A Pakistani court on Friday sentenced ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to 10 years in prison over his family’s purchase of upscale London flats, in a major blow to his party ahead of a general election in July.
The guilty verdict in absentia against Sharif, 68, threatens to end the career of one of Pakistan’s most high-profile politicians over the last four decades, a political survivor who served as prime minister on three occasions.
Sharif’s daughter, Maryam, widely seen as his chosen political heir, was sentenced to seven years in prison.
Maryam’s husband and PML-N lawmaker Muhammad Safdar was sentenced to one year in prison, prosecution lawyer Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi said.
Abbasi added that NAB court ordered Sharif to pay a fine of eight million pounds (10.6 million dollars) and Maryam was fined 2 million pounds, while ordering the confiscation of the London properties on behalf of the Pakistani government.
Both Sharif and his daughter were in London on Friday with Sharif’s wife, Kulsoom, who is being treated there for cancer and is in a coma after suffering a heart attack in June.
They both denied wrongdoing and are expected to appeal.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) court accused Sharif and his family of being unable to legitimately show the money trail for the purchase of several luxurious properties in London, mostly in the mid-1990s.
Sharif was ousted by the Supreme Court in July 2017 and barred from politics for being “dishonest” by failing to report a monthly income of 10,000 Emirati dirham (2,723 dollars) from a company owned by his son. He denies drawing the monthly salary.
But he has kept control of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party that he founded.
The decision against the Sharifs comes at a time of intensifying suspicion of military meddling in politics ahead of the July 25 polls, as well as media complaints that the press is being muzzled.
Sharif had denounced the court proceedings against him as politically motivated and a judicial witch-hunt, often suggesting the hidden hand of the military was to blame.
Hours before the verdict, Maryam’s husband Safdar referred to it as a “funeral” for justice, the PML-N media office said in a statement.
“It is to be seen if this decision is written by a judge or a general,” Safdar said.
The military, which has ruled the nuclear-armed country for almost half of its history, denies involvement in civilian politics.
But the military ended Sharif’s second stint in power in 1999 in a bloodless coup.
Sharif has a history of conflict with the military even though his political career was initially nurtured by military dictator Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s.
He fell out with powerful generals once he ascended to power a decade later, and the relationship between them was fraught after Sharif returned as premier in 2013, partly because Sharif challenged the military over control of foreign policy, which the generals have traditionally seen as their domain.
Sharif has argued that the military, in cahoots with top members of the judiciary, has used a series of cases against him and others in his party to tip the scales in favor of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan in the run-up to the election.
Khan is running on a socially conservative, anti-corruption platform. He denies colluding with the military establishment and praises the disqualifications and prosecutions of PML-N figures as a long-needed crackdown on graft.
PML-N officials also accuse the military of using its muscle to twist the arm of the media to restrict coverage of criticism of the judiciary and military by Sharif and his allies.
Sharif’s younger brother, Shehbaz Sharif, who has taken over the PML-N leadership, said on Thursday recent action by the anti-graft National Accountability Bureau and the judiciary had cast doubt over the election.
“All political parties must be given a level playing field,” he said on Twitter.
NAN reports that the Supreme Courthad on April 13, disqualified Sharif for lifetime from holding any public office, Xinhua news agency reported.
A five-member bench delivered the verdict on the question of the period of the disqualification of a member of the parliament.
The court had disqualified Sharif as prime minister over corruption charges but it had not mentioned the disqualification period in the verdict that was delivered on July 28, 2017.
The five judges in an unanimous ruling said those who are not “honest” and “truthful” under the country’s constitution are “banned from parliament for life.”
The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz of Sharif rejected the verdict and said the former prime minister was “punished for eliminating terrorism and carrying out development projects.”
“The verdict is a joke and such decisions have also been announced about 17 prime ministers,” State Minister of Information and Broadcasting Maryam Aurangzeb said.