LNG scam: Accused employees get ‘legal aid’ from OGRA

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ISLAMABAD: The Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) has allegedly allowed its sitting chairperson and other accused in the LNG scandal to “officially hire the services of a lawyer of their choice” to deal with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) cases/enquiries.

“The legal counsel will be hired at the cost of taxpayers’ money,” a source privy to this development told Pakistan Today.

On 12th December 2019, NAB had filed a reference in an Accountability Court (AC) for the trial of OGRA’s sitting chairperson Uzma Adil, an accused in a scam regarding the award of LNG terminal to a private company.

Uzma Adil, in a letter written to the Cabinet Division’s secretary on 19th December 2019, had requested to allow her to officially hire the counsel to defend the charges against her.

Subsequently, the regulatory authority, in its administrative meeting held on December 26, unanimously decided to provide full legal support in case of any litigation, criminal investigation, and prosecution instituted against its serving or retired employees.

“The accused person(s) shall be at liberty to utilize the services of any competent lawyer of choice to defend their respective cases, the cost of which shall be paid/refunded by OGRA provided that such cost does not exceed a total of Rs2 million for each case at each forum until final conclusion thereof,” reads OGRA’s decision, a copy of which is available with this scribe.

The authority, however, stated that the accused persons, who were entitled to this facility, were expected to be judicious in negotiating the fee with the counsel of their choice keeping in view the nature and complexity of the case and the level of the forum.

Similarly, the authority also decided to provide the accused (OGRA employees) access to the official record in case any agency or institution started proceeding.

Furthermore, OGRA stated the cost would be refunded by the relevant person in case any of the retired or in-service employees (Members or Chairman/Chairperson) was convicted after completion of the trial or final conclusion of the case by the highest legal forum.

Commenting on OGRA’s decision pertaining to giving access to the official record, a former official, seeking anonymity, said the decision of granting access to all documents in the presence of Uzma Adil could lead to tampering by her and her co-accused.

The official said such sort of permission was exceptional as in the past, OGRA employees, who were accused of various scams, were not granted access to public record.

“How can an accused be granted the right to access those documents on the basis of which NAB filed an interim reference against them?” the ex-official questioned.

OGRA chief Uzma Adil in her letter had sought the Cabinet Division’s opinion over the official hiring of an outside counsel to deal with the NAB cases/enquiries. The Cabinet Division had requested OGRA to defend the case as per its own rules/regulations as the writ was against the chairperson in her official capacity.

Talking to this scribe, Advocate Ammar Sehri said the OGRA’s decision was ultra-vires to the OGRA Ordinance as the state does not bear the cost of legal counsel to save the skin of a public servant for his/her personal act.

“And the government departments too can’t indemnify its employees for abuse/misuse of power/authority,” he maintained.

Sehri said the OGRA rules and regulations also disallowed the authority to bear such costs, adding there was no implicit or explicit provision in the OGRA Ordinance to cover the lawyer’s fee in case a legal proceeding began against the OGRA employees.

“This decision by the authority can be framed as a basis of another NAB reference or FIA enquiry as it is sheer misuse of taxpayers’ money,” Advocate Ammar Sehri opined.

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