Pakistan court sentences ex-PM Sharif to seven years in prison

Pakistan’s former prime minister Nawaz Sharif speaks during a news conference in Islamabad, Pakistan September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood

A Pakistani court convicted former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of corruption and handed him a seven-year prison term, sparking protests by his supporters.

Arshad Malik, a judge of the accountability court, delivered the verdict in Islamabad on Monday after finding that Sharif had accumulated wealth through unknown means. Sharif, who was acquitted on the second charge and released from jail three months ago, is being probed by the National Accountability Bureau.

The decision was given without any evidence or proof of wrongdoing and it will be challenged, former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who is also a senior leader of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, said by phone after the verdict.

Supporters of the former prime minister and the opposition leader protested outside the court building after the decision, according to local television channels. Security forces fired tear gas to disperse the protesters as Sharif reached the court for the decision.

This is the second conviction of the former three-time premier, who is facing multiple graft charges emanating from the 2016 leak of the so-called Panama Papers, which showed Sharif’s family used offshore accounts to buy high-end London apartments. The South Asian nation’s Supreme Court had ordered the trial of Sharif in 2017 following a probe into his family’s finances.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s other major opponents including Sharif’s younger brother Shehbaz and former president Asif Ali Zardari are also facing inquiries.

“This will get the opposition parties to come closer and become stronger,” Taimur Rehman, a political science professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, said by phone. “I don’t think the party will weaken. There is a long history of political leaders being persecuted under the law and they have made a comeback.”

The former premier was disqualified from the top job last year, his third ousting since the 1990s. He was sentenced to 10-years in jail by an anti-graft court in July. Appealing the ruling, the High Court set him free after suspending his conviction in September.

Since his release, Sharif has avoided criticizing the top judiciary and the powerful military, whom he had earlier accused of engineering Prime Minister Khan’s July election victory while conspiring to remove him from politics, charges both the forces and former cricket star deny.

The decision may rile up Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, which is critical of Khan’s handling of the economy. Finance Minister Asad Umar is negotiating a bailout with the International Monetary Fund to shore up the dwindling foreign reserves and end a balance-of-payments crisis.

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