Nawaz Sharif, toppled prime minister and political survivor, gets 7 years jail

The accountability court acquitted the three-time prime minister in a second corruption case involving an investment company. (AFP/File)
Updated 24 December 2018

Nawaz Sharif, toppled prime minister and political survivor, gets 7 years jail

  • Sentenced to prison in steel mill case, acquitted in investment company reference
  • Verdict threatens end of career of one of Pakistan’s most high-profile politicians

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani court on Monday sentenced former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to seven years in prison for corrupt practices linked to the setting up of a steel mill, in a verdict that threatens to end the career of one of Pakistan’s most high-profile politicians of the last four decades.
The accountability court acquitted the three-time prime minister in a second corruption case involving an investment company.
“I’ve never committed corruption so my conscience is clear,” local media quoted Sharif as telling reporters present in the courtroom after the verdict was announced. 
Hundreds of Sharif supporters gathered outside the accountability court as a judge ruled on two separate cases that investigated the source of funds to set up two companies, Al-Azizia and Hill Metal Establishment in Saudi Arabia and Flagship Investment in the United Kingdom.
Both companies were established in 2001 when Sharif lived in exile in Saudi Arabia after his government was ousted in a military coup in 1999. Investigations were hinged on the question of how the Sharif family was able to arrange the funds to set up the firms at a time when they were exiled and had no money or assets.
Sharif was taken into custody immediately after the judge read out the sentence and will be incarcerated at Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail. His lawyers are expected to appeal the Al-Azizia verdict at the Islamabad High Court, while the National Accountability Bureau may move the court against Sharif’s acquittal in the Flagship Investment case. 
“We have always respected past verdicts and we will respect this one too,” Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, a senior leader of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, said. “But neither history nor the nation will accept this verdict.”
“These verdicts will God willing be done away with; what will be left behind is Nawaz Sharif’s honesty,” Sharif’s daughter and political heir Maryam Nawaz Sharif tweeted minutes after the sentence was announced. “Remember, when injustice passes a certain limit, it is eliminated.”
Monday’s judgment ends a two-and-a-half-year-long saga of corruption cases involving accusations the Sharif family hid offshore accounts and engaged in money laundering and tax evasion. The cases stemmed from the 2016 Panama Papers’ leaks that first revealed the family had bought luxurious London apartments through offshore companies. 
Sharif and his family have repeatedly called the corruption proceedings politically motivated and hinted at collusion between Pakistan’s all-powerful military and the courts to keep the ex-premier and his PMLN party out of politics. On the other hand, Sharif’s opponents have championed the court cases as a rare example of Pakistan’s power elite finally being held to account. The military denies any wrongdoing. 
Sharif has served as prime minister thrice but been unable to complete his term all three times. He was removed by a presidential order in 1993 and in a military coup in 1999 after which he went into exile until 2007. 
Sharif was elected as prime minister for the third time in a landmark general election in 2013 but his rule was cut short after the Supreme Court disqualified him from office in July 2017 for trying to conceal assets. The court also ordered the opening of three criminal investigations into the Sharif family. 
In July 2018, less than two weeks before general elections, Sharif was sentenced to ten years in jail and subsequently arrested in a first case linked to the money trail for the purchase of upscale Avenfield London flats. His daughter Maryam was also jailed for seven years on corruption charges relating to the family’s acquisition of the flats. 
Both father and daughter were released on bail after their sentences were suspended by the Islamabad High Court in September, almost two months after Sharif’s party lost elections to the party of new Prime Minister Imran Khan. 
On Monday, the accountability court ruled on the last two cases, sending Sharif to jail for seven years.
On December 21, Sharif’s party had announced that an advisory council would run the party’s affairs if he were arrested but it is widely speculated that his daughter will be the real boss. 
“The verdict definitely marks the end of hands-on control of the PMLN by Nawaz Sharif and any possibility of him holding office in Pakistan again,” political talk show host Mohammad Malick said. 
Sharif’s brother Shehbaz Sharif, the leader of the opposition, is also currently facing cases involving alleged corruption in a low-cost housing scheme and other government projects. Sharif’s daughter Maryam is out on bail in the London apartments’ case but the National Accountability Court has filed an appeal against the suspension of the case. The court is yet to rule on that appeal. 
“If Shehbaz [Sharif] is cleared of all cases, then he will take over the [PMLN] party; otherwise all eyes are on Maryam,” Malick said. “But if all three figures are convicted, then that is the end of the PMLN for all practical purposes, at least in its present shape and form.”


UK Commons speaker deals new blow to Johnson’s Brexit plan

Updated 31 min 32 sec ago

UK Commons speaker deals new blow to Johnson’s Brexit plan

  • John Bercow plunged the tortuous Brexit process back into grimly familiar territory: grinding parliamentary warfare
  • Johnson’s government was seeking a “straight up-and-down vote” on the agreement he struck with EU nations

LONDON: Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to lead Britain out of the European Union at the end of this month hit another roadblock Monday when the speaker of the House of Commons rejected his attempt to hold a new vote of lawmakers on his Brexit divorce deal.
The ruling by Speaker John Bercow plunged the tortuous Brexit process back into grimly familiar territory: grinding parliamentary warfare.
With just 10 days to go until the UK is due to leave the bloc on Oct. 31, Johnson’s government was seeking a “straight up-and-down vote” on the agreement he struck last week with the 27 other EU nations.
The request came just two days after lawmakers voted to delay approving the Brexit deal. Bercow refused to allow it because parliamentary rules generally bar the same measure from being considered a second time during the same session of Parliament unless something has changed.
Bercow — whose rulings in favor of backbench lawmakers have stymied government plans more than once before — said the motion proposed by the government was “in substance the same” as the one Parliament dealt with on Saturday. He said it would be “repetitive and disorderly” to allow a new vote Monday.
On Saturday — Parliament’s first weekend sitting since the 1982 Falklands War — lawmakers voted to make support for the Brexit deal conditional on passing the legislation to implement it.
Johnson’s Conservative government will now go to its Plan B: get Parliament’s backing for his Brexit blueprint by passing the legislation, known as the Withdrawal Agreement Bill. The government plans to publish the bill later Monday and hopes to have it become law by Oct. 31.
But it’s unclear whether Johnson has either the time or the numbers to make that happen.
Passing a bill usually takes weeks, but the government wants to get this one done in 10 days. Johnson needs a majority in Parliament to pass it, but his Conservatives hold just 288 of the 650 House of Common seats.
The process also gives lawmakers another chance to scrutinize — and possibly change— the legislation.
Opposition lawmakers plan to seek amendments that could substantially alter the bill, for example by adding a requirement that the Brexit deal be put to voters in a new referendum. The government says such an amendment would wreck its legislation and it will withdraw the bill if it succeeds.
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay urged lawmakers to back the bill and — more than three years after British voters narrowly voted to leave the EU — “enable us to move onto the people’s priorities like health, education and crime.”
“This is the chance to leave the EU with a deal on Oct. 31,” he said. “If Parliament wants to respect the referendum, it must back the bill.”
With the Brexit deadline looming and British politicians still squabbling over the country’s departure terms, Johnson has been forced to ask the EU for a three-month delay to Britain’s departure date.
He did that, grudgingly, to comply with a law passed by Parliament ordering the government to postpone Brexit rather than risk the economic damage that could come from a no-deal exit. But Johnson accompanied the unsigned letter to the EU late Saturday with a second note saying that he personally opposed delaying the UK’s Oct. 31 exit.
Pro-EU activists, who took the government to court in Scotland to ensure that it complied with the law, said the second letter might amount to an attempt to frustrate the legislation. Scotland’s highest court said Monday it would keep the case open, retaining the power to censure Johnson’s government until its obligations under the law have been complied with “in full.”
The claimants’ lawyer, Elaine Motion, said the ruling meant “the sword of Damocles remains hanging” over the government.
The bloc said the fact Johnson had not signed the letter was irrelevant.
European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said Monday that European Council President Donald Tusk had acknowledged receiving the Brexit extension request and was now talking with the EU’s other 27 leaders about it.
Those 27 EU leaders are weary of the long-running Brexit saga but also want to avoid a no-deal British exit, which would damage economies on both sides of the Channel.
Germany’s economy minister suggested it could be a few days before the EU decided to respond to the Brexit delay request.
“We will have somewhat more clarity in the coming days, and we will then exercise our responsibility and quickly make a decision,” Germany’s Peter Altmaier said.
He told Deutschlandfunk radio that he wouldn’t have a problem with an extension by “a few days or a few weeks” if that rules out a no-deal Brexit.
But French President Emmanuel Macron, who had a phone call with Johnson over the weekend, called for a quick clarification of the UK’s position. In a statement, he said a delay “would not be in any party’s interest.”
France’s junior minister for European affairs, Amelie de Montchalin, told French news broadcaster BFM TV there would have to be some reason for the delay, such as a parliamentary election in Britain or a new British referendum on Brexit.