The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has arrested the former foreign minister and the acting Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, Khawaja Asif, in an assets beyond means and money laundering case from the federal capital on Tuesday evening.
In September, the anti-corruption watchdog had arrested Shehbaz Sharif, the PML-N president and the opposition leader in NA, on similar charges. The two high-profile arrests have left the lower house of parliament without the opposition leader twice in the last three months and increased the political volatility between the government and the opposition parties.
According to the graft buster, a team of NAB Lahore arrested the PML-N stalwart after he attended a meeting at party leader Ahsan Iqbal’s residence in Islamabad. Subsequently, NAB officials said that Asif will be produced before an accountability court in Islamabad for acquisition of transit remand for his production before an accountability court in Lahore.
NAB said that Asif has allegedly committed offences of corruption and corrupt practices as defined under Section (V) of the National Accountability Ordinance of 1999 and Section 3 of the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA), 2010, as “he accumulated assets disproportionate to his known sources of income and laundered the assets by concealing the origin and nature of assets”.
In a statement, the bureau maintained that Asif became a public office holder in 1991 as a member of Senate, and subsequently remained MNA and federal minister on various occasions. “Before holding public office in 1991, his net worth was Rs5.1 million, while after holding public office he acquired assets worth Rs221 million approximately (traced so far) till 2018, which are disproportionate to his known sources of income.”
The statement said that Asif claimed to have received Rs130 million approximately as salary income from an employment in the UAE with a company named M/S IMECO, however, “he failed to provide any documentary evidence for receipt of said salary which shows that a fake source of income was created by him to justify his alleged ill-gotten assets”.
In addition, the anti-corruption watchdog said that Asif has allegedly been “operating a benami firm Tariq Mir & Co in the name of his low-wage employee Tariq Mir, more than Rs400 million was deposited in cash in the bank account of Tariq Mir and Company without having any plausible source of funds.”
It said that his case of foreign employment as federal minister was subject matter in proceedings before the superior courts whereby it was held that there was no conflict of interest in holding private/foreign job.
However, the bureau said NAB’s inquiry was to ascertain whether his foreign job and source of income was genuine or otherwise. “Inquiry has revealed that during his so-called foreign employment, he was present in Pakistan, and the documents of employment were managed by him only to create a fake source of income in order to launder and whiten his unexplained funds,” the statement read. NAB said Asif could not provide documentary evidence of receipt of salary from the foreign employer.
Reacting to the bureau’s move, PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif condemned the arrest and termed it a part of “the nexus of the selectors and the selected”. In a tweet, Sharif said, “Such ham-fisted acts reflect the government’s state of panic, but they are moving even closer to their end through such actions.”
Sharif’s daughter and PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz alleged that Asif was “kidnapped” while denouncing his arrest. In a startling revelation, Maryam claimed that “someone” had called Asif and asked him to oppose Sharif’s narrative and announce that he disagreed with Sharif’s statements.
Without disclosing the name, the PML-N vice president said, “I am swearing that Khawaja Asif Sahib was asked to disagree with Nawaz Sharif's narrative.” He was assured that all the cases against him would be over in 15 to 20 days for doing so, she added.
Maryam said that Asif refused to do so and clearly told “someone” that he will not back down from Sharif’s narrative nor leave him alone. She urged the higher courts to go beyond the observations that they have given about the bureau in the past, saying that the nation was looking towards the courts and they expect justice to be served.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s (PDM) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman strongly condemned Asif’s arrest, saying it was a “cowardly act of NAB”.
The PDM chief said that NAB tactics will further strengthen the opposition movement, adding that NAB was a pawn being used to take revenge from the anti-government politicians.
Announcing that he “never recognised NAB”, Fazl said, “Revenge has always been taken in the name of accountability in Pakistan.”
In a statement, he said that the movement against the “illegitimate government” will continue till it is gone.
The political temperature is high since the opposition’s All Parties Conference in September where the former premier Nawaz Sharif had launched a scathing attack on Prime Minister Imran Khan by terming him a “selected PM” and calling out the people who allegedly brought him to power. Since then, the opposition upped its ante against the government and others.
As political instability continued amid a flurry of opposition events, PM Imran accused the opposition parties of following the agenda of India by maligning the armed forces of the country. Recently, PM Imran said that the leaders of opposition parties were well aware of the fact that he would not give an NRO to them, which is why they were putting pressure on Pakistan Army.
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