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• Dozens of PPP workers held; 16 hurt as police, party activists clash
• Fawad asks opposition party to apologise, alleging that activists were called to attack NAB office

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, along with his father former president Asif Ali Zardari, appeared before the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Wednesday for the first time to answer questions related to three cases, revitalising the opposition party’s street power.

A clash between police personnel and party workers was witnessed outside NAB headquarters, where the latter had gathered to receive Mr Bhutto-Zardari, his sister Aseefa and father Mr Zardari. The PPP claimed dozens of its workers were arrested and 10 suffered injuries due to police ‘highhandedness’, while the law enforcement agency said six of their personnel were injured during the clash.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari, addressing a press conference later, strongly condemned police ‘highhandedness’ and said he had not given any call to the party workers to turn up during his visit to the NAB headquarters. However, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the PPP leaders had called the party workers to “attack NAB headquarters”.

Mr Chaudhry said the PPP workers had injured six policemen in the attack, but the due process of accountability would not stop because of any pressure.

Earlier the PPP chairman arrived at the NAB office in the morning with his sister Aseefa and father. They were received by dozens of party workers.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari and Mr Zardari were later taken to separate rooms of NAB headquarters where they were questioned for two hours in the three cases by NAB’s Combined Investigation Team (CIT), which had been formed to investigate cases of fake bank accounts and money laundering. An official press release of NAB stated: “Member of National Assembly Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and former president Asif Ali Zardari appeared before NAB, Rawalpindi. Combined investigation team of NAB, headed by relevant DG, questioned both of them for two hours in three cases.

“The CIT handed over them a questionnaire and asked them to submit answer within 10 days. The CIT will review their answers today in light of questionnaire as per relevant laws. The CIT will decide about further summoning both accused in light of answers received,” it said, indicating that both leaders could be summoned again by NAB in the cases.

An insider said Mr Bhutto-Zardari told the investigators that he was less than one year old when he was made a shareholder of a company owned by Mr Zardari. He was then asked why he kept his status as 25 per cent shareholder till date.

Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, the spokesman for Mr Bhutto-Zardari, told Dawn that he had been summoned by NAB for an inquiry into the loan allegedly obtained by the Park Lane firm. He said Mr Bhutto-Zardari had become a minor shareholder of Park Lane Ltd when he was only one year old. He said Mr Zardari had resigned from the company’s directorship when he assumed the office of the president in 2008, while Mr Bhutto-Zardari had never served as a director.

As a shareholder, he added, Mr Bhutto-Zardari had no involvement in the day-to-day affairs of the company. “No public money was involved in the matter and it was a private loan given by a private bank to a private company and the loan had never been defaulted upon and that it had been obtained by a company named Parthenon which had a joint venture with Park Lane Limited,” he said.

After two-hours questioning, Mr Bhutto-Zardari wanted to talk to the media outside Nadra headquarters, but the local administration barred him from doing so due to “security concerns”.

Later, the PPP chief addressed a press conference along with other party leaders in Sector F-8. He said NAB formed a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) against him for being a minor shareholder of a company and spending money on breakfast. He questioned, “Why a JIT has not been made against leaders of banned outfits including Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan Ahsan Ullah Ahsan, why is there no JIT on terror financing and why is there no JIT on ‘benami prime minister’ and election rigging?”

He called the NAB ordinance a “black law” and admitted that the PPP government could not change the law that a dictator had introduced.

Criticising transfer of the cases from Karachi to Rawalpindi, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said Rawalpindi was always used against the Bhuttos, as former prime ministers Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto were killed in the city. The cases were shifted there to keep him in trouble, he added.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari said: “Our 30 political workers were arrested, release them or the PPP would take steps.”

Later in a video message, Mr Chaudhry said some 500 PPP workers had gathered outside NAB’s Rawalpindi office. Of them, he said, a few dozens had clashed with police, reportedly causing injuries to four policemen and two cameramen. He alleged that the PPP wanted to teach a lesson to those who had the attempted to summon them for interrogation, and called their supporters to attack them. He asked the PPP leadership to apologise over the incident.

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2019