ISLAMABAD - PPP Co-chairman and former president Asif Ali Zardari was arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) after the Islamabad High Court rejected his pre-arrest bail petition in the money laundering case on Monday.

The court also rejected the bail plea of his sister Faryal Talpur in the same case, though she was not taken into custody by NAB as the bureau has not secured her arrest warrants from the accountability court.

Hours after his bail plea was rejected, Zardari surrendered before NAB at his Islamabad house, where his son and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and his daughter Aseefa Bhutto escorted their father to a black bulletproof vehicle of the accountability watchdog.

A heavy contingent of police was deployed near Zardari House to avoid any untoward incident and all the roads leading to Zardari House were sealed off.

Even then some PPP supporters managed to reach the place and engaged in minor scuffles with the police outside Zardari’s family residence as he was taken into custody by a 15-member NAB team, which was accompanied by police personnel.

The PPP leader was shifted to NAB office in Rawalpindi and kept in cell No. 2. He will be presented before the accountability court today [Tuesday] where the NAB will appeal for his remand.

Fake accounts case

Last year, authorities discovered several accounts in the name of poor people that had been flooded with cash and then suddenly emptied.

The Supreme Court established a commission in September to investigate the matter, finding that more than $400 million had passed through "thousands of false accounts".

According to the prosecution, a major account, titled M/s A One International, was fake and it received a sum of Rs4.4 billion out of which Rs30m was paid to the Zardari Group at two different times.

Zardari has repeatedly dismissed allegations he had a hand in the scheme. Always shrouded in controversy, the PPP leader was once jailed for 11 years over corruption charges. He stepped down from the president’s office in 2013, but has continued to serve as co-chairman of the PPP.

Court proceedings

Earlier in the day, the Islamabad High Court turned down bail petitions of Zardari and Faryal Talpur. A division bench of the IHC comprising Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani conducted the hearing of the petitions moved by PPP leaders.

“For the reasons to be recorded later, instant petition is dismissed and ad-interim bail granted to the petitioner vide order dated 28-3-2019 is recalled,” the IHC bench noted in its short order.

During the hearing, Additional Prosecutor for NAB Jahanzeb Bharwana opposed the bail to the PPP leaders saying that bail before arrest could be granted in NAB cases only in extraordinary circumstances.

In this matter, he argued, the petitioner has not provided grounds for such extraordinary circumstances. He added that bail could be granted if the case is facing pendency or the accused is suffering from acute kind of disease.

The NAB prosecutor argued that as per the standards set by the Supreme Court, bail cannot be granted in this case.

Zardari’s counsel Farooq H Naek stated that his client has no direct link to the fake bank accounts. He said that only the Zardari Group is alleged for receiving 15 million rupees from these banks while in the FIR and all other documents, it was stated that Omni Group had opened all these accounts.

Naek argued that the NAB chairman could not issue arrest warrants in this connection under section 26 of the NAB Ordinance and only the judge of the concerned court could issue his arrest warrants.

He said that mala fide intention of NAB is evident in this matter.

After hearing the arguments, the court reserved the verdict which was later announced and rejected the petitions.

Earlier, when Zardari arrived at the court for hearing, he was accompanied by his daughter Asifa. Security measures around the court were tightened prior to the former president’s arrival.

A total of nine applications were filed by the PPP leaders – seven by Zardari and two by Talpur.

In this matter, the NAB had already submitted its reply opposing bail to the former president. In its reply to the high court, NAB mentioned the reasons for its opposition to bail to Zardari saying that NAB was taking action against the former president within legal boundaries and investigation was underway against him in accordance with NAB ordinance.

“There is no statutory provision provided in the law whereby NAB is bound to inform or notice before arrest hence this petition is liable to be dismissed,” contended the Bureau.

Therefore, the bureau prayed to the court that petition of Zardari seeking bail may be dismissed in the interest of justice.

In their petitions, they prayed to the court to restrain the bureau from arresting them.

In the identical petitions, the former president stated that NAB had served a call-up notice on him to appear on March 20 before a combined investigation team to record his statement with respect to investigation into fake bank accounts.

He added that in order to safeguard himself from mala fide and illegal arrest at the hands of NAB and law enforcing agencies of the country and to enable him to surrender before the competent court of law, he had filed a constitutional petition before the Sindh High Court for protective bail. The SHC on March 19 approved protective bail for him for 10 ten days, he said.

Zardari said that he also appeared before the NAB team which after interrogating him for one hour handed him a questionnaire with the direction to submit reply to the same within ten days.

“At the moment the petitioner is not aware that how many cases are registered against him and how many call-up notices will be issued to him and /or references may be filed against him by the respondents. Till date three Call Up Notices have been issued by the respondents to the petitioner,” said the petition.

“There is every possibility that if petitioner appears before NAB authorities in connection with a Call Up Notice, he may be entangled and arrested in some other case,” the petitioner added.

The petitioner continued that he apprehend his arrest at the hands of the respondents on the basis of Call-Up Notices.

Therefore, Zardari requested the court to grant him bail before arrest and in the meanwhile, interim bail before arrest may be granted to the petitioner. He also prayed to the court to direct respondent NAB authorities to submit list of all cases against the petitioner.

Zardari was on interim bail for two months and twelve days, and since March 28, he got extended his bail five times. NAB is conducting investigations in pursuance of the Supreme Court’s verdict in the money laundering of billions through fake accounts case wherein it forwarded the Joint Investigation Team report with directions to investigate and file references.

Earlier, the case was heard in a banking court in Karachi but was shifted to an accountability court in Islamabad upon an appeal by the NAB.