The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Karachi on Wednesday arrested Speaker Sindh Assembly Agha Siraj Durrani from a hotel in Islamabad, DawnNewsTV reported citing officials from within the bureau.
The arrested speaker has left Islamabad and is enroute to Karachi, in the custody of three NAB officials.
According to NAB officials, Durrani faces an inquiry for accumulating assets beyond his known sources of income as well as allegations that he had embezzled public funds.
NAB officials told DawnNewsTV that the bureau waited for Durrani to leave Sindh before making the arrest as Durrani is escorted by his sizable security team in his home province and the bureau feared a confrontation would turn violent.
The officials further said that the reason NAB arrests personnel who hold important offices is because they otherwise use their position to influence government officers.
The corruption watchdog's Karachi chapter collaborated with NAB Rawalpindi and the intelligence wing of NAB headquarters to ensure Durrani's arrest.
NAB was to produce the detained Sindh Assembly speaker in court tomorrow (Thursday) to secure his remand, according to a press release.
However, later in the day, it approached an accountability court in Islamabad to seek seven-day transit remand. Accountability Judge Muhammad Bashir granted the bureau three-day transit remand instead, with instructions to produce him in the relevant court in Karachi within three days.
Durrani will likely be presented before the court concerned on Thursday, according to officials.
Following his arrest, the anti-graft body also conducted a search of Durrani’s house on Wednesday night located in Karachi's Defence Housing Authority area after getting a ‘proper search warrant’ from the magistrate concerned, NAB Karachi spokesperson, Rizwan Soomro told Dawn.
Meanwhile, after an emergency cabinet meeting chaired by Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, which declared Durrani’s arrest as “illegal,” provincial ministers led by former chief minister Qaim Ali Shah rushed to the speaker’s home.
The ministers were not allowed to enter the home at which Qaim Ali Shah expressed his annoyance before the media questioning under which law they were prevented from meeting the speaker's the family members.
Shah also contended that at least the lady ministers, namely Shahla Raza and Azra Pechuho, should be allowed to go inside the home.
Energy minister, Imtiaz Shaikh, told the Rangers personnel standing outside the home that at least Durrani's lawyer should be allowed to enter the home, according to the chief minister’s spokesperson.
Shaikh claimed that the family members' movements have been “restricted” inside the home since Wednesday afternoon and wondered what sort of justice this was.
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari slammed the arrest, saying that his party would not allow the "benaami wazeer-e-azam" to establish a beywardi aamriat (dictatorship).
"Attack on [the] speaker of [a] federating unit is unacceptable. [An] undemocratic attempt to dislodge Sindh govt. Failed before will fail again. Independent institutions shouldnt unwittingly be part of political engineering," he said on Twitter.
PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari held a press conference at 3pm, and had asked his fellow PPP leaders to converge in the capital.
Last year in July, NAB had approved an inquiry against Durrani over various allegations of corruption.
NAB’s regional board had sanctioned three separate inquiries against the PPP leader: the first inquiry pertains to an allegation of accumulation of assets beyond known sources of income by Durrani; the second relates to 352 illegal appointments made by him; and the third pertains to embezzlement of funds for the construction of the MPA Hostel and construction of the new Sindh Assembly building, as well as in the appointment of project directors for the said projects.
Wahab unable to 'fathom logic, rationale and principles' of Durrani's arrest
Sindh chief minister's adviser Barrister Murtaza Wahab slammed NAB's decision to arrest Durrani, saying that he was unable to fathom the logic behind the move.
"I have to say this with regret that in Pakistan's history, this is the first instance of a sitting speaker of the [provincial] assembly has been taken into custody," he said. "I do not understand its logic, rationale and principles.
"Political people are always open to inquiries and investigations, but as a Pakistani citizen and as a political party, we are bound to ask this question: are there two different sets of laws in Pakistan? Is there a different law for PPP's leadership and a different one for the PTI and their allies?
"We had also condemned Aleem Khan's arrest because there is a simple law: a man is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. We asked if there was an indictment or if any court had ruled that any corruption was done. No! Till this day, there hasn't been any case in an accountability court against Agha Siraj Durrani. He has an inquiry against him — do that inquiry but if you usurp a citizen's fundamental rights like this then what message are you trying to convey?"
Wahab said that even if Durrani's arrest was unavoidable, then "why weren't Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, Asad Qaiser, Prime Minister Imran Khan and Pervez Khattak also arrested? NAB even filed a reference against Babar Awan and took the matter to the court ... was he arrested?
"Aren't there inquiries against them as well?" he asked. "Don't form this perception that we are against accountability, but we say that accountability should be across the board.
"If we are being discriminated against, then the respectable courts should take note of this," he added.
When asked if the speaker has immunity, Wahab pointed towards Section 248, and said that Durrani's production orders will be issued whenever there is a session of the Sindh Assembly.
With additional reporting by Tahir Naseer in Rawalpindi.