by Tariq Butt
ISLAMABAD: Former President and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari has gone behind bars after 15 years.
Previously, after eight-year long imprisonment, Zardari was released in November 2004 after the Supreme Court had granted him bail. He had been incarcerated on alleged corruption charges on Nov 4, 1996, a day before the dismissal of the second Benazir Bhutto government by then President Farooq Leghari. He had turned out to be the longest serving top politician prisoner.
“Bail is allowed subject to furnishing of surety bonds of Rs1 million before the trial court. The situation reflects that Zardari was arrested in the BMW reference after the National Accountability Bureau [NAB] realized that he had been bailed out in other corruption references,” a three-member bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice Nazim Hussain Siddiqui and comprising Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar and Justice Shakirullah had stated in its short order.
The same day, accountability court judge in Rawalpindi Muhammad Aslam Khan had issued release orders of Zardari after accepting surety bond of Rs1 million submitted by PPP leader Raja Pervez Ashraf.
It was reported that the bail orders were brought to the accountability court by a special messenger of the Supreme Court. They were received by the accountability court reader, who then informed the judge at his residence about it. The judge asked his staff to complete the documentation and bring it to his house along with the surety bond where he signed the release orders in the evening.
After his release, Zardari had departed for New York where he stayed for the next few years, largely detaching himself from active politics. Benazir Bhutto also happened to be abroad at the time.
Zardari had returned to Pakistan on the day Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in a terrorist attack after she addressed an election campaign rally at the Liaquat Bagh Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007.
When the apex court had granted him bail, Zardari had been admitted to the Dr Ziauddin Hospital Karachi for treatment of spondylitis. The references filed by the NAB pending against him had included the assets case, Polo Ground case, Ursus Tractors case, ARY Gold case, Cotecna reference and the BMW car import case.
Before that the Rawalpindi bench of the Lahore High Court (LHC) had acquitted Zardari in the Pakistan Steel Mills case in which he had been awarded seven years imprisonment. He had also been awarded sentence in the SGS case but that too had been set aside by the apex court.
Meanwhile, Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur remained on bail for nearly ten months, which was granted by different courts during this period. For the first time on September 1, a banking court in Karachi had granted interim bail to the duo in a case relating to charges of money laundering through alleged fake bank accounts.
Earlier, Zardari had obtained a protective bail from the Islamabad High Court (IHC) in the case on August 18. The IHC had directed the former president to appear before the trial court by Sep 3. Along with his lawyer Farooq H Naek, the former president had appeared before the banking court and obtained an interim bail with a surety of Rs2 million.
Before the grant of protective bail by the IHC, the banking court had issued arrest warrants for Zardari and 15 others. The banking court kept extending the interim bail of Zardari and Faryal Talpur till March 15 this year. When the case was transferred to Islamabad on the directions of the Supreme Court, it also cancelled interim bail of the duo and 17 other suspects the same day.
Following the verdict, the NAB issued notices to Zardari and his son Bilawal summoning them to its Rawalpindi office on March 20. Since March, the IHC, which was moved by the brother and sister, kept extending their bails till Monday when a two-member bench finally refused further extension.
Another important factor of the saga is that the case was originally investigated by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). However, it was shifted to the NAB on the apex court orders. The case was initially registered in 2015 against former Pakistan Stock Exchange chairman Hussain Lawai, who is believed to be close to former president Zardari, after the State Bank of Pakistan noticed some suspicious transactions.
Subsequently, seven individuals, including Zardari and Faryal Talpur, were alleged to have been found involved in using these accounts for dubious transactions which totaled Rs35 billion. The accounts were allegedly used to channel funds received through kickbacks.
Later, Lawai and banker Taha Raza were detained and booked for allegedly facilitating the opening of 29 ‘fake’ accounts through which suspicious transactions were made to different companies, including Zardari Group. More than once, Zardari and Talpur appeared before the FIA and NAB investigation teams, answering a plethora of questions. Bilawal also once appeared before the NAB.courtesy The News