IN-DEPTH REPORT

After a long chase and overcoming massive 'hurdles' the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has finally managed to bring former chairman of Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority Tauqir Sadiq back home from the United Arab Emirates and probe into the multi-billion-rupee corruption scandal is in full swing.

Sources in NAB confidently claim their investigators have solid evidence of Tauqir Sadiq's involvement in massive corruption in the authority, and they have prepared a formidable case against Sadiq and his collaborators and accomplices, both within and outside the OGRA.

However, the accused’s family members termed all allegations leveled against Tauqir Sadiq to be false and fabricated, and believed that the alleged corruption of billions of rupees associated to him has nothing to do with reality.

The majority of assets linked to his ‘supposedly’ corrupt practices were explained away as either having belonged to his family members, or as joint property of the family falling to him and other family members as inheritance.

As the matter of former Chairman OGRA Taquir Sadiq is under investigation and part of it is sub-judice before the apex court, therefore instead of getting into the nitty-gritty of the charges against him, The Nation has examined the circumstances which led to his rise to the slot of Chairman OGRA, his handling of the affairs at the authority, his escape to the UAE and finally his arrest and landing into the NAB custody for probe into the alleged corruption charges against him to unveil the reality about the whole affair shrouded in the mist of confusion.

But, before discussing these details, a glance at Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority's creation, the motive behind its creation and the political and administrative meddling in the affairs of the authority will greatly help in resolving the riddle of alleged corruption case against Sadiq.

Following international practice and under pressure from donors, an independent regulator for oil and gas pricing and management was established by Pakistan and thus through an ordinance the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority was formed in 2002.

The decision was widely appreciated across the spectrum and welcomed by the Asian Development Bank, World Bank and other international monetary departments. But OGRA could not function as per the spirit behind its creation and till date has struggled to rise above governmental influence, particularly that of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources.

The founding chairman of OGRA, Munir Ahmad, in the initial years put the department together, but right from the beginning he faced tough opposition from the bureaucracy of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources, which was not mentally prepared to give away their control over the matters now placed under the purview of this new body.

This tug of war between OGRA and the ministry was in full form, when in the fall of 2008 a now notorious Taquir Sadiq stepped into the shoes of Munir Ahmad, allegedly using his political clout in the Pakistan People's Party, which had come into power a few months before.

With strong political support, it was considered that Taquir Sadiq would provide a steady base to this newly established authority, but contrary to the assumption he (Sadiq) made the authority even more vulnerable. Unable to overcome bureaucratic hurdles, OGRA’s new chief bought it under the political pressures as well, and in the process began scores of irregularities to be recorded in ignominious history.

Although Taquir Sadiq had managed to get the OGRA Ordinance 2002 amended in 2009, and secured the authority's control over CNG as well as petroleum products pricing, yet on the ground matters remained unchanged as ministry of petroleum and other powerful players in oil industry were unmoved by the change in the ordinance and refused to give up control.

The oil lobby in the country was so strong that through Prime Minister's Advisor on Ministry of Petroleum Dr Asim Hussain, a close confidant of President Asif Ali Zardari, it made a strong move to get OGRA disbanded completely. The attempt was quelled, as both Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani and his deputy Ch Pervaiz Elahi opposed the move, keeping in view the reaction from the ADB and World Bank supporting independent handling of various sectors.

It is pertinent to mention here that in the PPP rule the then Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, through a cabinet decision had managed to bring PEMRA under the direct control of Ministry of Information, otherwise an independent body to regulate electronic media channels.

Taquir Sadiq, a close relative of a central Pakistan People's Party leader, before managing to become Chairman OGRA had been serving the same authority as registrar and taking care of its legal affairs.

Sources said that in the case of his particular appointment as Chairman OGRA, the qualifications required for the post were ignored. The slot of the chairman of OGRA requires 20 years of specialised experience and standing as an impeccable professional in the field of law, business, engineering, finance or accounting is mandatory. But due to alleged political connections in the top hierarchy of the PPP, Taquir Sadiq secured a relaxation in the rules and managed to get hold on the prized slot of the chairman.

Sources in NAB said that they held irrefutable evidence against Sadiq and as the investigations were progressing ahead the names of some former federal ministers belonging to Pakistan People's Party, prominent PPP leaders and some known business personalities would surface in the case as partners in his alleged corrupt practices.

It is pertinent to mention here that two former Prime Ministers of PPP-led coalition government Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani were already facing charges in the out of the way appointment of Taquir Sadiq as Chairman ORGA and protecting him during their stints in the office of Prime Minister.

The main charges on which the National Accountability Bureau was quizzing the accused and his accomplices (senior officials of OGRA) in the mega corruption scandal included upward revision in the unaccounted for gas (UFG) benchmark from 4.5 per cent to 7 per cent hence causing a loss of around Rs 44 billion to the national exchequer.

Sources in the department informed that this information was leaked to a select few people in the stock market, before making the decision public about increasing UFG from 4.5 per cent to 7 per cent, which led to increase in the share value of SNGPL in the market from Rs 15 to Rs 36, hence providing an opportunity to people close to him to obtain massive benefit.

Another major charge against Taquir Sadiq is relocation of sites of some 47 CNG stations despite the government ban on issuance of licences to new CNG stations, while he is also accused of having given extension in provisional licences of CNG stations against government policy, hence benefiting certain people and causing further loss to the national exchequer.

In another case the well-head price of Sabsabil Gas Field, owned by Dewan Petroleum Limited, was increased in negation to the government policy and that too with retrospective effect from 2007 but the timely intervention by NAB authorities had saved the loss of around Rs 36 billion to national exchequer.

There was also a charge of illegal appointments in the authority and according to records available, some 50 officers were appointed in sheer violation of the rules and criteria for such appointments, much as the chairman who appointed them was.

A huge amount of Rs 13.27 million were given to attorneys who were neither on the approved panel of lawyers for the authority, nor were they acting for the authority. Instead, these lawyers were given cases involving personal benefit or loss to Mr Sadiq, including one challenging his fake degrees.

On the other hand, Professor Tanvir Sadiq, the elder brother of Tauqir Sadiq, denied the charges leveled against his younger brother and said that the campaign against his family was politically motivated and the properties and bank accounts NAB had seized, showing them as Tauqir Sadiq's were actually family property, and out of the 40 bank accounts some 23 were either operated by him, or his close relatives and had nothing to do with Tauqir Sadiq.

Now, NAB investigators are busy probing into the alleged corruption of Taquir Sadiq. It is estimated that by the time their probe is completed, most likely the new Chairman National Accountability Bureau will be in place and he along with his team of legal experts will place the final nail in the coffin of the Tauqir Sadiq case.