Pakistan Opposition Leader Is Arrested on Corruption Charges

Pakistan Opposition Leader Is Arrested on Corruption Charges


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The opposition leader in the Pakistani parliament, who is also the younger brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was arrested on Friday by anticorruption authorities, officials said.

Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif, the leader of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, was arrested by officials of the National Accountability Bureau in the eastern city of Lahore and will appear in court on Saturday, officials said. He is accused of corruption in a low-cost housing scheme that was introduced in Punjab during his time as chief minister in the province.

The arrest is the latest setback for the Sharif family, which has been dogged by allegations of widespread graft and malfeasance. This year, Nawaz Sharif and his daughter, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, were arrested and sent to prison over corruption-related charges. They were released on bail last month after a high court suspended their sentences.

Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif was made the standard-bearer of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz by his elder brother in July 2017, and he was officially elected party leader in March. The courts have disqualified Nawaz Sharif from heading a political party or holding public office.

The younger Sharif had developed a reputation for his administrative skills and for overseeing several high-profile infrastructure projects. However, he has also been the focus of several corruption investigations.

Both brothers deny the graft allegations, characterizing the claims as politically motivated, and Nawaz Sharif has accused the country’s powerful military of pushing the investigations. The former prime minister’s contentious relationship with the armed forces began shortly after he took office in 2013.

The military, which has ruled Pakistan through various coups for about half of the country’s history, denies any political involvement.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, who came to power in general elections in July, made fighting corruption a centerpiece of his campaign and promised ruthless accountability. Mr. Khan has accused Mr. Sharif, the former prime minister, of running a “criminal syndicate,” and he holds the Sharif family to blame for the country’s abysmal economic condition.

“Those people who have looted the country, I promise that they will be brought to justice,” Mr. Khan said in a speech soon after his election victory in August.

Allies of Mr. Khan welcomed Friday’s detention.

“This is the first arrest,” Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, the Pakistani information minister, said, according to state-run news media. “More arrests will follow.”

But members of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party condemned the development as political victimization.

“These tactics are not new,” the party said in a statement. “China and Turkey have praised Shehbaz Sharif for his work. But he has been arrested on trumped-up charges.”

The praise from Beijing is largely the result of Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif promoting the speedy completion of several infrastructure projects with Chinese companies in Punjab.

The timing of the arrest is significant because it comes before by-elections for 11 parliamentary seats and 19 provincial assembly seats on Oct. 14. The results are seen as a litmus test of the elder Mr. Sharif’s enduring popularity and will also offer an early appraisal of Mr. Khan’s new government.



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