ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A former President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, was indicted on Monday in a money laundering case. The most recent legal lawsuit against him and one his supporters claim to be part of a broader trend against politicians against Prime Minister Imran Khan
Mr. Zardari is the widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was murdered in 2007. He was President from 2008 to 2013 and is currently a Member of Parliament. He is also facing a number of legal proceedings.
He was arrested by anti-corruption officials in a separate money laundering case in June 2019 and released on bail on medical grounds in December.
Mr. Zardari’s sister, Faryal Talpur, and 13 others were also charged during Monday’s trial. Mr. Zardari and his sister denied the charges.
The charges against Mr. Zardari relate to money laundering through suspicious bank accounts and companies.
He and other opposition politicians have accused the Khan government of political victimization. Mr Khan, who won the 2018 election on a strong anti-corruption platform, denies the allegation. However, critics say that in consultation with the powerful Pakistani military, Mr Khan’s government is targeting the opposition under the guise of accountability.
When asked by court reporters for his comments on the indictment on Monday, Mr. Zardari responded with a verse in Urdu: “We have gone through such points before.”
Before Mr. Zardari became president in 2008, he spent 11 years in prison for corruption and murder. He was never convicted and kept his innocence, but allegations of corruption have followed him in his political career. The former president remains active in politics and his son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairs the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party.
Another high-ranking figure from the Pakistan Peoples Party, Chaudhry Manzoor Ahmed, said in an interview that the indictment was a routine process in legal proceedings and that the real problem was a lack of evidence. “Where is the evidence?” he said. “There is no evidence against Mr. Zardari.”
“He spent several years in prison on charges,” added Ahmed. “So it’s not for him. But for us the biggest worry is his ill health. “
Ahmed said the government had been increasing pressure on opposition parties since September 20 following a meeting of opposition groups calling, among other things, to end military interference in Pakistani politics. Opposition parties have also warned of nationwide protests against the Khan government and the military over the next month.
“These lawsuits are the usual tactic to intimidate and threaten the political leadership,” said Ahmed. “But we don’t mind such tactics.”
Also on Monday, anti-corruption officials arrested parliamentary opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif, president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, after a supreme court refused bail on a money laundering case in the eastern city of Lahore.
Mr Sharif is the younger brother of ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is in London for medical treatment.
The arrest was widely expected; Mr Sharif, who has served as Prime Minister of Punjab Province, said last week that Mr Khan, the Prime Minister, wanted to see him behind bars in person.
Marriyum Aurangzeb, spokeswoman for the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, said on Monday: “Shehbaz Sharif was arrested on orders from Prime Minister Imran Khan.”
She said the arrest was politically motivated.