Pakistan’s Former President Arrested in a Money Laundering Case

Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s for­mer pres­i­dent and cur­rent­ly a law­mak­er in Parliament, cen­ter, leav­ing the high court build­ing in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Monday. Credit B.K. Bangash/Associated Press 

A for­mer pres­i­dent of Pakistan was arrest­ed by anti­cor­rup­tion offi­cials on Monday in a mon­ey-laun­der­ing case after a high court reject­ed his request for bail, moves that his sup­port­ers called polit­i­cal­ly motivated.

The for­mer pres­i­dent, Asif Ali Zardari, the wid­ow­er of Benazir Bhutto, the for­mer prime min­is­ter who was assas­si­nat­ed in 2007, has been accused, along with his sis­ter, of own­ing a com­pa­ny that received sus­pi­cious trans­ac­tions through fake bank accounts.

He is cur­rent­ly a mem­ber of the nation­al assem­bly, and of the oppo­si­tion Pakistan People’s Party led by his son.

Members of Mr. Zardari’s par­ty say Prime Minister Imran Khan, who won the gen­er­al elec­tions last year on an anti­cor­rup­tion plat­form, is car­ry­ing out ret­ri­bu­tion against Mr. Zardari, and is going after lead­ing oppo­si­tion politi­cians to dis­tract atten­tion from his government’s dis­mal per­for­mance on the economy.

Government offi­cials denied Monday that they had any role in the arrest of Mr. Zardari, say­ing it was an inde­pen­dent deci­sion of the National Accountability Bureau, or N.A.B., an anti­cor­rup­tion watch­dog, after the court denied Mr. Zardari’s request for bail.

Mr. Khan’s gov­ern­ment is grap­pling with a huge debt cri­sis and recent­ly entered into a $6 bil­lion bailout pro­gram with the International Monetary Fund. On Tuesday, his gov­ern­ment will present the bud­get, which is wide­ly expect­ed to fur­ther bur­den a strug­gling pop­u­la­tion through increased tax­es and cuts in subsidies.

Arresting President Zardari dur­ing an inves­tiga­tive stage when he has been appear­ing respect­ful­ly before every court and N.A.B. office at every hear­ing smacks of polit­i­cal vendet­ta,” said Sherry Rehman, a sen­a­tor belong­ing to Mr. Zardari’s party.

He was nei­ther a flight risk nor an abscon­der from the court and had been dili­gent in his respons­es, so the arrest is designed to tar­get Imran Khan’s polit­i­cal oppo­nents,” Ms. Rehman said.

Supporters of Mr. Zardari clash­ing with the police as he was arrest­ed in Islamabad on Monday.CreditSohail ShahzadEPA, via Shutterstock

It is obvi­ous that this gov­ern­ment is floun­der­ing in the face of real gov­er­nance, and have lost their nerve in the eve of a cat­a­stroph­ic bud­get that they are about to present,” she said.

Mr. Zardari became pres­i­dent in 2008 for a five-year term. Before that, he spent 11 years in jail on cor­rup­tion and mur­der charges. He was nev­er con­vict­ed and has main­tained his innocence.

Mr. Zardari has a rep­u­ta­tion for adroit polit­i­cal maneu­ver­ing and back-room deals. But his career has been tar­nished with repeat­ed accu­sa­tions of corruption.

In the 1990s, dur­ing Ms. Bhutto’s first term as prime min­is­ter, Mr. Zardari, who was a fed­er­al min­is­ter in his wife’s gov­ern­ment, gained noto­ri­ety with the nick­name “Mr. 10 Percent,” a ref­er­ence to accu­sa­tions that he demand­ed a 10 per­cent share in dubi­ous gov­ern­ment deals.

Later, crit­ics and law-enforce­ment offi­cials say, he amassed enor­mous wealth through an elab­o­rate and exten­sive net­work of front­men and companies.

But his sup­port­ers cred­it Mr. Zardari with giv­ing more auton­o­my to the provinces dur­ing his time as pres­i­dent and giv­ing up the vast pow­ers the office of the pres­i­dent enjoyed, includ­ing the pow­er to dis­miss a gov­ern­ment. They say he has been vil­i­fied in an effort to dimin­ish his polit­i­cal successes.

On Monday evening, offi­cials from N.A.B. reached Mr. Zardari’s res­i­dence in F‑8, an upscale Islamabad neigh­bor­hood, hours after the high court decision.

Mr. Zardari was tak­en into cus­tody as his par­ty lead­ers and work­ers chant­ed slo­gans in his favor. Before get­ting into a black S.U.V., he hugged one of his two daugh­ters, Aseefa Bhutto Zardari, and his son and polit­i­cal heir, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who is the chair­man of the Pakistan People’s Party.

There will be a strong response by the par­ty, both inside and out­side Parliament,” Ms. Rehman, the sen­a­tor said, adding that the par­ty was in touch with oth­er oppo­si­tion polit­i­cal par­ties to start a street protest cam­paign against the government’s poli­cies. “The gov­ern­ment has cre­at­ed a per­fect storm for itself.”

A ver­sion of this arti­cle appears in print on June 11, 2019, on Page A8 of the New York edi­tion with the head­line: 

Pakistan’s Former President Is Held in Corruption Case. 

Author:  Salman Masood