ISLAMABAD: An accountability court on Friday issued a 176-page verdict against the disqualified premier, Nawaz Sharif, and his family over corruption claims linked to the 2015 Panama papers, forcing his political party to rethink its election strategy after a series of legal and political setbacks.
The court verdict enraged Sharif’s die-hard supporters.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) rejected the verdict, and Sharif’s younger brother, Shahbaz, pledged to challenge the order.
“Nawaz Sharif has been sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment (on ownership of assets beyond income) and fined £8 million ($10 million). Maryam Nawaz is sentenced to seven years over abetting, forgery and fake trust deed document and fined £2 million. (Ret.) Capt. Safdar Awan, husband of Maryam, has been sentenced one year’s imprisonment (over non-cooperation with NAB),” said the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) prosecutor, Sardar Muzaffar, outside the court.
He said that the Avenfield properties would be confiscated by the federation.
The ruling by the trial court judge, Muhammed Bashir, came several hours after the stipulated announcement time. The sentencing also disqualified Nawaz and Safdar for life. The authorities are also expected to seize their assets and freeze their bank accounts.
“We have faith in God and are not worried,” tweeted Maryam Nawaz. She called on the nation to stand with her father who had faced similar situations in the past and remained steadfast.
Meanwhile, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which spearheaded a campaign against Nawaz Sharif following the Panama leaks, praised the verdict.
“We were the first petitioners in the Panama case. Imran Khan was adamant to pursue the case for which he held rallies and protests. Nawaz Sharif’s sentencing is credited to Khan. This is a landmark decision. Pakistan’s future will be better now,” PTI’s Ali Awan told Arab News.
However, political analyst Qamar Cheema said that those thinking of capitalizing on the verdict should not underestimate thepopularity of the former ruling party among the masses.
“PML-N will not perish politically as it has a strong base in northern Punjab. Even with institutional pressure and this verdict, the party is maintaining its position,” he said.
The Sharifs were accused of embezzling public funds to offshore accounts that were used to purchase four high valued Avenfield properties, an apartment block on Park Lane in central London. The graft case also implicated Sharif’s sons, Hassan and Hussain.
The court dismissed applications by lawyers of the defendants on Thursday seeking a seven-day delay in announcing the verdict. Sharif and his co-accused daughter, Maryam Nawaz, both of whom are in London since June monitoring the health of Sharif’s wife, Kulsoom Nawaz, who is being treated for throat cancer, pleaded their inability to appear before the court. However, Sharif’s son-in-law Awan also failed to appear to hear the verdict.
In compliance to the Supreme Court order of July 28, 2017, which ousted the three-time prime minister, declaring him “dishonest” under Article 62 (1) (f) of Pakistan’s constitution, three corruption references were filed by Pakistan’s National Accountability Court (NAB) in September against the Sharifs and a fourth against their relative, ex-finance minister Ishaq Dar.
In October, the accountability court had indicted the disqualified politician, his daughter, and her husband, Awan. Dar was also indicted, but he fled to London citing health issues and medical reasons. Sharif’s two sons, who are British citizens, also ignored the repeated court summons. The three were subsequently declared absconders. Their trial is expected to be held separately in which the two brothers are declared proclaimed offenders in the three graft references.
The exhaustive accountability court trial has held 107 hearings in a span of nine months, most of which Sharif, Nawaz, and Awan attended. A Joint Investigation Team, constituted by a three-member Apex court bench to probe and prosecute the accused, produced 18 witnesses who were cross-examined by the defense counsel.
Sharif was forced to relinquish his leadership position from his party, ending his active involvement in its political affairs.
Court hearings continue pending a decision on the other two corruption references against the Sharifs, but they do not include Nawaz and Awan.
Former law ministry adviser and legal expert Sharaft Ali, who was present at the accountability court, told Arab News that the prosecution would try to prolong the decision in the remaining two references so that the court would not hand down concurrent punishment.
Although the defendants will be arrested immediately, “they can file an appeal within 10 days to suspend the trial court’s order” in the high court, said Ali.