Pakistani anti-corruption court indicts ousted PM Sharif and his daughter

Pakistan's ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif speaks during a news conference in Islamabad, in this file photo. (Reuters)
Updated 19 October 2017
0

Pakistani anti-corruption court indicts ousted PM Sharif and his daughter

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani court indicted ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on corruption charges spiraling from the Panama Papers leak, a senior government official said Thursday, in a case that could ultimately see the former leader jailed.
The indictment presents a fresh challenge to Sharif’s beleaguered, ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party ahead of next year’s general elections, which the former premier is barred from contesting.
A Sharif representative entered a not guilty plea for the sacked premier, who is currently in London with his wife Kulsum as she undergoes cancer treatment. There was no immediate confirmation that he would return to Pakistan to fight the charges.
The court also indicted his daughter Maryam and her husband in the case, which relates to the family’s luxury London properties. Maryam, who attended the hearing in Islamabad, pleaded not guilty and blasted the court’s decision afterward.
“(The) charges are not only groundless, baseless (...) unfounded also frivolous and on top of that we are being denied our right to fair trial,” she said in a statement to the court seen by AFP.
In late July the Supreme Court sacked Sharif following an investigation into corruption allegations against his family, making him the 15th premier in Pakistan’s 70-year history to be ousted before completing a full term.
The allegations against the prime minister stemmed from the Panama Papers leak last year, which sparked a media frenzy over the luxurious lifestyles and high-end London property portfolio owned by his family.
Following the indictment, Sharif’s archrival Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan celebrated the decision.
“In another phenomenal victory for the people of Pakistan, disqualified Nawaz Sharif and family indicted,” read a statement tweeted by the party.
“Accountability across the board imperative for development of Pakistan.”
Political analyst Hasan Askari said the Sharifs were left with few immediate options except to fight back against the charges by marshaling their political power and delaying any court sentence.
“Their policy will be either to prolong the case by agitation, which is not likely, and the other is to change the law to avoid the conviction,” Askari told AFP.
He said the PML-N would “definitely lose seats” in the upcoming election, adding “this situation has definitely increased chances for Imran Khan.”
Sharif’s political fortunes would depend on his ability to convince voters that he is a victim of an unjust campaign by the powerful military to undermine him, Askari explained.
Sharif, who last appeared before the anti-corruption court on Oct. 2, has faced similar challenges in the past.
In 1993 he was sacked from his first term as premier for corruption, while in 1999 he was sentenced to life in prison after his second term in office ended with a military putsch.
Following the coup he was allowed to go into exile in Saudi Arabia, returning in 2007 before becoming prime minister for a third time in 2013.
Last month his wife Kalsum won his former parliamentary seat during a heated by-election in Lahore, in a poll seen as a key test of the ruling party’s popularity after Sharif’s sacking.
After his ouster, Sharif led supporters from the capital Islamabad to his hometown Lahore in a days-long procession that brought thousands into the streets.
During the rally Sharif repeatedly blasted the court’s move to oust him, saying the decision was an “insult” to Pakistanis.


Japan’s Okinawa votes on controversial US base move

Updated 24 min 54 sec ago
0

Japan’s Okinawa votes on controversial US base move

  • Polls opened early on Sunday morning, with about 1.15 million Okinawans eligible to vote
  • Japan’s military alliance with the United States is seen as a key partnership

OKINAWA: Residents of Japan’s Okinawa were casting ballots Sunday in a closely watched referendum on the controversial relocation of a US military base to a remote part of the island.
The vote is seen as highly symbolic but is also non-binding, raising questions about what effect it will have, even if opponents of the move, including Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki, prevail.
The ballot asks residents whether they support a plan to reclaim land at a remote coastal site for the relocation of the Futenma base from its current location in a heavily-populated part of Okinawa.
It was initially planned as a yes-no vote on the move, but a “neither” option was added after several cities with close ties to the central government threatened to boycott the vote.
Polls opened early on Sunday morning, with about 1.15 million Okinawans eligible to vote. The Jiji Press agency reported around 20.5 percent of eligible voters had already cast ballots in early voting by Saturday.
“They are using a lot of tax money and manpower for this referendum, even though the result will not have any legal power. So, we thought that we should take this opportunity and think very carefully about this issue,” said Yuki Miyagaki, after casting her ballot at a local school.
“We usually shout no to the new base construction. This is a good opportunity to tell the government directly with concrete numbers: ‘No’. This is an important vote,” 32-year-old Narumi Haine said.
Although the referendum is not legally binding, “it is significant that people in Okinawa can express their will through the vote,” said Jun Shimabukuro, a professor at Ryukyu University in Okinawa.
“It can be a test to gauge if democracy is working in Japan,” Shimabukuro said before voting opened.
The relocation of Futenma to Nago, 50 kilometers away, was first agreed in 1996 as the US sought to calm local anger after US servicemen gang raped a local schoolgirl.
But the plan has long been stalled in part over local opposition.
The Futenma base has stoked tension with local residents over problems ranging from noise and military accidents to crime involving base residents.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government says the relocation will address those concerns, but many in Okinawa want the base relocated elsewhere in Japan.
They argue that the region bears a disproportionate burden when it comes to hosting US military troops in the country.
Okinawa accounts for less than one percent of Japan’s total land area, but hosts more than half of the approximately 47,000 American military personnel stationed in Japan.
Anti-base rallies have been staged daily in Okinawa since campaigning for the referendum began in mid-February.
But the vote has not stopped reclamation work at Nago, with construction workers continuing to shovel dirt into the ocean offshore with bulldozers.
“We hope the referendum will boost the momentum of our fight,” demonstrator Masaru Shiroma told AFP on Friday, as more than 100 fellow activists tried to block trucks entering the construction site on Friday.
“The government is making a fool out of Okinawa.”
The ballot closes at 8:00P.M. with exit polls expected soon after and official results from as early as midnight.
Okinawa’s governor is required to “respect” the vote’s outcome if at least a quarter of eligible voters — around 290,000 votes — vote for any one option.
Tamaki has urged residents to turn out and cast their “precious votes” in the poll.
An opinion poll by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper this week found 59 percent of people in Okinawa oppose the reclamation while 16 percent support it.
The survey also found 80 percent of respondents want Abe’s government to respect the results.
But there has been little sign Abe’s government will shift course if the vote goes against the move, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga saying there were no plans to halt the relocation regardless of the outcome.
Japan’s military alliance with the United States is seen as a key partnership, and Okinawa’s location near Taiwan has long been viewed as having huge strategic importance for US forward positioning in Asia.