A Pakistani court has formally charged former President Asif Ali Zardari in two corruption cases, while a provincial government has admitted a case of sedition against three-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and 40 others, including the premier of Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
The cases against these high-profile names come as Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party prepare for a large anti-government rally targeting Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Sharif’s PML-N is a leading member of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), launched last month as an alliance of opposition parties aimed at bringing down Khan’s government, which remains largely popular.
The PDM is set to hold its first public protest on October 16 in the central Pakistani city of Gujranwala, the movement announced on Monday.
The corruption cases against Zardari escalate the legal challenges facing the leading opposition member of parliament who served as president of Pakistan from 2008 to 2013, after Pakistan’s former military ruler Pervez Musharraf was forced to resign.
He is the widower of Benazir Bhutto, who served twice as prime minister before she was assassinated in 2007 in an attack that saw her shot at by a gunman who also detonated an explosive vest he was wearing.
Zardari was released on bail on medical grounds last December, six months after his arrest for corruption.
During Monday’s court appearance in the capital, Islamabad, Zardari pleaded not guilty to money laundering and other corruption charges. He later told reporters he was not surprised by the indictment and that he had been facing such charges for as long as he was in the opposition.
He is accused of having dozens of bogus bank accounts, a charge he denies, saying he has been politically victimised by Khan’s government.
Since coming to power, Khan has vowed to make good on his election campaign promise to eliminate corruption. His government says the corruption cases against Zardari began during Sharif’s tenure.