FILE - In this Saturday, July 14, 2018, file photo, Shahbaz Sharif, opposition leader and president of Pakistan Muslims League-N party gestures during press conference, in Lahore, Pakistan. Pakistan's anti-graft body says Friday, Oct. 5, 2018 it has arrested the country's opposition leader over his alleged links to a housing scam. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

Pakistan's anti-graft body arrests opposition leader

October 05, 2018 - 7:14 am

LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan's anti-graft body announced on Friday that it had arrested the country's opposition leader, Shahbaz Sharif, over his alleged links to a multi-million dollar housing scam.

It was the first high-profile arrest in a corruption case since former cricket star Imran Khan became prime minister following July's elections. He ran on a "new Pakistan" platform, vowing to rid the country of corruption.

The National Accountability Bureau in a statement Friday said it arrested Sharif after questioning him for several hours at its office in Lahore, the capital of the eastern province of Punjab.

Sharif is accused of abuse of power during his tenure as the chief minister of Punjab from 2013 to 2018 by influencing authorities to award contracts for a government-run housing program for low-income citizens to a company with which he had political connections.

The arrest drew condemnation from Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League party, which said the government was targeting Sharif for political reasons.

Malik Mohammad Ahmed, a spokesman for Sharif, said their leader was not involved in any wrongdoing.

"We will prove that allegations against Shahbaz Sharif are baseless," he said.

However, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said there was "solid evidence" against Sharif.

Hours after Sharif's arrest, dozens of his supporters rallied outside the offices of the National Accountability Bureau, where Sharif was being held. Authorities will present him before a court on Saturday to obtain formal permission to question Sharif for two weeks.

Sharif is the younger brother of former premier Nawaz Sharif who was disqualified from his position in 2017 over corruption charges. He is the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly.

Friday's arrest came months after authorities arrested two key former officials in connection with the same alleged scam. It is believed that Sharif's arrest was made in the light of their statements against him, despite Sharif having earlier said he did not award contracts to his political allies.