Pakistan's anti-graft body on Monday arrested former President Asif Ali Zardari, widower of assassinated ex-Premier Benazir Bhutto, in a multi-million dollar money laundering case that has shaken the country. The development came hours after a court in Islamabad rejected a request by Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur for an extension of their bail that would have allow them to remain free pending trial in the case, report agencies.
The court's decision paved the way for the National Accountability Bureau to arrest the two. However, the anti-graft body did not arrest Zardari's sister; no explanation was given. Zardari, a lawmaker in the lower house of Parliament, and his sister, also a politician, have been accused of having dozens of bogus bank accounts. Earlier on Monday, the two attended the court hearing amid tight security where their bail extensions were denied.
Zardari, who appeared calm when officers came to his home shortly afterward to take him, speeding away in a convoy of vehicles, "did not resist arrest," said former Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, a senior leader of Zardari's party. TV footage showed Zardari hugging his tearful daughter Aseefa Bhutto Zardari before officers took him to the Islamabad office of the anti-graft body which will arraign him before a judge on Tuesday.
Supporters of Zardari, whose Pakistan People's Party has urged calm, blocked key roads and clashed with police in various parts of the country, disrupting normal traffic. Zardari has previously been jailed for eight years after being found guilty of corruption. His party at the time also said the charges against him were politically motivated.
In recent weeks, the party had accused Prime Minister Imran Khan's government of intentionally targeting political opponents. "This is political victimization," said Shazia Marri, a lawmaker from Zardari's party. The anti-graft body has arrested several politicians and businessmen on corruption charges since Khan took office last year after winning a narrow majority in parliamentary elections.
Khan's predecessor, Nawaz Sharif who was removed from office by the Supreme Court over corruption allegations, is currently in prison in the eastern city of Lahore after being sentenced to seven years in a corruption case. Sharif and Zardari are longtime political rivals but their parties recently joined together, vowing to launch a protest campaign against Khan's government over increasing inflation and a spike in prices of essential food items.
Zardari became president in 2008 after Pakistan's former military dictator Pervez Musharraf was forced to resign. Zardari's wife Benazir Bhutto served twice as a prime minister before being killed by the Taliban in 2007. The Bhutto family has been dogged by tragedy. The party's founder, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was ousted in a military coup and hanged by dictator Gen. Ziaul Haq. Both his sons were killed by unknown
assailants. Benazir Bhutto's only surviving sibling, her sister Sanam, lives in Britain and has stayed out of politics. Zardari served as Pakistan's president for five years, until 2013.