PML-N President and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif was arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Monday after the Lahore High Court rejected his bail plea in a money laundering case.
Shehbaz was taken into custody from the court's premises, where a large number of PML-N workers and supporters had gathered ahead of the hearing.
Last week, the LHC had extended the pre-arrest bail of Shehbaz, while arguments of his counsel were in progress and had directed him to conclude his arguments in the next hearing.
Reacting to Shehbaz's arrest, PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz, said in a tweet: "Make no mistake. Shehbaz Sharif has been arrested ONLY because he REFUSED to play in the hands of those who wanted to use him against his brother. He preferred standing behind prison bars than to stand against his brother."
In another tweet, Maryam said: "If there were accountability and justice in this country, it would not have been Shehbaz Sharif who was arrested but Asim Bajwa and his family."
PML-N information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb slammed the arrest, alleging it was political victimisation by the government.
“The entire nation has been handcuffed through Shehbaz’s arrest,” she said outside court, saying the arrest was a result of the “NAB-Niaz nexus”.
PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, in a statement, condemned Shehbaz's arrest and demanded his immediate release.
He said that Imran Khan was worried about the Pakistan Democratic Movement — an alliance formed by opposition parties — and was resorting to "dirty tactics".
"Sending notices and arresting opposition politicians is a sign of Imran Khan's worry," he added.
"The federal government should immediately release opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif. Imran Khan should stop using NAB for political revenge."
Meanwhile, Information Minister Shibli Faraz, while talking to a private news channel, said that the reference "should not be turned into a political case". He added that the decision had been taken by a court and was the result of the opposition leader's corruption.
Arguments in court
During today's proceedings, Shehbaz's legal counsel Azam Nazir Tarar said that the PML-N president's arrest at this stage of the case could not be justified and added: "NAB's dishonesty is apparent everywhere."
He said that Shehbaz was already facing two other references filed by NAB, arguing that the cases against the opposition leader were "fake".
"Local bodies elections are coming up, the government wants Shehbaz Sharif to go to jail," Tarar declared.
He further pointed out that though the copies of the reference had been provided, Shehbaz was yet to be indicted.
NAB's legal representative Faisal Bukhari said that "NAB had started the money laundering investigation after fulfilled all legal formalities". He further said that there were decisions by courts that dictate that arrests can take place after filing a reference.
The accountability watchdog's lawyer told the court that Shehbaz's assets between 2008-2018 had grown multifold. He further said that the opposition leader could not explain how he was able to buy four apartments abroad and had not shared when his business had started and its income.
Tarar told the court that the former Punjab chief minister had done a net saving of Rs81 billion in the Orange Line Train Project and Rs400 million in the taxi project. Collectively, Tarar said, Shehbaz had saved Rs1 trillion in net savings.
He further said that the PML-N president had never received any ta-da or salary.
Amjad Pervaiz, who was also representing Shehbaz in court, said that none of Shehbaz's children were his dependents, adding that in its judgement in the Panama Papers case, the Supreme Court had explained the matter.
He further said that Shehbaz's wife has been a filer since 2004, while his sons Salman Shehbaz and Hamza Shehbaz had been tax filers since 1996. The PML-N president's daughters Javeria Ali and Rabia Imran were also tax filers since 2007.
Pervaiz argued that in the 58-volume money laundering reference prepared by NAB, there was "not a single documentary evidence" against Shehbaz. The opposition leader had declared all of his assets, Pervaiz said and added that according to records of Federal Board of Revenue, Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan as well as other revenue departments, Shehbaz was not a benamidar.
The lawyer argued that there are four approvers in the case but none of them had recorded a statement against Shehbaz.
Shehbaz also spoke before the court and said that the allegation against him was "very painful and sad". He insisted that he had "not done corruption or taken a single rupee in kickbacks".
Money laundering case
The reference mainly accuses Shehbaz of being beneficiary of assets held in the name of his family members and benamidars who had no sources to acquire such assets. It says the suspects committed offences of corruption and corrupt practices as envisaged under the provisions of the National Accountability Ordinance 1999 and money laundering as delineated in the Anti-Money Laundering Act 2010.
A total of 20 people had been nominated in the reference, including four approvers Yasir Mushtaq, Muhammad Mushtaq, Shahid Rafiq and Aftab Mahmood.
The main suspects are Shehbaz’s wife Nusrat, his sons Hamza (leader of opposition in Punjab) and Suleman (absconder), and his daughters Rabia Imran and Javeria Ali.
According to NAB, Shehbaz accumulated assets worth Rs7,328mn — which are disproportionate to his known sources of income — "in connivance with his co-accused family members, benamidars, front persons and close associates [...] developed an organised system of money laundering".
The accountability watchdog further said that the accused in the case had "created fake/fictitious sources of income" in order to "justify the assets" which are beyond their known sources of income.
Shehbaz was arrested on Oct 5, 2018, in other cases — Ramzan Sugar Mills and Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme. He was in NAB's custody when the inquiry into assets was authorised on Oct 23, according to Shehbaz's bail petition.
With additional input from Ali Waqar.