Pakistan agog over arrested top model
Pakistan's top model Ayaan Ali, whose pale gray eyes have stared out of innumerable ads in this Muslim country, now only struts before the cameras coming to and from court.
The 21-year-old, once the face of companies ranging from Calvin Klein clothing to Magnum ice cream, has become the topic of seemingly endless gossip and news reports since being caught in March with more than half a million in cash trying to fly to Dubai.
Since her arrest, rumours abound tying the model to powerful Pakistani businessmen and politicians, offering a new look into money laundering in this country of 180 million people where corruption remains rampant. And her flitting back and forth to court in designer clothes surrounded by journalists has many alleging she still receives preferential treatment while awaiting trial.
"This is one story we could all have done without," a March editorial in the daily Dawn newspaper bemoaned.
Police say they received a tip to search Ali the night of March 14 as she waited in a VIP airport lounge in Islamabad before her Dubai flight. While Pakistani law bars any passenger from carrying more than $10,000, investigators say they found $506,800 tucked into her luggage.
Ali has maintained the money was solely hers since her arrest. She's been held without bail since, attending a number of court appearances in expensive clothes, though foregoing them Monday for a hoodie and a pair of jeans - though she did apparently wear blue contact lens. Judge Rana Aftab set Ali's next appearance for June 15.
But the absence of hard evidence has not stopped Pakistani television from reporting the story non-stop, with one broadcaster even using computer graphics to make it appear Ali stood in a courtroom dock in its studio. Media of all kinds have tied Ali into a larger scheme purportedly involving other Pakistani A-list celebrities using their fame as a cover to travel abroad and dump illicit cash into offshore bank accounts.
Meanwhile, other reports allege Ali has received special treatment while being held in Rawalpindi's central prison outside of the capital, Islamabad, including ordering meals from special menus. Ali also has been seen without handcuffs while in custody, as opposed to the shackled CEO of software company Axact, who the New York Times and investigators have accused of making millions of dollars selling fraudulent high-school diplomas and university degrees.