Supporters of Pakistan's People's party protest the arrest of their leader Asif Ali Zardari, in Karachi, Pakistan, June 11, 2019. (FAREED KHAN / AP)
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan's prime minister vowed Tuesday to ensure that former president Asif Ali Zardari and ex-premier Nawaz Sharif are held accountable for wrongdoing, accusing them of being responsible for the financial crisis currently faced by the Islamic nation.
In a televised speech, Imran Khan said Pakistan's foreign debt increased dramatically during the two men's tenures. He said he will set up a high-powered body to investigate where foreign loan money obtained by Zardari and Sharif was spent.
Khan's comments came hours after his government presented its first budget proposal, which calls for additional taxes and increasing electricity and gas tariffs to meet International Monetary Fund conditions for receiving a US$6 billion bailout
"I will not spare them," he said. "I will go after them."
Sharif, who served as the country's premier three times, was ousted from office by the Supreme Court in 2017 because of the corruption charges against him. Sharif, along with other family members, has cases still pending against him.
Zardari, currently a member in the lower house of parliament, and his sister have been accused by the National Accountability Bureau of holding dozens of bogus bank accounts. They have denied any wrongdoing.
Khan's comments came hours after his government presented its first budget proposal, which calls for additional taxes and increasing electricity and gas tariffs to meet International Monetary Fund conditions for receiving a US$6 billion bailout.
His speech also came hours after a Pakistani court handed Zardari over to a national anti-graft body for questions regarding a multi-million-dollar money laundering case.
Asif Ali Zardari will be held for 10 days pending an investigation.
The court order came a day after Zardari was arrested after he and his sister's bail applications were denied. However, authorities did not arrest Faryal Talpur. No explanation was given.
Zardari's opposition Pakistan People's Party claims the charges against him are politically motivated, which the government denies. Several prominent politicians and businessmen have been swept up on corruption charges since Khan took office last year, after winning a narrow majority in parliamentary elections. Khan campaigned heavily on promises to root out graft among the country's elite.
Zardari, widower of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was president for five years, until 2013.
Pakistani police officers stand alert outside an accountability court as a vehicle carrying former President Asif Ali Zardari arrives, in Islamabad, Pakistan, June 11, 2019. (BK BANGASH / AP)
Zardari's Tuesday court hearing was held amid tight security, as his party's supporters held small rallies across the country to condemn the arrest. Zardari will appear in court again on June 21, when the anti-graft body is expected to press or drop charges.
Also on Tuesday, the anti-graft body arrested Hamza Shahbaz, a politician who is the son of opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif, after the rejection of his bail in a corruption case. He is also the nephew of Nawaz Sharif.
Sharif and Zardari are longtime political rivals but their parties recently joined together, vowing to launch a protest campaign against Khan's government over increasing inflation and a spike in prices of essential food items.
Meanwhile, police in London on Tuesday arrested Altaf Hussain, the self-exiled leader of the ethnic-based Muttahida Qaumi party. Pakistan has sought his arrest since a televised speech in August 2016 condemning the country's politically influential army, state-run media reported.
It was not immediately clear why British authorities detained Hussain. The London police said in a statement that an investigation was ongoing.
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