatory environment. The article also alleges that Naqvi transferred more than $200m to his personal accounts, companies linked to him, his family and his former assistant. Naqvi denies WSJ allegations Naqvi, however claims that, he was “perfectly entitled to direct” funds from Abraaj and claims that there was nothing untoward about those transfers to his personal accounts or his family. Payments were recorded as his personal liability to the company, Naqvi said. In his statement, Naqvi said that he denies being part of any conversation that involved a payment to anyone in political office to facilitate the sale of K-Electric. He said Malik was an Abraaj adviser on a variety of activities and that the contract was part of a lengthy discussion about the terms of that role. He said the final agreement “ensured that no conflict of interest would occur.” He said he called it “explosive” due to a reference to the potential sale of K-Electric, which was confidential at the time. Naqvi said he was entitled to draw down funds from Abraaj, including for his sons and The Modist, an online luxury-clothing retailer started by his former assistant Ghizlan Guenez. No payments were made directly to Ms Guenez, he said. His sons declined to comment. The Modist said Naqvi is a personal investor in the company. Naqvi said, “Abraaj did not transfer any loans from Air Arabia into the healthcare fund to conceal money missing from the fund since money was always available to the fund on a demand deposit basis.” He said Abraaj used money from the healthcare fund “on a temporary basis for general corporate purposes.” -- Courtesy Dawn

PEMRA approves TV rating regulations

ICMD, Oct 16, 2018 The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) Tuesday approved registration/accreditation of Television Audience Measurement (TAM)/Television Rating Points (TRP) Rating Services Regulations, 2018, and granted approval to award licenses to rating companies on a case-to-case basis. A meeting of the regulator headed by its Chairman Muhammad Saleem was apprised of the orders passed by the Supreme Court regarding rating regulations. The authority called for making the rating mechanism transparent and up to the satisfaction of all the stakeholders. The meeting also approved a grant of five satellite TV broadcast station licenses, for which bidding was held on September 11, 2018, under Section 19 of the PEMRA Ordinance, 2002, in pursuance of an advertisement dated September 01, 2014, after the completion of procedural formalities. The process was delayed due to legal issues.

Zainab rape, murder convict Imran Ali hanged to death

LAHORE: ICMD, Oct 16, 2018 Imran Ali, the man convicted of raping and murdering seven-year-old girl Zainab, a resident of Kasur, was hanged to death early Wednesday here in a jail here. Ali was executed in the presence of both Magistrate Adil Sarwar and the deceased's father, Muhammad Amin, both of whom arrived early morning at the Kot Lakhpat Jail. An ambulance had also arrived at the scene, accompanied by a brother of the convict as well as two of his friends. The convict was awarded a death sentence on 21 counts after he was convicted of the rape and murder of at least eight minor girls, including Zainab. He was executed at the Central Jail Lahore at 5:30 AM. On Tuesday, jail authorities arranged the convict's last meeting with his family, which lasted for some 45 minutes. Zainab was kidnapped on January 4 from near her aunt’s house in Kasur and, five days later, was found dead in a garbage heap. On January 23, authorities had claimed to have apprehended Ali — a serial killer involved in other similar crimes — through a DNA match. Ali's DNA also matched the samples taken from seven other minor girls who were abused and murdered earlier in Kasur, police had confirmed. The then-suspect had confessed to his heinous crimes following his arrest. On February 17, an anti-terrorism court (ATC) hearing the case of Zainab's rape and murder had sentenced Imran to death on four counts. Appealing against the ATC's verdict, Ali had claimed innocence before the Lahore High Court and pleaded for the verdict to be declared null and void. On June 12, the Supreme Court's Lahore Registry had dismissed Imran's appeal against the death sentence handed to him for raping and murdering the minor girl. Last week, a special ATC had issued black warrants for the convict. - GN

CPEC not to blame for Pakistan's current financial difficulties: China; it makes up a very small proportion of debt composition

ICMD, Oct 15, 2018 China on Monday maintained that the debt incurred by China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) makes up a very small proportion of Pakistan’s debt composition and is not to blame for the current financial difficulties facing the country. “In fact, you may have noted that according to what is released about the debt structure by the Pakistani government, the debt incurred by CPEC makes up a very small proportion of Pakistan’s debt composition and it is not to blame for the current financial difficulty in Pakistan,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang’s told a regular press conference here. “I would like to clearly point out that the Chinese side is willing to join hands with Pakistan to continuously enrich and expand CPEC and help the Pakistani side enhance its capacity for self-driven development,” he said to a question about reports that Pakistan asking for help from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has something to do with the debt incurred by the CPEC projects. The spokesperson said CPEC projects are being co-built by the Chinese and Pakistani governments under the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, adding that the choice of the projects and financing arrangement are decided by two sides through equal-footed consultation. To a question about reports that IMF and US will be scrutinizing the Chinese loans provided to Pakistan before the international lender takes any decision on Islamabad’s request for a bailout package, the spokesperson said as a member of the IMF, China supports the organization in making an objective evaluation of Pakistan based on professionalism and earnestly helping it properly address the current financial difficulties. “The relevant measures should not affect the normal bilateral cooperation between China and Pakistan,” he added. “Recently there have been many discussions on Pakistan’s debt issue and the financial difficulties it is faced with. Like I just said, if we take a look at the country’s debt structure as released by the Pakistani government, the debt incurred by CPEC only constitutes a very small proportion of total debt composition and is surely not to blame for the current financial difficulties,” the spokesperson said to a question. “Officials of relevant department in the Pakistani government have already made this point very clear,” he added. -- DT/Agencies

PTI loses three National Assembly seats it bagged on July 25, PML-N clinch four NA seats each, PML-Q wins two, MMA one NA constituency

ICMD, Oct 14, 2018 Both Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) almost won four National Assembly seats each as unofficial results continued to pour in after polling for crucial by-elections in 35 constituencies of the National Assembly and provincial legislatures across the country concluded Sunday evening. Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q) was leading the race in two while Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) in one NA constituency till the filing of this report. The PML-N was leading on five seats, PTI also on five, while an independent candidate was ahead on one Punjab Assembly seat. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, PTI was leading in six constituencies while ANP was ahead on three seats. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was leading in all two constituencies in Sindh while Balochistan National Party (BNP) and an independent candidate were leading on one seat each in Balochistan. According to the results received after counting at 93 percent of the polling stations was complete, Zahid Akram Durrani of the MMA was leading with 54,211 votes, followed by Naseem Ali Shah of the PTI with 33,811 votes in NA-35 Bannu. The seat was won by PTI in the July 25 general election. However, PTI Chairman Imran Khan had managed to win with a margin of only 2.84 per cent in the July 25 election. Zahid Akram Durrani’s father, Akram Khan Durrani, had been the runner-up in the contest, securing over 106,000 votes. In NA-53 Islamabad, Ali Nawaz Awan of the PTI was leading with 48,597 votes, followed by Waqar Ahmad of the PML-N with 30,491 votes. In NA-56 Attock, Malik Sohail of the PML-N was leading with 117,910 votes, followed by Khurram Ali Khan of the PTI with 81,875 votes. PTI’s Tahir Sadiq had won by a comfortable margin of 16 percent of the total votes cast in the constituency on July 25. The constituency has, however, swung strongly to the PML-N this time. In NA-60 Rawalpindi, Sheikh Rashid Shafiq of the PTI was leading with 39,527 votes, followed by Sajjad Khan of the PML-N with 39,022. The constituency proved to be a real nail-biter. The PTI candidate was ahead by less than a hundred votes against his rival. This is quite surprising given that NA-60 is home ground of Sheikh Rashid Shafiq’s uncle: Awami Muslim League’s Sheikh Rashid Ahmed. In NA-63 Rawalpindi, Mansoor Hayat Khan of the PTI was leading with 68,598 votes, following by Aqeel Malik of the PML-N with 41,813 votes. In NA-65 Chakwal, Chaudhry Salik Hussain of the PML-Q was leading with 100,648 votes, followed by Muhammad Yaqoob of the TLP with 31,942. In NA-69 Gujrat, Moonis Elahi of the PML-Q was leading with 65,453 votes, followed by Imran Zafar of the PML-N with 14,767 votes. In NA-103 Faisalabad, Ali Gohar Khan of the PML-N was leading with 68,159 votes, followed by Muhammad Saadullah of the PTI with 59,111 votes. In NA-124 Lahore, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi of the PML-N was leading with 78,691 votes, followed by Ghulam Mohiuddin Dewan of the PTI with 32,392 votes. The seat was vacated by PML-N leader Hamza Shahbaz. In NA-131 Lahore, Khawaja Saad Rafique of the PML-N was leading with 53,352 votes, followed by Humayun Akhtar Khan of the PTI with 45,478 votes. The seat was previously won by the PTI. This isn’t particularly surprising, given Imran Khan’s margin of victory on that seat in the July 25 election was a wafer-thin 0.36pc. In NA-243 Karachi, Alamgir Khan of the PTI was leading with 30,135 votes, followed by Amir Waliuddin Chishti of the MQM with 12,733 votes. The polling started at 8 am and continued till 5 pm. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had printed 9.5 million ballot papers for the by-elections in which 641 candidates were contesting. Some 9,208,374 voters were eligible to cast their votes in the polling for which 7,489 polling stations had been set up. Of these, 1,727 polling stations were declared extremely sensitive. Closed-circuit television cameras (CCTV) had been installed at the sensitive polling stations. According to the ECP, 5,881 overseas Pakistanis cast votes in the by-polls with an impressive 76% turnout. -- Courtesy DT

Voting underway for by-election in 35 constituencies; over 300 candidates in the run; over five million registered voters have right to vote

ICMD, The voting for the by-election on 35 national and provincial assemblies commenced at 8AM, with more than 300 candidates, including some political bigwigs, in the running. Over five million registered voters — about 2.3 million women and almost 2.7 million men — will exercise their right to vote. It is noteworthy that the overseas Pakistanis will be voting for the first time in the by-polls. Seats up for grabs comprise 11 from National Assembly, 11 from Punjab Assembly, nine from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and two each from Sindh and Balochistan. In Lahore's NA-131 constituency, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz's (PML-N) candidate Khawaja Saad Rafique will face Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf's (PTI) Humayun Akhtar. Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is PML-N's candidate from NA-124. His opponent in the constituency is Ghulam Mohiuddin of the PTI. In Karachi's NA-243 constituency, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) is expected to give tough competition to the PTI. Over 9.9 million ballot papers have been printed for the by-elections and handed over to presiding officers of all polling stations, while some 7,489 polling stations have been set-up, of which 1,727 have been declared "highly sensitive." On Thursday, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) constituted 27 monitoring teams to observe the by-polls. They will examine the distribution of polling equipment and training of the polling staff. On the day of the by-polls, the teams will also monitor security arrangements, the result transmission system (RTS) and votes of the overseas Pakistanis in addition to the process of tabulation and compilation of results. -- Monitoring Desk

US to evaluate Pakistan bailout package on merit: US State Department. will examine closely all aspects, including Pakistan’s debt position

ICMD, Oct 12, 2018 The United States (US) will evaluate on merit a bailout package sought by Pakistan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the State Department has said. “We understand that Pakistan has formally sought assistance from the IMF. As we do in all cases, we will examine closely all aspects, including Pakistan’s debt position, in evaluating any loan program,” Spokesperson Heather Nauert said during a briefing. “This is something that we’ve been tracking fairly closely. The secretary had spoken about this a few months back, I know, in some interviews not that long ago,” she said. The State Department’s comments coincided with Finance Minister Asad Umar meeting IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde in Indonesia to formally seek a bailout from the global lender. The US wields huge influence over IMF’s decision-making process. In July, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had indicated that the US will review the bailout package in view of the massive Chinese debt on Pakistan. “Make no mistake. We will be watching what the IMF does,” he had said.