Pakistan’s anti-graft agency has arrested former president Asif Ali Zardari after a court rejected his bail application.
Zardari, the widower of slain former premier Benazir Bhutto, was arrested at his home in the capital Islamabad, according to Mohamed Bilal Khan, a spokesman for National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
The arrest came hours after a Islamabad High Court bench comprising Justice Amir Farooq and Justice Moshin Akhtar Kayani rejected a plea by Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur seeking an extension in their interim bail in the fake bank accounts case.
Issuing its orders, the High Court permitted the NAB to carry out arrest of Zardari and Talpur.
Zardari and Talpur now have the option of appealing the order in the Supreme Court.
The former president was brought to a special NAB prison where he was examined by a team of doctors.
Under Pakistani law, the anti-graft agency can keep a suspect in its custody for up to 90 days.
The NAB did not take Talpur into custody.
Zardari is embroiled in eight different cases of using fake bank accounts to transfer millions of dollars out of Pakistan.
These accounts were allegedly opened between 2013 and 2015.
Zardari served as president from 2008 until 2013 and has long been the subject of corruption allegations, and he is widely known in Pakistan as “Mr Ten Per Cent”.
Small scuffles erupted between police and supporters of Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) outside his family’s residence in Islamabad as he was taken into custody.
A senior PPP official confirmed the arrest.
The charges in the latest case centre around allegations Zardari laundered vast sums of money through suspect bank accounts and companies.
Last year, Pakistani authorities discovered several accounts in the name of poor people that had been flooded with cash, then suddenly emptied.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court established a commission in September to investigate the scourge, finding that at least $400mn had passed through “thousands of false accounts”.
Zardari has repeatedly dismissed allegations that he had a hand in the scheme.
“We will challenge the decision in the Supreme Court,” said Khursheed Shah, a senior leader of the PPP.
Shehbaz Sharif, Opposition Leader in the National Assembly and chairman of the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N), said that there no reason to arrest Zardari since he was attending NAB proceedings.
Other leaders of the opposition asked the National Assembly speaker to issue orders permitting Zardari, who was elected member of national assembly in the 2018 elections, to attend the assembly session, which is in progress.
There is a rule stating that lawmakers stay out of jail as long as the assembly is in session.
“@Denying Zardari permission to go to the parliament is not a good omen for democracy,” said former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani from the PPP.
Zardari, the PPP’s co-chairman, has spent 11 years in jail in the past over allegations of corruption, but nothing has been proven in the courts.
Several opposition leaders, including three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, are in jail in what the government says is a corruption crackdown.
The opposition says the detentions are politically-motivated.
The news comes as opposition parties led by Zardari and Sharif prepare a push to dislodge Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government, which has a razor-thin majority in parliament.
Zardari’s arrest comes as the economy continues to spiral and discontent simmers in Pakistan following repeated devalutions of the rupee, soaring inflation, and rising utility prices.
Khan was elected prime minister last year after running a heated campaign vowing to crackdown on corruption.
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