190611 Asif Ali Zardari
Former President and leader of the Pakistan People’s party Asif Ali Zardari leaves the High Court with his daughter Asifa Bhutto Zardari in Islamabad. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: A political drama has unfolded in Islamabad today (Monday) as security agencies have arrested former Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari from his house in Islamabad.

A big team from the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), accompanied by police personnel and other security agencies, arrested Zardari in the fake accounts case after the Islamabad High Court rejected an application seeking extension of their pre-arrest bails.

After a standoff for a few hours, NAB team and the police officials entered the former president’s house to take him into custody.

Asif Ali Zardari is also Co-chairman of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)—one of the largest political parties of Pakistan with massive street power.

190611 pakistan peoples party
Supporters of Pakistan People’s Party burn tyres and shout slogans to condemn the arrest of former president Zardari by NAB and police officials in Islamabad. Image Credit: Reuters

Following its verdict, the high court also permitted NAB to carry out arrest of Asif Zardari and Faryal Talpur. However, only Zardari has been arrested.

Zardari has previously spent time in jail on corruption charges for about 11 years in two different stins --from 1990 to 1993 and from 1997 to 2004, but he became president of Pakistan from 2008 until 2013 after the assassination of his wife Benazir Bhutto, former two-time prime minister of Pakistan.

The news of rejection of Zardari’s bail and his arrest has created quite a furor amongst Pakistan’s opposition political parties, which were already mulling to launch a protest campaign against Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Though the courts are independent in Pakistan, questions are being raised on the timing of the bail rejection and the arrest orders of the most powerful opposition leader whose party rules the Sindh Province.

It is worth noting that the decision has been taken on the day when the Economic Survey of Pakistan is scheduled to be released and Imran Khan’s government is all set to present its first federal budget.

Imran’s government is already under immense criticism for price hike and worsening economic situation and massive taxation are also expected during the budget.

According to media reports, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) wanted to arrest former president and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur in a case relating to transaction of Rs150 million to their private company through alleged fake bank accounts.

Former Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari with his sister Faryal Talpur

Zardari’s next step will be to approach the Supreme Court and ask it to suspend the high court’s order and grant him bail. He has already got an extension in his pre-arrest bail five times and was on bail for two months and 12 days.

The FIR for the case was filed in Karachi. A banking court was hearing the case earlier but it was transferred to NAB Islamabad after the Supreme Court handed over the fake accounts case.

NAB is also investigating a case involving a company owned by Zardari and his sister, Faryal Talpur, received Rs30 million of Rs4.4 billion in suspicious transactions carried out through fake accounts.

Zardari, currently a lawmaker in Parliament, and his sister Faryal Talpur, are also accused of having dozens of bogus bank accounts. The two attended the court hearing but were not arrested at the scene.

The anti-graft body has arrested several politicians on corruption charges since Prime Minister Imran Khan took office last year. Khan’s predecessor, Nawaz Sharif, was removed from office by the Supreme Court over corruption allegations.

No resistance during arrest

In a post-Zardari arrest press conference, former Pakistani Prime Minister and PPP leader Yousaf Raza Gilani told reporters that there was no resistance during the event and that the NAB officials were properly let into the Zardari House.

Opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif's reaction

Earlier, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Shehbaz Sharif urged Asad Qaiser, the NA Speaker, to issue production orders for Asif Ali Zardari.

“Zardari has presented himself before NAB on every occasion and has not used delaying tactics. NAB should have appreciated this and there was no need for an arrest,” said Sharif, also the leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly.

What are the fake bank account cases

National Accountability Bureau (NAB) – the anti-graft body of Pakistan—has arrested former President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zarari in the fake account cases.

One of the cases pertains to pertains to suspicious transactions worth Rs4.4 billion allegedly carried out through a fictitious bank account. According to the prosecution, the account titled M/s A One International was fake and it received a sum of Rs4.4bn out of which Rs30m was paid to the Zardari Group at two different times.

One more case involves Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur related to transaction of Rs150 million to their private company through alleged fake bank accounts.

According to the NAB officials, the duo made transactions of Rs150 million through alleged fake bank accounts. 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 cases.

According to Pakistani media, in 2015, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had launched a probe into fake accounts and fictitious transactions conducted through 29 ‘benami’ (secret) accounts in Summit Bank, Sindh Bank and UBL on the basis of a tip-off.

Initially, seven individuals, including Zardari and his Talpur, were said to be involved in using those accounts for suspicious transactions. The accounts were allegedly used to channel funds received through kickbacks.

Later, the apex court constituted a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to probe into the matter.

The JIT during the course of investigation uncovered 33 more suspicious accounts linked to the case, while nearly 170 individuals linked to the case were put on the no-fly list.

According to a report submitted in the court, 210 companies were also found to have alleged links to the case. As many as 47 of these companies and 334 people were associated with the Omni Group — owned by a close aide of Zardari. At one stage, the top court had frozen all assets and accounts of the group.

Several close friends of Zardari had also been arrested in the case, while the PPP chief and his sister Faryal Talpur were on an interim bail which was extended multiple times before being rejected on Monday. Both Zardari and Talpur are on bail in at least seven other cases of corruption and malpractice.

Who is Asif Ali Zardari

Asif Ali Zardari who is known as a flamboyant politician, has already spent around 11 year in jail in two different stints. No other Pakistani political leader has spent so much time in jail.

Born on July 26, 1955 in Karachi, Zardari’s high point in his career came when he became President of Pakistan in 2008 for five years after the assassination of his wife Benazir Bhutto, former two-time prime minister of Pakistan, on December 27, 2007.

Zardari is the son of Hakim Ali Zardari, a Sindhi landlord, businessman, and politician. He got married to Benazir Bhutto on December 18, 1987, the two were married in an arranged and relatively simple ceremony, and they went on to have three children: Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, and two daughters, Bakhtawar and Assefa.

His wife Benazir Bhutto became Prime Minister in 1990 but her tenure was cut short by corruption-related scandal. Arrested on kidnapping and extortion charges, Zardari was imprisoned in 1990, and, following his release in 1993, corruption allegations against him multiplied (some labeled him “Mr. Ten Percent,” alleging he took kickbacks on large government contracts during Bhutto’s tenure in office).

Zardari served as a member of the National Assembly from 1990 to 1993—during which time he was periodically released from prison to attend sessions. After Benazir Bhutto’s return to power in 1993, he served as minister of the environment (1993–96) and federal minister for investment (1995–96) in her government.

Zardari was also implicated in murder case of Murtaza Bhutto, brother of Benazir and following the second dissolution of Bhutto’s government in November 1996, he was arrested on charges that included corruption, money laundering, and murder.

Although never convicted, Zardari was imprisoned from 1997 to 2004; he was elected to the Senate from his jail cell during this time.

Following his release, Zardari sought medical treatment in the United States. He returned to Pakistan with Bhutto’s resumption of political activity in 2007 .Following Bhutto’s death in December 2007, Zardari named his son, Bilawal, chairman of the PPP and made himself the party’s co-chairman.
Profile compiled from Encyclopaedia Britannica