A Pakistani court Friday sentenced ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to 10 years in prison for corrupt practices linked to his familyâ€™s purchase of upscale London flats, in a major blow to his party ahead of the general election on July 25.
The guilty verdict in absentia against Sharif, 68, threatens to end the career of one of Pakistanâ€™s most high-profile politicians of the last four decades, a political survivor who was prime minister three times.
A political ally said Sharif would return to Pakistan from London to file an appeal, facing arrest on arrival just before the election, in which his party is in a close race with opposition figure Imran Khanâ€™s party.
â€œTodayâ€™s verdict shows that these Avenfield apartments were purchased using corruption money,â€ prosecution lawyer Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi told reporters, citing the name of the apartment building in London.
Sharifâ€™s daughter, Maryam, widely seen as his chosen political heir, was sentenced to seven years in prison. Maryamâ€™s husband and PML-N lawmaker Muhammad Safdar was handed a year in jail, he said.
The conviction means Maryam Sharif will be disqualified from contesting the elections.
â€œThe people of Pakistan and PML-N reject this decision,â€ said Sharifâ€™s brother Shehbaz, who took over as PML-N president after his brother was banned from holding office for life, and is expected to be its prime ministerial candidate.
â€œThis decision is based on injustice.â€
Sharif and his daughter were in London on Friday with Sharifâ€™s wife, Kulsoom, who is being treated for cancer and is in a coma after suffering a heart attack last month.
Both denied wrongdoing and will appeal the decision, said Sharif ally Tariq Fazal Chaudhry, adding that the former premier would return to Pakistan before the election.
The NAB court ordered Sharif to pay a fine of Â£8 million ($10.6 million) and fined Maryam Â£2 million, while ordering the confiscation of the London properties on behalf of the Pakistani government, Abbasi said.
If Sharif returns he will be arrested on arrival under the law, though he could later be freed by a separate court pending appeal, Abbasi added.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) court accused Sharif and his family of money laundering and being unable to legitimately show the money trail for the purchase of several luxurious properties in London, mostly in the mid-1990s.
A copy of the verdict said the Sharif family had failed to prove a legal source of income for the purchase of Avenfield apartments in 1993, 1995 and 1996.
Sharif was ousted by the Supreme Court in July 2017 and barred from politics for being â€œdishonestâ€ by failing to report a monthly income of 10,000 Emirati dirhams ($2,723) from a company owned by his son. He denies drawing the monthly salary.
But he has kept de facto control of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party that he founded.
The decision comes at a time of growing suspicion of military meddling in politics ahead of the polls, as well as media complaints of being muzzled.
Sharif had denounced the court proceedings against him as politically motivated and a judicial witch-hunt, often suggesting the military was to blame.
â€œJustice has been massacred,â€ Maryamâ€™s husband Safdar said after the verdict.
Pakistanâ€™s military, which has ruled the nuclear-armed country for almost half its history, denies involvement in civilian politics. But the military ended Sharifâ€™s second stint in power in 1999 in a bloodless coup.(NAN)