Multi-billion rupee fugitive paid Rs 1,000 bribe to flee Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s top accountability body on Friday revealed how a former oil and gas chief allegedly involved in a multi-billion rupee scam, had escaped the country to avoid arrest.

Tauqir Sadiq, the former chairman of the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA), had fled to the UAE in 2012 after the Supreme Court declared his appointment as Ogra chief illegal. According to the spokesperson of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the inquiry into the matter as to how Tauqir Sadiq was able to escape from Pakistan was carried out by one of the senior-most directors-general (DGs) of the bureau.

Sadiq, who is accused of being involved in the Rs82 billion Ogra embezzlement case, was brought back to Pakistan from UAE on Monday night. An accountability court in Islamabad has sent the former Ogra chief to a 14-day physical remand.

“During the interrogation, Tauqir Sadiq provided many details of his escape, including the fact that he paid Rs. 1000/- as bribe to an Afghan official at Kabul airport,” said the official. Sadiq had managed to leave the country although his name was on the exit control list.

A local newspaper had reported that the former Ogra chief had to bribe a border guard at Pakistan’s Torkham border with Afghanistan. The NAB official, however, clarified that, as per the bureau’s investigation, Sadiq bribed officials at Kabul airport, and “not at Torkham, as reported in the media.”

During interrogation, Sadiq disclosed that he first travelled to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province from where he fled to Afghanistan before finally heading to the UAE, said NAB sources.

However, the NAB official said Sadiq did not name any individual for having assisted him in his escape.

Sources in the bureau said Sadiq acquired a visa for Dubai in Rs 10,000, while he had to pay only Rs 1,000 to get his passport stamped to travel to Afghanistan.

The sources added that Pakistani foreign office officials were in the process of communicating with their Afghan counterparts to verify Sadiq’s testimony.

Meanwhile, dispelling the impression that Sadiq had revealed the names of some former ministers and officials aiding him in his flight, the NAB official said appropriate legal action would be taken when such disclosures are made.

“When individuals responsible on helping him escape have been identified, action will be initiated by NAB in accordance with the law,” he said.

Sadiq is accused of misusing authority, embezzling funds and causing Rs82 billion (approximately $850 million) losses to the national exchequer by converting operating income (regular income) into non-operating income in violation of an agreement signed with the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank, relocating several CNG stations, making illegal appointments, etc.

Two former prime ministers — Yousuf Raza Gilani and Raja Pervez Ashraf — have also been accused of being involved in the ‘illegal’ appointment of Sadiq.

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Oil price hike reversed, notification issued

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ISLAMABAD: After three days of quibbling, the government on Sunday formally issued a notification to reverse its decision to increase prices of petroleum products from March 1.

“With effect from Sunday midnight, the petroleum prices have reverted to Feb 28 level,” prime minister’s adviser on petroleum and natural resources Dr Asim Hussain told Dawn.

As a result, the per litre ex-depot price of petrol is Rs103.07, that of high speed diesel Rs109.21, kerosene Rs99.90 and light diesel oil Rs94.33.

The notification for price reduction came after oil marketing companies had already sold over 62,000 tons of HSD in three days at the higher rate of about Rs114 per litre. Monthly consumption of HSD usually stands at 620,000 tons. Likewise, about 24,000 tons of petrol had been sold at about Rs107 per litre. The finance ministry earned about Rs500 million in three days.

After protests and walkouts in the National Assembly and criticism by parliamentarians of PPP and other parties, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf directed Finance Minister Saleem H. Mandviwalla to withdraw the increase.

This was not expected to happen automatically. Oil marketing companies did not take the prime minister’s statement seriously and kept on selling products at the increased rates on Saturday and Sunday amid confusion created in the absence of a government notification. The ministries of petroleum and finance blamed each other for the confusion.“We cannot change prices unless we receive notification from the (marketing) company or the government,” said a petroleum dealer in Islamabad when asked why products were being sold at higher rates despite an announcement by the prime minister. He said the company was waiting for the government notification and dealers had to follow the company’s notified rates.

Relevant teams at the Ministry of Petroleum and Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) were on ‘standby’ for two days — Saturday and Sunday — to issue notification about price reduction immediately after receiving a circular from the Finance Ministry.

A senior official said the finance minister who had received verbal instructions from the prime minister did not leave a note or pass on instructions to his ministry how to implement the directive. An SMS issued by Mr Mandviwalla’s media section on Sunday said: “Please note that prices of above (petroleum products) mentioned are controlled and managed by the ministry of petroleum and Ogra. Finance Minister has nothing to do with it.”

Mr Mandviwalla and finance ministry’s spokesman Rana Asad Amin were not available on phone for comment.

Prime minister’s adviser on petroleum Dr Asim Hussain said his team and Ogra had been waiting for the Finance Ministry’s advice to notify price reduction. He said he had also sent a summary to the Finance Ministry to reduce petroleum levy on petroleum products. “We can issue notification in no time after Finance Ministry’s approval,” he added.

Mr Hussain said there were only two methods of reducing prices, either through reduction in petroleum levy or providing petroleum differential claim (PDC) to oil marketing companies. In both cases, the price reduction involved subsidy on which the Finance Ministry had to take a decision. “Once the Finance Ministry takes a decision on subsidy, we can make adjustment in prices and pass on the notification to marketing companies in a minute”, he said, adding that since the formula for oil pricing that was based on international oil prices had not been changed, the petroleum ministry or Ogra could not do anything except to wait for Finance Ministry’s advice.

An Ogra official said the regulator had strongly recommended to the government not to increase the prices on Feb 28 but its advice was ignored.

The prices were restored to Feb 28 level by reducing the petroleum levy on petrol from Rs10 per litre to Rs6.47 while the levy on diesel was brought down from Rs8 to Rs3.65 per litre. The revised prices would remain in place till April 1.

Iran tells Zardari pipeline must advance despite US opposition

TEHRAN: Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday told the visiting Pakistani president that a much-delayed $7.5 billion gas pipeline project must go ahead despite US opposition.

“The Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline is an important example of Tehran-Islamabad cooperation, and despite hostilities towards the expansion of ties we must overcome this opposition decisively,” Khamenei told Asif Ali Zardari, his office reported.

The gas pipeline project is strongly opposed by Tehran’s archfoe Washington.

“Accessing safe energy source is the first priority for any country including Pakistan. In this region, the Islamic republic is the only nation that has safe energy resources and we are ready to provide Pakistan its energy needs,” the all-powerful Khamenei said.

The pipeline project has run into repeated problems, including Pakistan’s difficulty in finding funds and opposition to the project from Washington, which has slapped Iran with a raft of sanctions over its nuclear activities.

The Pakistani media reported last year that Zardari would visit Iran in mid-December 2012, when a final agreement was to have been signed, but the visit was delayed.

In 2010, Iran and Pakistan agreed that Tehran would supply between 750 million cubic feet (21 million cubic metres) and one billion cubic feet per day of natural gas by mid-2015.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Zardari that, “building the gas pipeline between Iran and Pakistan is a great and important event, and it serves the two nations’ interests,” the president’s office reported.

“I believe that building this project is very beneficial for both sides and we support all the work carried out so far,” Zardari said in talks his Iranian counterpart.

“The international and regional players have tried in vain to prevent an expansion of Iran-Pakistan ties but the people have learnt how to act against enemies of Islam,” he was quoted as saying.

Islamabad has said it will pursue the project regardless of US pressure, saying the gas is needed to help Pakistan overcome its energy crisis that has led to debilitating blackouts and suffocated industry.

Iran has almost completed the pipeline work in its territory, but Pakistan has not yet started construction of 780 kilometers (490 miles) of the pipeline on its side, which is said to cost some $1.5 billion.

Sanctions-hit Iran finally agreed to finance one third of the costs of laying the pipeline through Pakistani territory to Nawabshah, north of Karachi, with the work to be carried out by an Iranian company.

Pakistani officials in mid-December said Iran had promised a $500 million loan and that Islamabad would meet the rest of the cost.

“There are impediments in view of the US opposition to the project but we are determined to complete it to meet our fast-growing energy requirements,” said one government official on condition of anonymity.

Tehran has been strangled by a Western oil embargo that has seen its crude exports halve in the past year, while Pakistan has an acute need for energy and plans to produce 20 per cent of its electricity from Iranian gas.

Iran has the second largest world gas reserves after Russia and currently produces some 600 million cubic metres a day, almost all of which is consumed domestically due to lack of exports means.

The only foreign client is Turkey, which buys about 30 million cubic metres of gas a day.

Tehran also plans to sell its gas to two other neighbours, Iraq and Syria. The three countries agreed in 2011 to build a pipeline, with the work already started on the Iranian side.

Pakistan plunges into darkness as powerhouses breakdown

KARACHI: Pakistan has been hit by a massive power outage after two major powerhouses tripped offline.

According to the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) the fault struck after the failure of HUBCO Power Plant, which knocked at least 1200 megawatts of power out of the system.

“After HUBCO broke down the system was first diverted to Tarbela and then to Mangla, but both of them tripped offline one after the other”, said a WAPDA spokesman.

He added that HUBCO power plant was under repair on emergency basis.

He however added that it could take the teams of engineers at least two hours to fix the fault in the national grid.

“Our teams are working as quickly and safely as possible to identify the problem and restore power for all the affected consumers”, he added.

According to experts the sudden loss of power caused a load-shed, which is a safety measure that protects the electrical system and prevents a longer, more widespread outage.

Dozens of cities across Pakistan including Karachi, Hyderabad, Nawabsha, Peshawar, Quetta, Lahore, Multan, Rawalpindi, and Islamabad plunged into darkness after Mangla and Tarbela powerhouses tripped.

According to sources large swathes of Balochistan including at least 18 districts of Quetta have been affected by the breakdown.

Most parts of Sindh are also facing the same conditions, the sources added.

Reports pouring in from Punjab are not different as hundreds of cities there also remain without electricity.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwah is no exception as sources say there is no power in nearly all the major cities of the province.

Panic walloped the country after the mega breakdown as speculations of all kinds doing rounds everywhere.

PPL to start drilling in Arabian sea

– File photo by Reuters

ISLAMABAD, Jan 8: The Pakistan Petroleum Limited, in collaboration with ENI, a foreign exploratory firm, is set to start drilling of a well in the Arabian Sea along Pakistani waters for discovery of oil.

The PPL has acquired exploration rights in a block located at 100km from Baghdad for oil exploration and it is hopeful about discovery of oil.

In a briefing to Senate Standing Committee on Petroleum and Natural Resources at the Parliament House, the PPL MD, Asif Murtaza, informed that drilling of exploratory well has already started in the block acquired in Iraq and there are bright chances of oil discovery.

In case of major success, the Pakistani company would benefit. The company is already working in Yemen on two blocks.

Regarding previous attempts made by the company to find oil from the sea, off Pakistani coast, the PPL MD informed the committee that in Mekran deep sea, some 12 exploration wells were drilled, but none succeeded.

The committee, which met with Senator Mohammad Yousuf in the chair, was informed that many foreign exploration companies still have interest in drilling of exploration well in Mekran Deep Sea. However, drilling has been delayed for one year due to various reasons.

Additional Secretary of Petroleum Naeem Malik informed the committee that drilling of an exploration well in deep-sea requires at least $100 million investment and foreign companies take decisions with due care.

The federal government recently announced new exploration incentives and the companies which would make first three discoveries in deep-sea would be given extra benefits with incentives to encourage more companies to come forward. The PPL MD informed that PPL is working in Zandan Block (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and is planning to acquire five more blocks in KPK as Tal Block area has great potential of discoveries.

To exploit un-conventional gas reserves in the country, some seven exploratory wells, eight appraisal wells, and 19 development wells have been planned in the next five years and the expected outcome would be 150bcf shale and tight gas production in the country.

He informed that shale gas and tight gas price approval has been sought from the regulator to speed up exploration activity. He further informed that some seven pilot projects have been planned for exploration of shale and tight gas reserves. He further informed that in Kirthar block, one exploratory well Rahman-1 is under way.

He informed that Hala, Kotri, Notari North, Jangshahi, Gambat and South blocks are potential areas for discovery of shale and tight gas reserves.

The committee was informed that PPL has geared up its seismic survey in the country and some 780sq kms were surveyed in 2011-12, while during the current fiscal year, some 1,400sq km have been surveyed.During the meeting, it was informed that District Kohlu (Balochistan) has huge gas reserves and due to law and order situation, exploration companies do not go there.

The committee was informed that the federal government was collecting 12.5 per cent royalty on gas production and the entire amount is transferred to provinces and if any provincial government is not spending the amount on welfare of its population or in the relevant district, where oil and gas have been found, it is their internal issue.