Islamabad July 6:(courtesy GEO News)
An anti-graft court in Pakistan sentenced former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif to 10 years in jail and fine with £8 million in a corruption case involving the purchase of four luxury apartments in London’s Avenfield House. Sharif’s daughter Maryam was sentenced to seven years and fined £2 million in the case.
The case also involves Sharif’s son-in-law Captain (retired) Safdar, who was sentenced to one year in jail. Sharif’s two sons — Hasan and Hussain — who are also co-accused in the case have already been declared absconders in the case following their now show in the hearings.
The verdict, which has already been postponed once, comes ahead of the general elections in Pakistan on 25 July and will impact the poll prospects of the Pakistan Muslim League, Nawaz (PML-N), which is facing stiff competition from Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf॰
With the trial court sentencing Maryam to jail, she stands disqualified for the general elections. Maryam has registered as a PML-N candidate for the upcoming polls from NA-127 (Lahore) seat.
The former Pakistan prime minister, however, continues to deny any wrongdoing and accused the military and courts conspiring to oust him and using legal cases and intimidation to help Khan’s PTI party, accusations denied by Khan, the army, and the judiciary.
Sharif, 67, resigned in July after the Supreme Court disqualified him from holding office over an undeclared source of income, but the veteran leader maintains his grip on the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party.
The latest pre-election polls have shown PTI gaining ground over PML-N. Khan, a former cricket captain of Pakistan, has portrayed the legal cases as a long-overdue corruption crackdown on the PML-N, which he has labelled a graft-ridden “mafia”.
Sharif has a history of differences with the military, which has ruled the nuclear-armed country for almost half of its history, and ousted him from power in 1999 in a bloodless coup.
Earlier this week, on Tuesday, the accountability court judge, Mohammad Bashir, had reserved his verdict and said that it will be announced on Friday. The court asked all accused to be present in the court for the hearing on Friday.
Nawaz, Maryam’s plea rejected
Sharif has been in London since last month to take care of his ailing wife Kulsoom Nawaz who is undergoing treatment for throat cancer.
In a press conference in London earlier this week, Sharif had said he would return to Pakistan irrespective of whether the verdict finds him guilty or not, as soon as his wife’s conditions improve. “Whether it comes in my favour, or, God forbid, it comes against me, I will go back,” he said, according to Reuters.
Nawaz and Maryam had filed a petition on Thursday, urging the anti-graft court to defer the verdict by seven days so they may be present in court when it is announced. Pakistan laws require the presence of the accused at the time of announcing the verdict. The court had then reserved its order on the plea till Friday.
According to GeoTV, on Friday, Maryam’s counsel Amzed Parvez submitted Begum Kulsoom Nawaz’s medical report and argued that the law stipulates the presence of the accused when the verdict is read out. The prosecution, however, opposed any delay at such a late stage of the trial.
After hearing the arguments on Friday from both sides on whether or not to defer the announcement of the verdict in the Avenfield graft case, the trial court was adjourned for an hour. Later, it dismissed Sharifs’ plea and set 12.30 pm as the time to announce the verdict on the Avenfield case. The trial court judgment was extended five times on Friday. After initially pushing it to 12.30 pm from the scheduled 11 am, the deadline was extended three more times to 2.30 pm, then to 3 pm and later to 3.30 pm before it was read at 4 pm.
Tight security in Islamabad
The Islamabad administration had reportedly imposed Section 144 in the capital to discourage mass gathering of supporters from various political parties.
Strict security arrangements, including paramilitary personnel, was placed at the Federal Judicial Complex, where the court is located, GeoTV said. The roads leading to the complex were also closed to traffic on Friday.
What were the charges against the Sharif family?
The charges include ownership of four posh London flats that resurfaced in Panama Papers. Sharif denied the ownership of the flats but said they were owned by his son Hussain Nawaz in 2006. However, the Sharif family admitted that they were residing in the flats since 1993.
In a statement before the court, it was submitted that the flats were owned by a Qatari consortium, which later transferred the ownership to the Sharif family in 2006. The accountability court has heard the case for nine and a half months.
Sharif’s sons, Hasan and Hussain,
The Sharifs have denied any corruption and wrongdoing. The former prime minister has described the corruption charges against him and his family as being politically motivated.
The trial against the Sharif family commenced on 14 September, 2017. Nawaz and his sons, Hussain and Hasan, are accused in all three cases while his daughter Maryam and son-in-law Safdar are accused in the Avenfield case only.
Findings of Joint Investigation Team
According to the Joint Investigation Team’s report submitted in the Panamagate case, the Sharifs had given contradictory statements about their London flats and found that the flats actually belonged to them since 1993, Pakistani media reported.
The JIT observed that either Hassan or Hussain or both had lied to hide some facts and hence they could not be given the benefit of doubt, the reports said.