ISLAMABAD: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Wednesday arrested Sindh Assembly Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani in connection with corruption allegations.
The opposition termed the arrest “political victimisation” and lashed out at the anti-corruption watchdog, wondering why it was not arresting leaders of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) involved in white-collar crimes. Pakistan Peoples Party co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari hinted that the opposition might launch a movement against what he called arm-twisting of the opposition leaders through NAB. He also met the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief.
According to NAB officials, Mr Durrani faces an inquiry for accumulating assets beyond his known sources of income as well as allegations that he had embezzled public funds.
The Sindh Assembly speaker was reportedly arrested at a hotel in the capital. He was in the hotel for over two days and did not go out. NAB officials were waiting outside the hotel to arrest him. According to a spokesman for the anti-corruption watchdog, the Karachi NAB collaborated with the Rawalpindi NAB and intelligence wing of the NAB headquarters to ensure his arrest.
Opposition terms arrest political victimisation, asks why anti-graft watchdog is not detaining PTI leaders for corruption
NAB officials said the bureau waited for Mr Durrani to leave Sindh before making the arrest as he was escorted by his sizeable security team in his home province and the bureau feared a confrontation would turn violent.
However, Mr Durrani, while being taken to an accountability court for seeking his physical remand, told reporters that he had not been informed by NAB about the arrest.
NAB obtained a three-day transit remand of the PPP leader. The bureau had sought seven-day transit remand, but accountability court judge Mohammad Bashir allowed for three days and directed NAB to produce him before the relevant court in Karachi within three days. Later, Mr Durrani was taken to Karachi.
PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari condemned the arrest, saying his party would not allow the “benami wazeer-i-azam” to establish a “beywardi aamriat” (dictatorship).
In his tweet, Mr Bilawal said: “Attack on the speaker of a federating unit is unacceptable. An undemocratic attempt to dislodge Sindh government failed before [and] will fail again. Independent institutions should not unwittingly be part of political engineering.”
PPP co-chairman Zardari held a press conference in Islamabad and asked his party leaders to converge in the capital. He condemned the arrest of Mr Durrani and said: “No one can scare PPP through these arrests.” He said he and his sister Faryal Talpur could also be arrested in the days to come in the fake bank accounts case.
In July last year, NAB had approved an inquiry into allegations of corruption against Mr Durrani.
The NAB Karachi had sanctioned three separate inquiries against the PPP leader — alleged accumulation of assets beyond known sources of income, making 352 illegal appointments and embezzlement of public funds in the construction of MPA Hostel and new Sindh Assembly building, as well as appointment of project directors for these projects.
Besides the PPP chairman and co-chairman, the party’s information secretary Dr Nafisa Shah also criticised the arrest of Siraj Durrani.
She said the Sindh Assembly speaker had not only been arrested, but kidnapped in Islamabad. “NAB is overstepping its boundaries through such acts. What message is being sent to the people of Sindh by arresting their speaker?” she asked.
“Arresting the speaker is an insult to the provincial assembly. NAB is not investigating but committing a crime by arresting people without proper proceedings of the cases,” she regretted.
Ms Shah said “selected” Prime Minister Imran Khan had made NAB a tool for political blackmailing, adding that PTI cabinet members Pervez Khattak, Fehmida Mirza and Ali Zaidi were also involved in the cases being investigated by NAB. She asked why the PTI leaders were not being arrested.
“Accountability has always been a toy for dictators which they have used to hide their own crimes,” she added.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Rana Sanaullah termed Mr Durrani’s arrest “inappropriate” and said it would have been better had he been arrested on court orders.
Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2019