Nawaz Sharif and daughter arrested on return to Pakistan

Nawaz Sharif, right, and Maryam Nawaz waiting at Abu Dhabi airport waiting for their flight to Lahore on Friday, 13 July, 2018. (Photo courtesy: @MaryamNSharif/Twitter)
Updated 14 July 2018
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Nawaz Sharif and daughter arrested on return to Pakistan

  • They can’t shake my resolve, Sharif tells reporters
  • Voters will see this as an act of defiance and courage, say analysts

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was arrested on Friday at an airport in Lahore and taken to jail as he arrived home from London.

His return came a week after an anti-graft court sentenced him to 10 years in prison for corruption in connection with his family’s purchase of property in the English capital.

Sharif’s daughter and heir apparent, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, who accompanied him from London, was also arrested. She was convicted of corruption in the same case and sentenced to seven years.

In video footage filmed moments after their flight landed, Sharif and his daughter appeared somber but confident as they disembarked from an Etihad Airways plane.

“Yes, they have landed in Lahore and have been arrested,” Mohammed Zubair, a senior PML-N leader, told Arab News.

“This is a historic moment. Even though our party completely disagrees with the decision of the court, as law-abiding citizens they have arrived in Pakistan to face jail.”

Sharif and his daughter had been in London attending to Sharif’s wife, Kulsoom Nawaz, who is being treated there for cancer and has been in a coma since suffering a heart attack last month.

Speaking to reporters by phone earlier, while awaiting a connecting flight in Abu Dhabi, Sharif said: “Whether they arrest me here or after I reach Lahore, I am ready. They can’t shake my resolve.”

The return of the Sharifs to Pakistan comes amid widespread concern that the country’s all-powerful army is meddling in politics ahead of July 25 elections, and complaints that the news media is being suppressed.

Sharif has openly accused the military of working to sway the election in favor of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) party led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan.

The opposition Pakistan People's Party also alleged “pre-poll rigging” this week but did not specifically accuse the military.

Sharif’s first term as prime minister ended in resignation under military pressure in 1995 and his second was cut short by an army coup in 1999. In July 2017, he was dismissed from his third term as PM by the Supreme Court over revelations in the 2016 Panama Papers that the Sharif family had bought apartments in London using offshore companies.

Close allies of Sharif and his daughter said the pair had come back to Pakistan to launch an appeal against their convictions, which they will do on Monday and seek bail. However, their return is also expected to bear important political dividends.

“Their vote bank, which was confused after the verdict about what would happen to their leader, will be gelled together again and vote with more vigor and energy,” said veteran journalist and long-time Sharif observer Nusrat Javed.

“From today, things will turn from merely a sympathy vote into a protest vote. Until now, people thought Nawaz was not being treated fairly by the judiciary and the military. Now they will see him as being openly defiant.

"Think about the symbolism of a man returning to face jail with his daughter. Voters will see this as an act of defiance and courage. It will ignite protest and anger.”

Pakistan’s caretaker government moved quickly against leaders and supporters of PML-N around the country who tried to hold rallies and travel to the Lahore airport to welcome Sharif.

More than 10,000 police officers were deployed across Lahore on Friday to contain the protests, while internet and mobile services remained switched off all day. The Metro Bus, a rapid-transport system that runs through the city, was also closed for the day and giant shipping containers were used to block major routes.

In the afternoon, before the Sharifs arrived, Interior Minister Shaukat Javed said that anyone who tried to get past the Lahore Abdullah Gul Interchange, which leads directly to Lahore’s Allama Iqbal International Airport, “will be dealt with very strictly.”

In the past few days, police carried out dozens of raids across Lahore and arrested more than 400 PML-N supporters and leaders in what party leaders described as an attempt to prevent them from giving Sharif a hero’s welcome.

“I swear upon God this is worse than martial law,” said Hafiz Hassan, a PML-N supporter. His brother, a medical student who Hassan said is not involved in politics, was picked up by police on Thursday night, he added. “He had an exam today but they took him away forcefully. Who will make up for his missed exam?”

The authorities did not stop at arresting and intimidating PML-N party workers. On Friday, paramilitary rangers stopped Daniyal Aziz, a former minister in Sharif’s last Cabinet, as he drove in a convoy to Lahore on a major highway. A procession led by PML-N leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who served as prime minister after Sharif was dismissed by the Supreme Court, was also stopped on the motorway.

In addition, buses carrying party supporters from Faisalabad and Sahiwal to Lahore were halted and dozens of people were arrested after clashes with police.

Before he was taken from Lahore, Sharif said the “draconian crackdown” in the city and other parts of Punjab showed that authorities were desperate to prevent tens of thousands of people from reaching Lahore airport to greet him and show their support.

“This is the worst kind of crackdown on democracy and rule of law in Pakistan,” he added.

Despite this, a rally led by Shahbaz Sharif — Nawaz Sharif’s brother, the PML-N president and three-time chief minister of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous and richest province — left the city’s ancient Lahori Gate area and made its way to the airport, flanked by more than 50,000 supporters, according to police and PML-N sources.

Live footage of the rally was screened by local news channels for several hours earlier in the day, but only still pictures were broadcast after the Sharifs’ flight entered Pakistani airspace.

Several journalists spoke about a forced media blackout of the Sharifs’ reception.

This is in line with severe restrictions placed on the media in recent days, with the army accused of intimidating major news organizations, such as Jang Group, into censoring content critical of the military, and preventing the circulation of Dawn, a leading English-language daily newspaper. Both are considered to be partial towards Sharif.

“Those who think they can scare us...open your ears and hear this,” Shahbaz Sharif said. “We are winning this election.”


Double trouble for Pakistan’s deposed PM Nawaz Sharif

These will be four fresh cases against the Sharif family. (AFP)
Updated 19 min 55 sec ago
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Double trouble for Pakistan’s deposed PM Nawaz Sharif

  • The government announced it was referring four more corruption cases against the Sharif family to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for investigation

ISLAMABAD: Legal challenges for one of Pakistan’s most influential political families, comprising ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his political heir and daughter Maryam Nawaz, and younger brother Shehbaz Sharif — former chief minister of Pakistan’s powerful Punjab province — seem to be brewing with new allegations of corruption and misuse of authority surfacing against them.

The government announced it was referring four more corruption cases against the Sharif family to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for investigation.

“They misused the taxpayers’ money and authority while in power,” Shahzad Akbar, special assistant to the prime minister on accountability, alleged during a press briefing on Saturday.

Fresh cases

These will be four fresh cases against the Sharif family and the first to be referred to the NAB and Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) by the incumbent government.

Detailing the misuse of public resources by Shehbaz Sharif and Maryam, special assistant to the PM on media Iftikhar Durrani alleged that they both enjoyed unauthorized use of ex-premier Nawaz Sharif’s aircraft, besides squandering public funds on the erection of a security fence around their palatial residence in Lahore, and misuse of authority while in office.

Government officials also revealed during the press briefing that a new high-end property portfolio in Frederick Close, central London, worth around £2.3 million ($2.95 million) recently came to the fore, reportedly owned by Sharif’s late wife. 

The documents about its ownership and rental income between 2012 and 2016 had been available, “but were buried in the files,” said Akbar. 

Senator Mushahidullah Khan, veteran leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, however, said that the cases against the Sharif family were “politically motivated” and the prosecutors had failed to present concrete evidence of corruption against Sharif in the accountability court.

“The PTI (Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf) government thinks it can politically damage the Sharif family by leveling false allegations of corruption and misuse of authority against them, but this is not going to work,” he told Arab News.

Pakistan’s law required Nawaz Sharif, being a member of the National Assembly and holder of the country’s top public office, to declare his dependents’ assets, including his wife’s, in the official documents, which he did not.

 The undeclared central London property held in the name of Begum Kulsoom Nawaz will now be probed by both the NAB and the FBR.

 “We are handing over all documentary evidence to these institutions for investigation,” said Durrani. 

 The corruption cases that the Sharif family has faced until now were either filed during their own tenure in power in 2013-18, or during the previous governments of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and General Pervez Musharraf.

Shehbaz Sharif, former chief minister of Punjab Province, is currently in the NAB’s custody, facing at least two cases of corruption pertaining to his tenure in the office.

 In July this year, Nawaz Sharif, Maryam and son-in-law Muhammad Safdar were handed jail terms of 11 years, six years and one year respectively, in a corruption reference pertaining to their undeclared offshore companies and properties in London.

 The trio is currently on bail while the verdict in two more corruption references against Nawaz Sharif is expected to be announced in the next couple of weeks.

Political analysts believe that the Sharif family will still have a long way to go to prove their innocence in the courts and return to the political arena. 

“Any imminent return of the Sharif family in national politics does not seem possible in the given situation,” Professor Tahir Malik, academic and analyst, told Arab News.

Sharif has yet to defend his position in two corruption references currently undergoing hearing against him involving Al-Azizia Steel Mill in Saudi Arabia and monetary transactions made through Flagship Investment Limited, both of which he denies any connection to.