A National Accountability Bureau (NAB) team left with parliamentary leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in the National Assembly, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, from Islamabad for Lahore after obtaining his transit remand from an Islamabad accountability court on Wednesday.
NAB arrested Asif on Tuesday night from outside the Islamabad residence of another senior PML-N leader, Ahsan Iqbal, where the former had come to attend a party meeting. Asif has been accused of accumulating assets beyond known sources of income.
He was presented before an accountability in Islamabad, where the judge asked NAB prosecutor Sohail Arif which court the PML-N stalwart would be tried in. The NAB prosecutor said Asif would be presented before the NAB court in Lahore.
At this, the counsel for Asif, Barrister Jahangir Khan Jadoon, contended that his client should be released as the case against him had no grounds. Jadoon said an inquiry against Asif had been initiated and then closed by the NAB’s Rawalpindi chapter in 2018, adding that in fact “a case could be registered against the NAB”.
He informed the court that the NAB had not provided him with arrest warrants, nor were the grounds for the arrest shared.Granting the NAB a transit remand of Asif, the court directed the anti-graft watchdog to provide Asif’s counsel the arrest warrant and grounds for the arrest.
PML-N leaders Marriyum Aurangzeb and Mohsin Shahnawaz Ranjha were allowed to meet Asif at the court.
Speaking to the media outside the court premises, Asif claimed efforts to create a rift within the PML-N were underway for the past two years and attempts were being made to weaken PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif.
The dramatic arrest of the firebrand opposition leader prompted a strong reaction from his party.
PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz, who was also present in the meeting at the residence of party’s secretary general Ahsan Iqbal, alleged that NAB had acted like a “terrorist” and “kidnapped” Asif in the darkness of night.
PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif, in a tweet, condemned the arrest and termed it a result of the “nexus between the selectors and the selected”.
“Such belittle acts reflect the government’s state of panic, but it is moving even closer to its end through such actions,” he wrote.
Addressing a press conference later in the day, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that Asif was called by the NAB several times to come and answer questions to “satisfy” the anti-graft watchdog.
“It seems that he was not able to satisfy [NAB]. He could not give satisfactory answers to allegations against him regarding money laundering and assets beyond means. If he gave the money trail and an explanation, then maybe it would not have come to the point of arrest.”
He also claimed that the opposition said it was “not interested in Financial Action Task Force-related legislation” unless NAB laws were also discussed.
Adviser on Parliamentary Affairs Dr Babar Awan, who addressed the presser alongside Qureshi, said he wanted to clarify the nature of an iqama (work permit) and what benefits were derived from it.
He was responding to PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz’s speech earlier today in which she said that the government should “have some shame because it sent an elected prime minister home on the basis of an iqama”.
“Iqama is a residency permit which two kinds of people take,” said Awan. He said one was taken by the people who bring pride to Pakistan and send the money of their hard work back as remittances which are “Pakistan’s biggest asset”.
He added that the second one was the “political iqama” which was used to facilitate money laundering.
“You get the permission to open foreign bank accounts,” said Awan. He also said that an added benefit of this kind of ‘iqama’ was that holders are not questioned about them “because they don’t count as Pakistani.”
He said that there was a propaganda campaign being run to show that there was nothing wrong with holding an ‘iqama’ but there was a clear difference between a “hard-working iqama” and a “political iqama”.
Charges against Asif
On Tuesday, presenting a detailed charge sheet against Asif, NAB said it was carrying out investigations against the PML-N leader under Clause 4 of the NAB Ordinance 1999 and Section 3 of the Anti-Money Laundering Act 2010.
“Before assuming the public office in 1991, the total worth of Khawaja Asif’s assets was Rs5.1 million which increased to Rs221m in 2018 after serving on different posts which do not match with his known sources of income,” says the statement.
“Accused Khawaja Asif claimed to have received Rs130m from a UAE firm M/s IMECO, but during the course of investigation, he failed to present any solid evidence of receiving this amount as a salary,” it said, adding: “This clearly shows that the accused tried to prove his income through fake sources.”
Moreover, NAB alleged that Asif was also running a benami firm ‘Tariq Mir and Company’ which was registered in the name of his employee. It said that an amount of Rs400m was deposited in the account of Tariq Mir and no sources of this huge amount were disclosed.