Islamabad: Pakistan’s deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was on Friday sentenced in absentia to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment by an anti-graft court in one of the three corruption cases against him in the Panama Papers scandal, dealing a huge blow to his party ahead of the elections on July 25.
Accountability court’s Judge Muhammad Bashir held the three-time Prime Minister guilty in the Avenfield corruption case — pertaining to the ownership of four expensive flats worth over 200 million pound in the posh Avenfield House in London that were bought with corruption money in 1993. The London flats will now be seized by the federal government.
The court punished Sharif to 10 years in jail for owning assets beyond income and one year for not cooperating with the anti-corruption authority, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). The sentences will run concurrently which means the 68-year-old former Prime Minister will serve 10 years in jail.
Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Mohammed Safdar were handed down jail terms of seven and one year, respectively. The court also issued permanent arrest warrants of ex-Prime Minister’s sons Hassan Nawaz and Hussain Nawaz who have been declared absconders.
Maryam Nawaz and Safdar, who were candidates for the forthcoming general elections, have been disqualified from contesting elections for 10 years each.
Judge Bashir, who read out the 174-page verdict after postponing it for five times during the day, imposed a fine of eight million pound on Sharif. A fine of two million pound was imposed on his daughter Maryam Nawaz.
Sharif is currently in London attending to his wife Kulsoom Nawaz who was diagnosed with throat cancer last year. Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz and his two sons are also in London, while his son-in-law Safdar is in Pakistan, but he did not appear in court.
In London, Sharif claimed he had been punished because he tried to turn the course of Pakistan’s 70-year history.
“I will continue my struggle till the people of Pakistan are not freed of the slavery imposed on them by some generals and judges,” a defiant Sharif told reporters in London.
The Sharif family, along with former finance minister Ishaq Dar, had gathered at the Avenfield flats in London to watch the verdict unfold live.
Sharif resigned as Prime Minister last year after the Supreme Court disqualified him from holding public office and ruled that graft cases be filed against him and his children over the Panama Papers scandal.
The corruption controversy erupted with the publication in 2016 of 11.5 million secret documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca documenting the offshore dealings of many of the world’s rich and powerful.
The NAB had registered three cases of corruption and money laundering against Sharif, his family members and former finance minister Ishaq Dar in the Islamabad accountability court. The hearing of the case spanned nine months and 22 days during which statements of at least 22 witnesses were recorded.
The verdict, a potentially significant boost for the main Opposition party led by former World Cup cricketer Imran Khan, immediately raised questions over whether Sharif will return to Pakistan from London. Pakistan has no extradition treaty with the UK.
Small protests broke out after the verdict at the court in Islamabad, which was surrounded by heavy security, and in some other Pakistani cities including Multan in Punjab, Sharif’s provincial stronghold.