Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan has been arrested from his residence in Lahore after he was handed a three-year prison sentence in a corruption case.
After convicting Khan, the Islamabad court issued an arrest warrant which says he is to serve his sentence in the Rawalpindi central jail in Pakistan’s Punjab province, with police in Lahore quickly moving to take him from his home.
The conviction, which was handed down in absentia, bans Khan from political office for the next five years.
Pakistan has seen its share of former prime ministers arrested over the years and interventions by its powerful military, with Khan, a former international cricket star, being the seventh former prime minister to be arrested.
No prime minister in Pakistan’s history has managed to complete their five-year tenure, as mandated by the country’s constitution.
This is his second arrest this year after he was detained last May by Pakistan’s anti-corruption agency in connection with another case. Khan denied wrongdoing and was released on bail within days.
But that did not stop the massive protests that broke out after Khan’s first arrest, after which thousands of workers from Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and their leaders were detained by authorities.
Many of them will be sent to trial in the military court on charges of attacking military installations and monuments, a decision which has earned the ire of rights groups.
What is the corruption case about?
Khan is accused by the election commission of misusing his 2018-2022 premiership to unlawfully buy and sell gifts in state possession that were received during visits abroad that are worth more than 140 million Pakistani rupees ($500,000).
Known as the asset concealment case, or Toshakhana, the gifts allegedly included watches given by a royal family, according to government officials, who have alleged previously that Khan’s aides sold them in Dubai.
The gifts allegedly include seven watches, six of them Rolexes. The most expensive was a “Master Graff limited edition” valued at 85 million rupees ($300,000), according to a list shared by Pakistan’s information minister.
Toshakhana, or treasure house, is a government-owned department that keeps gifts received by members of parliament, ministers, foreign secretaries, presidents and prime ministers.
How did Imran Khan respond to the charges?
Khan has maintained that he had legally purchased the items, and has denied wrongdoing.
In a pre-recorded message released after his arrest on Saturday, the former prime minister urged his followers to remain calm and to carry out peaceful protests.
“My arrest was expected & I recorded this message before my arrest … I want my party workers to remain peaceful, steadfast and strong,” he said in a video statement posted to social media.
How many cases have been brought against Khan?
Since his removal from power in a no-confidence vote in the parliament in April 2022, Khan has been slapped with more than 150 legal cases, including several on charges of corruption, terrorism and inciting people to violence over deadly protests in May that saw his followers attack government and military property across the country.
He has appeared in court for numerous cases in both Lahore and Islamabad, and long warned that he would be arrested to prevent him from participating in elections that are due to be held before the end of the year.
What is the government saying?
Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb denied Khan’s arrest had anything to do with the upcoming elections, and said he had been given every opportunity to defend himself against the asset concealment charges.
“Instead Imran Khan used the time to delay the court proceedings and went back and forth to the High Court and Supreme Court to halt this case,” she said.
Aurangzeb added that Khan has been “proven guilty of illegal practices, corruption, concealing assets and wrongly declaring wealth in tax returns”.
Judge Humayun Dilawar wrote in this 30-page detailed verdict that Khan’s “dishonesty has been established beyond doubt”.
“He has been found guilty of corrupt practices by hiding the benefits he accrued from national exchequer willfully and intentionally,” Dilawar wrote in his ruling.
What happens next?
According to Khan’s arrest warrant, he will be sent to the central jail in the city of Rawalpindi in Pakistan’s Punjab province.
Khan’s legal team said they would be filing an immediate appeal.
“It’s important to mention there was no chance given to present witnesses, neither was time allotted to round up arguments,” a member of the team said.
Khan’s PTI party said in a statement they had already filed another appeal to the Supreme Court earlier on Saturday.