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Prominent Critic Of Pakistani PM Arrested On Corruption Allegations

FILE: Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) leader Ahsan Iqbal is accused of corruption in relation to a sports-complex project.
FILE: Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) leader Ahsan Iqbal is accused of corruption in relation to a sports-complex project.

Ahsan Iqbal, a prominent member of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, was arrested on December 23 in Rawalpindi hours after publicly criticizing Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Pakistan's anti-graft National Accountability Bureau has accused Iqbal of corruption in the construction of a multibillion dollar sports complex in his constituency of Narowal, Punjab, in eastern Pakistan, according to local media.

Iqbal has denied the allegations.

PML-N spokeswoman Maryam Aurangzeb told reporters in Rawalpindi that the sports-complex project started in 2009 by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government was dead but that Iqbal had “revived” it.

She called his arrest “political victimization” and said he was detained “because he refused to stop criticizing Imran Khan.”

Iqbal, who served as interior minister in former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government, was arrested after being questioned by the National Accountability Bureau.

He earlier had publicly referred to Khan as the country's "biggest beggar" and accused the prime minister of failing to improve Pakistan's struggling economy despite receiving billions of dollars in loans from international organizations and other nations, according to AP.

Iqbal is one of several members of the largest opposition party to be arrested on corruption charges following the arrests of former Prime Minister Sharif; his daughter, Maryam Nawaz; and former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.

Nawaz Sharif in late November was allowed to leave the eastern city of Lahore to receive medical treatment in London.

The 69-year-old Sharif, who was sentenced earlier this year to 7 years in prison on corruption charges, was rushed from his cell to a hospital in Lahore on October 21 after his health deteriorated.

The Islamabad High Court on October 29 suspended his conviction for two months on medical grounds.

Prime Minister Khan, a former cricket star, campaigned in last year's election on promises to stamp out government corruption.

Khan's government in June arrested former President Asif Ali Zardari in connection with an alleged multimillion dollar money-laundering case. A court on December 11 ordered him to be released to seek medical treatment in the country of his choice.

Zardari is the widower of the country's assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Sharif’s and Zardari’s respective parties, longtime political rivals, have pressed for Khan’s resignation amid anger over the rising cost of living in the country.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani government has objected to the death sentence given to former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf by a special court, claiming that the right to a “fair trial” was not provided to the defendant.

The 76-year-old ex-strongman, convicted of treason for suspending the country's constitution in 2007, is now living in exile in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

With reporting by AP, Dawn, and The Tribune