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Watershed moment in politics: Shahbaz arrested, Zardari indicted

Top Story

September 29, 2020

Watershed moment in politics: Shahbaz arrested, Zardari indicted

LAHORE/ISLAMABAD: The country witnessed a political upheaval on Monday with the indictment and arrest of the top leaders of two big political parties – the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan People’s Party – setting off a storm of criticism and mud-slinging of the ruling party.

The development came ahead of the planned protests next month by the opposition parties to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Monday arrested Shahbaz Sharif in a money-laundering and assets beyond means case after the Lahore High Court (LHC) declined to confirm his interim pre-arrest bail.

A NAB team arrested him from the courtroom and took him to the NAB Lahore headquarters amid tight security. A large number of the PML-N supporters chanted slogans against the NAB and the government and clashed with the police.

A two-judge bench – comprising Justice Sardar Ahmad Naeem and Justice Farooq Haider – dismissed the petition as withdrawn. Shahbaz Sharif’s legal team sought permission to withdraw the petition, which was granted.

During the hearing, Shahbaz’s counsel, Azam Nazir Tarar, argued that the government wants Shahbaz Sharif to go to jail as the local bodies elections are coming up. Advocate Amjad Pervez argued that a 58-volume reference was filed but no substantial documentary evidence was available to establish the charges against Shahbaz. He said there was nothing except for the opinion of the investigation officer (IO) in the reference. He added that Shahbaz was answerable for his own doings, and not for his children’s.

NAB Special Prosecutor Faisal Raza Bukhari told the court that Shahbaz’s arrest was required because he was to be interrogated in the money-laundering case.

He said Shahbaz, in connivance with his co-accused family members, ‘Benamidars’, front persons, close associates and money changers developed and organised a system of money laundering for accumulating assets disproportionate to the known sources of income to the tune of Rs7,328 million.

He said after becoming chief minister, Shahbaz's assets grew 22 times in 10 years between 2008 and 2018 grew and his family acquired assets worth Rs7,328 million. He said the opposition leader could not explain how he was able to buy four apartments [London flats] abroad.

Tarar told the court that the former Punjab chief minister had done a net saving of Rs81 billion in the Orange Line Train Project and Rs400 million in the taxi project. Collectively, Tarar said, Shahbaz saved Rs1 trillion in net savings.

After hearing the arguments, the bench reserved its verdict and announced the same after few minutes. Shahbaz also spoke before the court and said the allegation against him was "very painful and sad". He insisted that he had "not done corruption or taken a single rupee in kickbacks".

According to NAB sources, medical check-up of the PML-N president was conducted before his shifting to the Lahore Bureau offices. He would be presented before an accountability court on Tuesday (today) to seek his physical remand for investigation from him. Meanwhile, an accountability court Monday indicted former president Asif Ali Zardari, his sister Faryal Talpur and other accused in the money laundering reference.

Judge Azam Khan conducted hearing into the three corruption references. Zardari, Faryal Talpur, Abdul Ghani Majeed, Taha Raza, Hussain Lawai, Arif Khan, Muhammad Umair, Mustafa Zulqernain, Khawaja Suleman, Imran Khan, Muhammad Aurangzeb, Bilal Sheikh and Adeel appeared before the court. Omni Group's head Khawaja Anwar Majeed attended the proceeding through the video link. The judge read out the charge sheet but the accused denied all the allegations. The NAB had submitted a list of 69 witnesses in this reference.

The court expressed displeasure over absence of four accused in Park Lane Company and Thatha Water Supply Scheme reference and remarked that all accused had been directed to ensure their attendances on this day.