Dawn – Zardari arrested by NAB team after Islamabad High Court rejects bail plea; Bilawal appeals for calm

A 15-member team of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), accompanied by police personnel, arrested PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari from his residence in Islamabad on Monday.

Nadir Guramani – Inamullah Khattak – Naveed Siddiqui

Islamabad Capital Teritory – Pakistan, 10 June 2019. A number of party workers and Zardari’s children Bilawal and Aseefa saw him off as the former president was driven away in a black Landcruiser. He is being taken to the NAB Rawalpindi office.

The arrest comes hours after the Islamabad High Court rejected an application seeking extension in the pre-arrest bails of Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur in the fake accounts case.

Police personnel, including female officials, had entered the former president’s house after the court decision. All roads leading to the residence were blocked by police.

A two-member bench that had earlier reserved its verdict on their application announced the verbal order. Both Zardari and Talpur had left the court building before the verdict was announced.

The warrants for Zardari were apparently issued yesterday. No warrants have been issued for Talpur as yet, however.

The accountability watchdog had constituted two teams for the arrest of the former president, DawnNewsTV reported citing officials. One team was dispatched to Parliament House and another to Zardari House in Islamabad, officials said.

According to Geo News, NAB had informed the National Assembly through a letter that it was going to execute the warrants against Zardari issued by the NAB chairman.

Zardari and Talpur have the option of appealing the IHC judgment in the Supreme Court.

The case pertains to suspicious transactions worth Rs 4.4 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 Rs 4.4bn out of which Rs 30m was paid to the Zardari Group at two different times.

PPP’s reaction

Soon after the verdict, the PPP called a consultative meeting to discuss the future legal options of Zardari and Talpur. According to sources, Zardari had called his legal team to the meeting to deliberate on whether to challenge the IHC judgement in the SC.

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari urged party workers to remain calm. “The people have never accepted controversial court verdicts,” he was quoted as saying.

“The PPP believes in the rule of law despite biased court decisions.”

The PPP Karachi division asked party leaders and workers to show up at the Karachi Press Club in the evening to protest what it called the “oppressive machinations of this selected incapable government”. It termed the court decision a part of the government’s alleged policy of “political victimisation in the name of accountability”.

Bail proceedings

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.

The fake accounts saga

In 2015, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had launched a probe into fake accounts and fictitious transactions conducted through 29 ‘benami’ 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 took a suo motu notice on the delay in the FIA probe into the case. The SC also 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.

The accountability watchdog and the FIA allege that an account titled M/s A One International was fake and it received a sum of Rs4.4 billion out of which Rs30 million were paid to the Zardari Group at two different times.

The FIA had filed the case before a banking court in Karachi which had issued an arrest warrant for Zardari. Subsequently, the PPP leader had obtained protective/transitory bail from the IHC on August 18, 2018. Later, the case was shifted from the accountability in Karachi to an accountability court in Islamabad as the investigators accused the PPP of influencing the case.

During the course of the investigation, on April 8, two accused in the case, Kiran Aman and Noreen Sultan, became approvers against Zardari and Talpur.

Several close friends of Zardari had 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.

With additional reporting by Imtiaz Mugheri in Karachi and Umer Farooq in Lahore.