Islamabad: An anti-corruption court in Pakistan sentenced ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif to seven years in jail on Monday in Al-Azizia case, while he was acquitted in Flagship case.
Judge Muhammad Arshad Malik of Islamabad-based accountability court last week reserved the judgment after completion of hearing in the Flagship Investment and Al-Azizia cases against 68-year old Sharif. The Supreme Court set the deadline for Monday to wrap up the remaining two corruption cases against the three-time former prime minister.
Sharif, who arrived in Islamabad from Lahore on Sunday, had said that his conscience was clear. "I do not have any sort of fear; my conscience is clear. I have done nothing that would force me to bow my head. (I) have always served the country and this nation with absolute honesty," he said while talking to senior party leaders in a special meeting in Islamabad before going to the court.
He also said that there was no evidence against him. Geo TV reported that on the question of party policy in case of an adverse judgment against him, Sharif left to the senior party leader how to react.
Entry to the accountability court was restricted. No one was allowed to attend proceedings except those having permission of the registrar, the Dawn reported.
A large number of Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supporters and senior party leaders were present outside the court to show their support for the party's supreme leader.
Security has been beefed up around the judicial complex, with heavy contingents of police and Rangers deployed around the building and along roads leading to the court. Former premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi told the media that the senior party leaders were not allowed to enter the court. "It is our right to hear the judgment," he said.
Ahead of the verdict, Sharif also met his younger brother and Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif at Ministers' Enclave. The younger Sharif was also facing probe by the NAB. The accountability court had indicted elder Sharif for holding assets beyond his known sources of income in August 2017.
Last week, the judge rejected application by Sharif's lawyer Khawaja Harris to provide one week time to submit more documents but allowed him to provide any document by Friday last. The judge also observed that the court was bound to follow December 24 final deadline set by the Supreme Court.
Three cases — Avenfield properties case, Flagship Investment case and Al-Azizia steel mills case — were launched by the National Accountability Bureau on September 8, 2017 following a judgment by the apex court that disqualified Sharif.
The apex court initially set six month deadline to conclude the cases but it was subsequently increase around eight times on the request of the accountability court. Sharif was disqualified by the Supreme Court in the Panama Papers case in July, 2017.
In July, 2018 Sharif, his daughter Maryam and his son-in-law retired captain Mohammad 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.
His two sons — Hassan and Hussain — were also 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. The three-time former prime minister and his family have denied any wrongdoing.
Sharif, who religiously followed the proceeding by appearing before the court for at least 78 times, told the media after the court reserved the judgment last week that he not committed any corruption.
"Not a penny of corruption has been proven against me. I am very happy that I have done my duty, and I think that since I have stepped in politics I have never indulged in corruption nor have misused my power," he said.
Veteran politician Javed Hashmi on Saturday predicted that Sharif will be convicted in the Flagship and Al-Azizia case as "the institutions won't let these (cases) prove false". Talking to the media in Multan, he said that the purpose of the NAB was to make politicians change their political loyalties.
"I will not accept this decision as Nawaz Sharif will be convicted at any cost," he was quoted as saying by Dawn newspaper.