Shahbaz was taken into custody from the Lahore High Court's premises, where a large number of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) workers gathered ahead of the hearing in the Rs 700 crores (USD 41.9 million) money laundering case.
PML-N chief Shahbaz Sharif (Reuters)
Pakistan’s Leader of the Opposition and PML-N chief Shahbaz Sharif was arrested in Lahore while an anti-corruption court in Islamabad indicted former president Asif Ali Zardari in a money laundering case on Monday, days before joint Opposition’s planned protests to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Shahbaz, the younger brother of three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, was taken into custody from the Lahore High Court’s premises, where a large number of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) workers gathered ahead of the hearing in the Rs 700 crores (USD 41.9 million) money laundering case.
A two-member LHC bench headed by judge Sardar Ahmed Naeem rejected Shahbaz’s bail plea after hearing the arguments from the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) team and his lawyer. The NAB arrested Shahbaz and took him to its Lahore’s detention centre. It will produce him to the accountability court for his physical remand.
The Imran Khan government last week filed the money laundering case against 69-year-old Shahbaz, who served as chief minister of Punjab province from 2008 to 2018, and his family. Before his arrest, Shahbaz told the media that Prime Minister Khan wanted to have him arrested. “It is the unholy alliance of Imran Khan and NAB that wanted to put me behind bars,” Shahbaz said.
PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz strongly criticised the arrest of her uncle and party president Shehbaz, saying he was being “punished” for standing by his brother Sharif’s side. In a tweet, Sharif said “this puppet government has endorsed the resolution adopted by the opposition’s [multi-party conference].
“Shahbaz Sharif had already said all of the [MPC’s] decisions would be implemented whether he is in prison or outside. No one should be mistaken that such disgraceful tactics will make us bow down.”
In Islamabad, accountability court Judge Muhammad Azam Khan indicted Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur in a case about the alleged use of fake accounts by the former president and other accused to park and launder the allegedly ill-gotten wealth.
The 63-year-old husband of the country’s first woman prime minister Benazir Bhutto and his 62-year-old sister Talpur were present in the court, which also indicted Omni Group Chairman Anwar Majeed and his son, Abdul Ghani Majeed.
All the accused pleaded not guilty to the charges against them. Reacting to the development, Pakistan People’s Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said “political victimisation of the opposition continues during a global pandemic”. “Runaway dictator traitor, three special assistants, ministers and the premier’s sister won’t be summoned because we have two laws in Pakistan,” he said in a tweet.
Biawal also condemned Shahbaz’s arrest, saying Prime Minister Khan was worried after the opposition parties launched an alliance, Pakistan Democratic Movement, to oust his government. Zardari and Talpur were arrested last year and kept in custody for months before being released on bail in December. He maintains that the allegation was part of a vilification campaign by Imran Khan-led ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party to malign the Opposition leaders.
The Opposition was anticipating strong reaction from the government following Sharif’s attack on the military in the multi-party conference over a week ago. Sharif while addressing the conference via video link from London talked about the Army’s involvement in politics, saying in the country “there is a state above the state.”
The powerful Army, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 70 plus years of existence, has hitherto wielded considerable power in the matters of security and foreign policy. Sharif, his daughter and party vice president Maryam and son-in-law Muhammad Safdar were convicted in the Avenfield properties case on July 6, 2018.
Sharif, who was deposed in 2017, was also sentenced to seven years in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills case in December 2018. But, he was bailed out in both cases and also allowed to go to London for medical treatment. He was given eight weeks to return but failed to come back due to health complications.
The Opposition is anticipating more arrests. The NAB has already issued a call up notice to JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman who is also leading the joint opposition’s campaign against the government in income beyond means case. Pakistan’s major opposition parties have demanded “immediate” resignation of Prime Minister Khan and planned countrywide protests next month to oust his government.