ISLAMABAD - Anti-corruption officials in Pakistan have arrested former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi for allegedly evading an ongoing investigation into corruption charges against him.
The former Pakistani leader is the latest in a series of high-profile opposition politicians targeted under the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan who accuses his predecessors of corruption and stashing away billions of dollars to foreign bank accounts.
Abbasi together with several members of his opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) was on his way to address a news conference in the eastern city of Lahore on Thursday, when he was taken into custody by a team of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the state anti-corruption body.
Authorities later took the former prime minister to Islamabad, where he will appear before an anti-corruption court on Friday, said NAB officials. Abbasi served as prime minister from August 2017 to May 2018.
NAB officials explained that the arrest stemmed from a case related to the award of a major liquefied natural gas (LNG) import contract when Abbasi was serving as the federal minister for petroleum and natural resources. They said Abbasi had been repeatedly summoned for questioning sessions, including one on Thursday, but he did not appear.
The arrest came just weeks after the country's former president, Asif Ali Zardari, the head of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party, was arrested in connection of multiple cases of corruption and money laundering against him.
Abbasi's predecessor and party chief, Nawaz Sharif, is currently serving a seven-year jail term after he was convicted of corruption last year. Sharif's brother and the current party chief, Shahbaz Sharif, denounced Abbasi's arrest. He alleged in a statement that "the institution of NAB has become Imran Khan's puppet but such cheap tactics cannot waiver our resolve."
Opposition parties reject allegations against their leaders and dismiss the accountability campaign as politically motivated to divert public attention from struggling economy, soaring inflation and ballooning deficits. Khan's ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf party denies the charges.
Khan defeated the PML-N in last year's national elections, promising to crackdown on rampant corruption and improve the crisis-ridden national economy.
Khan's nearly year-old government has undertaken introducing austerity measures to expenditures and defending key economic reforms, aimed mostly at broadening the national tax base and increasing revenues.
The prime minister will travel to Washington next week for his first meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House, set for July 22.
Officials say Khan and his small delegation will fly by a private airline to Washington, where he will stay at the official residence of the Pakistani ambassador instead of using expensive luxury hotels like his predecessors did.