Islamabad: Former Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari was on Monday was arrested after his bail application was rejected in connection with a high-profile money laundering case that saw vast sums of money allegedly siphoned out of the country.
Zardari, the husband of assassinated ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, served as president from 2008 until 2013. He has long been the subject of corruption allegations.
Small scuffles erupted on Monday between police and supporters of Zardari’s opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) outside his family’s residence in Islamabad as he was taken into custody.
Local media channels reported that Zardari’s sister, Faryal Talpur, was also being investigated by the anti-corruption body, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
The former president and Talpur have always denied any wrongdoing linked to those cases, which have been described by the PPP as politically motivated.
“The government has no role in [the arrest],” Interior Minister Ejaz Shah told parliament, saying it was a court decision. “This is done by NAB. Our government has nothing to do with it.”
The charges in the latest case centre around allegations Zardari laundered millions of dollars through suspect bank accounts and companies.
Last year, Pakistani authorities discovered several accounts in the name of poor people that had been flooded with cash before being suddenly emptied. In September, Pakistan’s Supreme Court established a commission in September to investigate the case and found that at least $400m had passed through “thousands of false accounts”.
Zardari has repeatedly dismissed allegations he had a hand in the scheme, calling the government an instrument of the powerful military and labelling Prime Minister Imran Khan the army’s “blue-eyed boy”.
Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder, reporting from Islamabad, said “Zardari has been a controversial figure” in Pakistani politics.
“He earned himself the nickname of Mr Ten Percent because of all the money he was taking on the deals,” he said.
“The federal investigation agency came out with substantial evidence to suggest that Zardari and his party were indeed involved with [wrongdoing],” added Hyder.
“So the NAB is moving very fast after the court announced that it would not renew the pre-arrest bail.
“Of course it’s going to cause quite a stir in Pakistani politics because the political parties will be saying that this is political victimisation. But [Prime Minister] Imran Khan had already said he is really big on accountability and he wants to make sure that nobody escapes as far as accountability is concerned.”
After his arrest on Monday, Zardari was seen leaving his house in Islamabad with his son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the current leader of the PPP in which Zardari still wields vast influence.
During Zardari’s departure, PPP supporters chanted “Long live Bhutto”, in reference to one of South Asia’s most famed political dynasties that has ruled Pakistan on several occasions over the past five decades.
A former businessman and a polo-playing playboy in his younger days, Zardari swept to power in 2008 following a wave of sympathy following the murder of his wife, Benazir, a two-time premier, in a suicide attack.
The arrest comes as the economy continues to spiral and discontent simmers in Pakistan following repeated devaluations of the rupee, soaring inflation, and rising utility prices.
Khan, a longtime foe of Zardari, was elected prime minister last year after running a heated campaign vowing to crack down on corruption. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is also currently behind bars, after being sentenced to seven years in prison late last year on corruption charges.