ISLAMABAD Pakistan’s former president Asif Ali Zardari was arrested on Monday from his residence here in the fake bank accounts case by the country’s top anti-corruption body, even as his party appealed for calm.
A team of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) accompanied by police, including female officials, entered the Pakistan People’s Party co-chairman’s house hours after the Islamabad High Court rejected his bail plea.
However, his sister Faryal Talpur was so far not arrested.
The brother-sister duo now have the option of appealing the order in the Supreme Court.
Initially, Zardari’s supporters and political aides resisted the arrest but later the security team was allowed to enter the house and the 63-year-old leader surrendered after negotiation.
TV footage showed Zardari coming out of his house and embracing his younger daughter Aseefa before getting into a black Landcruiser.
A number of party workers and Zardari’s son Bilawal saw him off as the former president was driven away in the vehicle.
The vehicle took him to the NAB compound in Islamabad’s Melody areas where he would kept till he would be produced before the court.
Zardari, the 11th President of Pakistan from 2008 to 2013, has denied any link with the fake accounts. He has said the allegation was part of a vilification campaign by the ruling party to malign opposition leaders.
He was elected as a member of the National Assembly from the NA-213 Nawabshah seat of Sindh province in last year’s general election.
Zardari and his sister are two of the main accused in the money laundering scandal which utilised fake bank accounts to channel illegally gained funds out of Pakistan.
The arrest warrants were issued on Sunday by the NAB, the anti-corruption watchdog, which is probing them in the fake bank accounts case.
According to the NAB officials, the duo made transactions of Rs 150 million through alleged fake bank accounts.
Meanwhile, the PPP has called a consultative meeting to discuss the future legal options of Zardari and Talpur.
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s spokesperson Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar appealed to PPP supporters across the country to remain peaceful.
“We are waiting for IHC’s written order,” he said, adding that future strategy will be decided once the party receives the order.
Former prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani told the media that Zardari courted under protest and the party would contest it at all forums.
“I request the speaker of National Assembly to issue orders to produce him (Zardari) in the House as he is member of the parliament,” Gilani said.
There were reports of protests by PPP supporters in Lahore and Karachi but no major disturbance was witnessed.
Zardari was arrested when the National Assembly was in session and another former premier of PPP, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, demanded that the speaker should issue order to bring Zardari to the House.
However, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi opposed the move and urged the speaker to take action only after he was duly informed about the arrest.
The cases against Zardari are part of the investigations being conducted by NAB in pursuance of the Supreme Court’s verdict in the money laundering of billions through fake accounts case.
On May 14, the anti-corruption unit furnished details of inquiries, investigations and references in the fake accounts case.
In the report, NAB listed down at least eight cases where Zardari’s link had been established. It further added that 22 inquiries and three investigations were underway while three references had been filed.
In December 2015, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) began a discreet investigation into certain bank accounts through which multi-billion rupee transactions were made.
By June, the FIA had several high-profile names on its list but was unable to make headway-for several reasons.
The Supreme Court intervened and then chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar took notice of the ‘slow progress’ in the money-laundering case. In July, Zardari’s close aides Hussain Lawai, Taha Raza and two others were arrested.
The apex court also ordered the formation of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to quicken the pace of the investigation. The JIT identified 11,500 bank accounts and 924 account holders at the start of their investigation.
PPP leadership including former two-time premier Benazir Bhutto was also embroiled in corruption cases as well as Zardari who spent several years in jail during the regime of military ruler General Pervez Musharraf.
Bhutto’s name was deleted from the cases after she was killed in a terrorist attack in 2007 while Zardari was exonerated by courts in at least five corruption cases during the last couple of years.
But he is now facing fresh allegations in fake bank accounts case which is about several fake accounts that were allegedly used to siphon off corruption money out of country.