Pakistan’s anti-graft agency has arrested the parliamentary leader of the opposition on corruption charges, after a court rejected a plea for bail, a move that his party says is linked to planned opposition protests against Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Shehbaz Sharif, a former chief minister of Punjab province and younger brother of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, was arrested outside the Lahore High Court, his lawyer Azam Nazir Tarar said.
The charges are linked to alleged money laundering to buy properties abroad, he added.
“I am disappointed,” Tarar told Reuters, adding that the arrest was a reaction to the opposition’s threat of nationwide protests calling for Khan to step down.
A large number of PML-N workers, who were at the court to support the former chief minister, chanted against the anti-graft watchdog and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led government.
Shortly after the arrest, a scuffle broke out between the security personnel and Sharif’s supporters.
“We are not scared of these arrests,” said Marriyum Aurangzeb, spokeswoman for Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N).
However, Information Minister Shibli Faraz said that courts are free to make their own decisions.
Shebhaz Sharif is one of several opposition leaders facing corruption charges and arrested by the anti-corruption watchdog, National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
Yesterday an anti-corruption court in Islamabad also indicted former president Asif Ali Zardari, husband of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, for suspected corruption, a prosecution official said.
He was arrested in June last year in a separate case and released on bail.
Opposition parties and civil rights groups have long accused the anti-graft agency of being used by the military for selected accountability, saying that it does not touch powerful generals or Prime Minister Khan’s ministers.
At a multi-party conference last week, nine major opposition parties denounced the military for allegedly meddling in politics and rigging the 2018 elections to bring Khan to power.
The military, which has ruled for half of Pakistan’s history since its independence from Britain in 1947, denies interfering in politics or election wrongdoing.
“If justice had prevailed, retired general Asim Bajwa would have been arrested,” Maryam Nawaz, daughter of former prime minister Nawaz, told a news conference after her uncle’s arrest.
She also confirmed her uncle’s arrest on Twitter.
“Sharif has been arrested ONLY because he REFUSED to play in the hands of those who wanted to use him against his brother. He preferred standing behind prison bars than to stand against his brother,” she tweeted.
Bajwa, who oversees the $65bn China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and is also an adviser to Prime Minister Khan, was recently embroiled in controversy following a news report that alleged he had amassed assets worth millions of dollars beyond his means.
He has publicly denied the allegations.
In December last year, the NAB issued orders to freeze 23 properties owned by Sharif and his sons, Hamza and Suleman, over claims that they had acquired assets beyond their known sources of income and committed money-laundering.
According to the NAB, an investigation against Sharif, Hamza, Suleman, and others had revealed that the PML-N president had acquired properties in the name of his wives Nusrat and Tehmina Durrani.
Among the frozen properties were nine plots in Lahore’s Johar Town, four in Judicial Colony, two houses in Model Town, and some others in the Defence Housing Authority (DHA).
Moreover, the anti-corruption body had also frozen a cottage and a villa in Pir Sohawa, as well as two plots in Chiniot.
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