Islamabad, July 6 (IANS) Dealing a severe blow to the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) ahead of the general elections, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was on Friday sentenced to 10 years in prison while his daughter Maryam Nawaz was handed a seven-year jail over graft charges in the purchase of overseas properties.
Sharif, who is currently in London along with his daughter, called the charges “politically motivated” and said he will be returning to Pakistan to face prison. He said he had been punished because he tried to turn the course of the country’s 70-year history.
The verdict was delivered by the accountability court in the Avenfield corruption case, which is related to the Sharif family’s ownership of four flats in the posh Avenfield House in London.
Sharif, a three-time Premier, was earlier disqualified from standing for his PML-N following conviction in corruption cases. His brother Shahbaz Sharif now heads the party and is running in the July vote.
The court ordered Sharif to pay a fine of $10.6 million while Maryam Nawaz was fined $2.6 million. Her husband Captain Safdar Awan was given one-year sentence.
Accountability court Judge Mohammad Bashir announced the verdict after several delays. Sharif was sentenced for “owning assets beyond income and one year (included in the 10-year term) for not co-operating with the National Accountability Bureau. He will serve his sentences concurrently.
Maryam Nawaz received jail term “for abetting a crime and one year (included in the 7-year term) for not co-operating — again to run concurrently. The Sharif family insists that they had purchased the apartments through “legitimate financial resources”.
The former Premier and his daughter are currently with Sharif’s wife Kulsoom Nawaz, who is receiving cancer treatment, and Safdar is in Pakistan but was reportedly unable to attend.
According to the verdict, all three have been barred from engaging in politics for 10 years and four properties in London will be confiscated by the Pakistani state. They have 10 days to appeal the verdict at the Islamabad High Court.
Following the verdict, the three-time Premier addressed a press conference in London and said that if the punishment for “demanding respect for the vote is jail, I am coming to face it”, adding that he will “not be a slave to those who violate their oath and the Constitution of Pakistan”.
“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,” he said
Sharif, however, did not give any specific time or date for his return to Pakistan. He said that the deteriorating health of his wife was the reason for him not being able to return immediately.
The Avenfield corruption case is among the multiple graft cases filed against the former Premier and his children by the anti-corruption body on the Supreme Court’s directives in the landmark Panamagate verdict last year which disqualified then Prime Minister Sharif.
The apex court ruled that Sharif had been dishonest to Parliament and to the judicial system for failing to disclose earnings received from a company run by one of his children.
The other corruption cases filed against the Sharifs pertain to the Al-Azizia Steel Mills and Hill Metal Establishment, offshore companies including Flagship Investment Limited and Avenfield properties of London.
The father-daughter duo wanted the announcement of the verdict delayed by a week, stating they wanted to be in court when the judgment was announced. However, the plea was dismissed.
Sharif’s brother Shahbaz criticized the ruling and said the election would serve as a people’s court that would condemn the decision.
Maryam Nawaz took to Twitter and said: “This is a very small punishment for firmly standing in front of unseen forces. The morale to fight against oppression has increased today.”
She and her husband now stand barred from contesting the polls from Lahore and Mansehra respectively.