Pakistan’s deposed premier 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.
The Islamabad Accountability Court sentenced 68-year-old 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. The sentences will run concurrently which means the former prime minister will serve 10 years in jail.
Sharif’s 44-year-old daughter and co-accused Maryam was given seven years for abetment, and one year for non-cooperation with the NAB -- also to run concurrently. Considered to be Sharif’s political heir, Maryam will serve seven years in total.
Sharif’s son-in-law Captain Muhammad Safdar (retired) was jailed for one year rigorous imprisonment for not cooperating with the NAB.
Amid tight security, the Judge Muhammad Bashir of the accountability court read out the 174-page verdict after postponing it for five times during the day in the Avenfield corruption case -- pertaining to the ownership of four flats in the posh Avenfield House in London.
The National Accountability Bureau had filed the case, along with two others, on the Supreme Court’s directives in the landmark Panamagate verdict last year which disqualified Sharif, the three-time prime minister.
Sharif is currently in London attending to his wife Kulsoom Nawaz who was diagnosed with throat cancer last year.
Sharif’s daughter Maryam and his two sons -- Hassan and Hussain -- are in London, while Safdar is in Pakistan, but was not present in court.
Both Hassan and Hussain have been declared as absconders by the court.
The NAB will now wait for a certain time period for all three convicts to surrender. If they fail to do so, the NAB will initiate the procedure to bring Maryam and Nawaz back, and arrest Safdar, Dawn newspaper reported.
The ruling came weeks before the general elections in Pakistan on July 25 and analysts say it could adversely hit the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the party headed by Sharif.
After the verdict, Maryam and Safdar were disqualified from contesting elections.
NAB Deputy Prosecutor General Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi said the accused have 10 days to file an appeal against the verdict.
Earlier, judge Bashir had rejected the application of the Sharif family seeking a seven-day postponement in announcement of the verdict.
“The court sentenced Sharif to 10 years rigorous imprisonment and fined £8 million (Rs 73.02 crore). Maryam was given seven years of rigorous imprisonment and imposed a £2 million (Rs 18.2 crore) fine and her husband Safdar was awarded one year rigorous imprisonment,” the NAB prosecution team chief Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi told media outside the court.
The court also ordered confiscation of the four Avenfield apartments. The fine money will go into the state treasury.
Abbasi said the verdict showed that Avenfield apartments were purchased with corruption money and were in ownership of Sharif family since 1993.
Sharif, referring to the imprisonment handed to him, said that he has been punished because he tried to turn the course of Pakistan’s 70-year history.
“I promise that I will continue this struggle until Pakistanis are not free of the chains that they are kept in for saying the truth,” a defiant Sharif told reporters in London.
“I will continue my struggle till the people of Pakistan are not freed of the slavery imposed on them by some generals and judges,” he added.
The PML-N President and Nawaz Sharif’s brother, Shehbaz Sharif also rejected the convictions calling them “unjust and politically motivated”.
Besides Sharif, his daughter Maryam and son-in-law Safdar, his sons Hassan and Hussain were also co-accused. The two sons never appeared before the court and were declared as absconders.
Sharif resigned as Pakistan 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 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.
During the 9-month trial, the NAB presented around 21 witnessed to prove that Sharif family cannot justify the money trail to buy four apartments in Avenfield House, Park Lane, London.
It is alleged that the properties were allegedly bought with graft money in 1990s when he served twice as the prime minister. Sharif rejected any wrongdoing and insisted they were bought with the legitimate money.
According to Pakistani media reports, Sharif and Maryam were in their apartment in the Avenfield building in London when the verdict was announced.
After the conviction, it was not sure if Sharif and Maryam would come back to face rigorous imprisonment.
Analysts believe that if they return, it might boost the chances of good showing in elections by the PML-N due to sympathy vote.
Sharif’s nemesis Imran Khan of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf said even before verdict that Sharif will be sent to jail due to his corruption, as he accused him of using illness of his wife Kulsoom as “emotional blackmail”.