ISLAMABAD - Pakistan placed a foreign travel ban Friday on former president Asif Ali Zardari, his son and political successor Bilawal Bhutto, and scores of other people facing massive money laundering charges.
Zardari, who rejects the allegations as politically-motivated, was president from 2008 until 2013 and he currently co-chairs with his son the opposition Pakistan People's Party ruling the southern Sindh province.
The travel restriction went into effect a day after the nation marked 11 years since Zardari’s wife, two-time prime minister Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated.
The list of 172 people barred from leaving Pakistan includes names of Zardari’s sister, Faryal Talpur, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah and other prominent politicians, public servants, lawmakers and bankers, as well as well-known businessmen.
The name of Malik Riaz Hussian, the billionaire chairman of the urban development enterprise, known as Bahria Town, is also included on what is officially known as the Exit Control List (ECL).
The government of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan says a recently concluded high-level anti-corruption investigation has found “solid documentary evidence” of how Zardari allegedly siphoned from the country hundreds of millions of dollars through fake bank accounts and companies.
The Joint Investigation Team (JIT), established by a court order in September, determined that hundreds of millions of dollars had passed through a network of fake accounts set up in severalmajor Pakistani banks using the names of impoverished people without their knowledge.
An ice-cream seller, who lives in a slum in Karachi, was shocked to learn from investigators in October that he was the owner of a bank account in the capital of Sindh for more than a year containing 2.3 billion rupees (about $1.7 million). The account is one of those linked to the network Zardari allegedly led to launder illicit money out of Pakistan.
Zardari has long been the subject of corruption allegations and he was widely known as “Mr. Ten Percent” when his slain spouse was ruling Pakistan. Bhutto was killed in a gun-and-bomb attack during an election rally in the garrison city of Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007.
Addressing a public rally Thursday in connection with his wife’s death anniversary in the southern city of Larkarna, the former president accused Khan of acting at the behest of the powerful military to victimize political opponents.
Khan came to power in July and fighting corruption was one of his key campaign pledges, blaming corruption for the current economic crisis facing Pakistan. He has vowed not to spare anyone involved in plundering national wealth.
The travel ban on Zardari and other suspects comes just days after former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was sentenced to seven years in prison for corruption, the latest in a long string of court cases against him.
Pakistan's Supreme Court disqualified Sharif from politics for life over graft allegations in 2017, forcing him to quit office. His political party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, lost the July election to Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).