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Former Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari arrested

Former Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari (centre) leaves the High Court building in Islamabad on June 10, 2019.

Former Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari (centre) leaves the High Court building in Islamabad on June 10, 2019.   | Photo Credit: AP

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Detention comes after his bail was rejected by High Court; Opposition alleges ‘witch-hunt’

Former President and co-chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Asif Ali Zardari was arrested on Monday at his residence in Islamabad by a team of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for his alleged involvement in a fake bank accounts scam.

Earlier in the day, his plea for bail extension was rejected by the Islamabad High Court. According to sources, the legal team of Mr. Zardari, who is also a Member of the National Assembly, will appeal against this order in the Supreme Court.

Several people are named as accused in the fake bank accounts case. They include Mr. Zardari’s sister Faryal Talpur and some of his close associates.

Money laundering

The case came to the fore in 2015 following an investigation by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). The FIA said fake accounts were used to park ill-gotten wealth, which was later sent out of the country through money laundering channels.

The PPP says the case is based on false evidence and is political in nature.

According to investigative journalist Zahid Gishkori, the fake accounts case involves around PKR 100 billion of black money, allegedly used by Mr. Zardari, his sister Ms. Talpur, their partners and other businessmen. The anti-corruption watchdog has arrested around two dozen accused so far.

A Joint Investigation Team (JIT) recommended 28 corruption references against the accused, and its report was also endorsed by the apex court. The JIT and the NAB are working jointly where they have found details of more than 25,000 transactions linked to over 54 fake accounts.

Mr. Gishkori told The Hindu that it will be a litmus test for the NAB to prove the allegations against the accused in a court of law. “It is like a second Panama case in Pakistan’s history where only politicians remain the prime target of accountability institutions, whether it is NAB, JITs or FIA.”

He added that intelligence agencies have helped in collection of evidence in both the Panama case and the fake accounts case.

Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, PPP chairman and Mr. Zardari’s son, went to the National Assembly after the arrest of his father. He was not allowed to speak by the Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri, who adjourned the session amidst protests by the Opposition. Mr. Bhutto-Zardari addressed a press conference later. He called for the resignation of both the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker for acting as an ‘extension’ of the government instead of being impartial.

Bilawal’s statement

Accusing the government of censoring journalists, social media activists and parliamentarians were being censored by the government, he said: “This isn’t azad (free) Pakistan, this isn’t naya (new) Pakistan. This is censored Pakistan!”

Mr. Bhutto-Zardari reminded the government that his mother, Benazir Bhutto, had spent her youth in Sukkur jail while his father, Mr. Zardari, had spent more than a decade in prison where he was severely tortured.

Senior journalist Azaz Syed said that the NAB was keen on ‘finishing’ the political Bhutto-Zardari dynasty. “However, the efforts of this anti-corruption agency are neither independent nor clean as it is visibly being used by the powers-that-be in Pakistan,” he told The Hindu.

Khawaja Asif, senior leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), told The Hindu that there was a need to bring the political temperature in the country down if a revival of the economy was the objective. “Without going into the merits of the case, high-profile political arrests — especially when the government is being accused of witch-hunting — will further vitiate the environment.”

Opposition leaders condemned the arrest of Mr. Zardari. Leader of the Opposition Shehbaz Sharif said that Mr. Zardari didn’t use any delaying tactics and fully cooperated with the NAB while also appearing at all court hearings.

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Printable version | Dec 12, 2019 11:09:23 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/former-pakistan-president-asif-ali-zardari-arrested/article27763157.ece

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