Zardari arrested over graft charges
ISLAMABAD, June 10: Former Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari was arrested Monday after his bail application was rejected in connection with a high-profile money laundering case that saw millions allegedly siphoned out of the country.
Zardari, husband of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, 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 Percent".
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 US$400 million had passed through "thousands of false accounts".
Zardari has repeatedly dismissed allegations he had a hand in the scheme, calling the government an instrument of the powerful military and labelling Prime Minister Imran Khan the army's "blue-eyed boy".
Never popular and always shrouded in controversy, Zardari -- who was once jailed for 11 years for corruption -- stepped down from the president's office in 2013. But he has continued to serve as co-chairman of the opposition PPP.
The 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, a longtime foe of Zardari, was elected prime minister last year after running a heated campaign vowing to crackdown on corruption.
Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is also currently behind bars, after being sentenced to seven years in prison late last year on corruption charges.
Meanwhile, the PPP has called a consultative meeting to discuss the future legal options of Zardari and Talpur. According to sources, Zardari has called his legal team to the meeting to deliberate on whether to challenge the IHC judgement in the SC.
The spokesperson for PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, 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.
Earlier, when Zardari arrived at the court for the hearing, he was accompanied by his daughter Aseefa. Security measures around the court were tightened prior to the former president's arrival.
Additional Prosecutor for National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Jahanzeb Bharwana assisted the two-member bench comprising Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani
"Let a bail hearing remain just that, do not turn it into a trial hearing," Justice Farooq said while telling the NAB lawyer to only mention any details missed during arguments rather than recapping the whole case.
The NAB prosecutor argued that as per the standards set by the Supreme Court, bail cannot be granted in this case.
PPP workers gathered close to the court as prisoner vans were also brought to the site.
PPP workers in Punjab have already planned a protest in case Zardari is arrested. The party planned blockade of all major roads of the Punjab capital by arranging workers' protests there in case of arrest of the party's co-chairman.
A PPP worker, Azizur Rehman Chan, said that the protest would be "vigorous" as committees had been formed and duties assigned for each protest point.
Faisal Mir, another PPP leader, said that if Prime Minister Imran Khan managed to get Zardari arrested through the NAB, he would be laying the foundation for the removal of his government.
A NAB officer investigating the fake bank accounts case had informed an IHC division bench last month that the investigation team of the case had sought approval from the NAB chairman for the arrest of Zardari and his sister. -AFP