An anti-corruption court in Pakistan on Monday sentenced ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif to seven years in jail in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills graft case but acquitted him in the Flagship Investments case.
Three cases – Avenfield properties case, Flagship investment case and Al-Azizia steel mills case – were launched against the Sharif family by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on September 8, 2017 following a judgment by the Supreme Court that disqualified Sharif in the high-profile Panama Papers case in July last year.
Accountability Court II Judge Muhammad Arshad Malik Monday announced the short verdict in the two corruption cases against the Sharif family, after reserving the decision on December 19.
Judge Malik said there was concrete evidence against the 68-year-old former premier in the Al-Azizia case, and that he was unable to give the trail of the money used to set up the Al-Azizia steel mills in Saudi Arabia by his family in 2001 and later on the Hill Metal Establishment also in Saudi Arabia.
The court sentenced Sharif to seven years in jail and imposed a USD 2.5 million and 1.5 million pounds fine on him. The court also ordered to seize the Al-Azizia and Hill Metal properties.
Judge Malik, however, said that there was no case against Sharif in the Flagship case.
Sharif, who was present in the court, was immediately taken into custody. His lawyer requested the judge that the PML-N quaid (supreme) be shifted to Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore instead of Adiala Jail. The request was granted.
The verdict was announced almost immediately after Sharif arrived in the courtroom. He has the option to challenge the verdict against him.
In July, 2018 Sharif, his daughter Maryam and his son-in-law Captain (retd.) M Safdar were sentenced to 11 years, eight years and one year respectively in prison in the Avenfield properties case related to their purchase of four luxury flats in London through corrupt practices. However, the three were bailed out by the Islamabad High Court in September.
The apex court set the deadline for December 24 to wrap up the remaining two corruption cases against the Sharif family.
The three-time former prime minister has maintained that the cases against him were initiated on the basis of allegations levelled by his political rivals and the report of a joint investigation team in the Panama Papers case was biased.
In an emergency meeting after the verdict, the NAB decided to challenge Sharif’s acquittal in the Flagship case in the high court.
The Supreme Court initially set six month deadline to conclude the three cases but it was subsequently increase around eight times on the request of the accountability court.
A long series of court cases in which the Sharif family have fought accusations of money laundering, tax evasion and hiding offshore assets culminated in Monday’s judgement.
Since September 2017, Sharif has appeared before the accountability courts some 165 times.
Commenting on the verdict, Sharif said that his conscience was clear as he was never involved in any kind of corruption.
“I was never involved in misuse of authority and corruption so my conscience is at peace,” he said.
His daughter Maryam broke months-long silence and took to twitter to criticize the judgment as “vengeance”.
“Punishment to the same man for the fourth time. (This was) blind revenge’s last hiccup but victory is Nawaz Sharif’s, thank God,” she tweeted in Urdu.
“…These verdicts will vanish, what will remain is Nawaz Sharif’s honesty and the opponents’ burden of tyrannies because government, power and privileges are there to end. It does not take long for tides to turn. Remember, when tyranny crosses limits, it ends,” she said.
She accused Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party of conspiring against her father, claiming that “the government officials head to work each day thinking ‘what do I have to do against Nawaz Sharif today?'”
“We will protest against the verdict and overcome it,” former premier and senior PML-N leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said.
He said the deposed premier should have been acquitted in both cases as the top accountability watchdog had no evidence against the Sharif family.
Security was beefed up around the court, with heavy contingents of police and Rangers deployed around the building and along roads leading to the court.
A large number of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supporters and senior party leaders, including Abbasi, were present outside the court to show their support for the party’s supreme leader.
Following the verdict announcement, PML-N supporters clashed with security personnel. Tear gas and baton-charge was used to disperse the protesters.
Meanwhile, legal expert Shah Khawar said that acquittal of Sharif in one case and conviction in the other will go in his favour.
“The two cases are connected as in both cases money trail was required. So Sharif’s lawyer will use it at appeal level,” he said.
The court also issued permanent arrest warrants of Sharif’s two sons – Hasan and Hussain. Both are co-accused in all three cases but they were declared absconders for failing to appear before the court even for a single time. The court decided to hear their cases separately once they returned back.
Ahead of the verdict, Sharif met senior party leaders. He also met his younger brother and Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif at Ministers’ Enclave. The younger Sharif is also facing a probe by the NAB.