Lahore: Pakistan's opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif was arrested by the country's anti-graft body on Friday for his alleged involvement in a housing scam, the latest setback to the embattled Sharif family.
Shahbaz, 67, is the younger brother of ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who is facing corruption charges in three cases.
"Shahbaz Sharif on Friday appeared before an investigation team of the National Accountability Bureau Lahore. He was arrested after he failed to satisfy the investigator for his alleged role in awarding contracts to his favourite firm in violations of rules in the Ashiana Housing scheme and Punjab Saaf Pani Company, NAB spokesperson Nawazish Ali Asim told PTI.
Shahbaz, President of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) will be presented before an accountability court for a physical remand on Saturday, he said. He will be kept in a highly-secured lock-up inside the NAB Lahore office until his appearance in court.
He was detained by NAB officials and his car was sent away. His private staff who accompanied him as security were also asked to leave, Dawn newspaper reported.
A heavy contingent of Rangers has been posted outside NAB Lahore, it said. Supporters of the PML-N have started gathering outside the bureau's office. The arrest comes a little over a week ahead of the by-polls scheduled for October 14.
Shahbaz, a former chief minister of Punjab province, was allegedly involved in the corruption of Rs 14 billion Ashiana Housing project and Rs 4 billion Punjab Saaf Pani Company scams.
This Saaf Pani Company was established by Shahbaz's previous Punjab government to conceive, plan, design, execute and manage projects for the provision of safe drinking water in terms of both access and quality, to communities living in rural areas of the province.
Shahbaz's son-in-law Ali Imran Yousuf is also facing corruption inquiries in this case. He has fled to the UK and the NAB has written to the interior ministry to bring him back from abroad through Interpol.
Shahbaz's son Hamza has also been probed by the NAB for presiding over the company's board of directors meetings many times to issue directions for award of contracts to favourite firms.
Shahbaz's close confidant Ahad Cheea and Sharif's principal secretary Fawad Hasan Fawad are already in the NAB's custody in the Ashiana housing scheme scam.
The Sharif family's advocate Amjad Pervaiz told reporters that Shahbaz is an opposition leader in the National Assembly and he cannot be arrested without the permission of the Speaker.
Reacting to Shahbaz's arrest, the PML-N said that arresting the Leader of the Opposition without seeking the permission of the NA speaker was "against the law".
A meeting of the PML-N parliamentary party condemned the arrest, saying: "The unfortunate precedent of using NAB against political opponents is being revived again."
"We strongly condemn the arrest of the party president by the NAB. It appears to be a political victimisation which should be stopped," PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Auranzeb said.
In July, Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar were sentenced to 11 years, eight years and one year, respectively, in prison in the Avenfield properties case related to the purchase of four luxury flats in London through corrupt practices.
But, the Islamabad High Court freed the trio on bail last month and suspended their sentence after they challenged the Avenfield verdict.
However, the 68-year-old Sharif is facing two more corruption cases filed by the NAB on the Supreme Court's order following the Panama Papers scandal.
The Panama Papers case is about alleged money laundering by Sharif in the 1990s when he twice served as Pakistan's prime minister to purchase assets in London.