A Pakistani court has indicted former premier Nawaz Sharif
and his family members on corruption charges, in a case that could ultimately see the former leader jailed.
A representative of the sacked prime minister entered a not guilty plea for Sharif at the court in the capital Islamabad on Thursday.
The court also indicted his daughter Maryam and her husband in the case, which relates to the family’s luxury London properties.
Maryam, who attended the hearing, pleaded not guilty and blasted the court’s decision afterwards.
In a statement to the court, she said the charges were “not only groundless, baseless and unfounded but also frivolous and on top of that we are being denied our right to fair trial.”
The corruption charges against Sharif, his two sons, daughter and son-in-law stem from an investigation into documents leaked from a Panama law firm that showed the Sharifs had undisclosed assets abroad.
The former premier, who last appeared before the anti-corruption court on October 2, is currently in London with his wife Kulsoom Nawaz, who is said to be recovering from throat cancer surgery. Sharif’s two sons, who also skipped out hearing, are also said to be in London with their ailing mother.
Following the indictment, Sharif’s arch-rival Pakistan
Tehreek-e-Insaf party led by Imran Khan celebrated the decision.
“In another phenomenal victory for the people of Pakistan, disqualified Nawaz Sharif and family indicted,” read a statement tweeted by the party. “Accountability across the board imperative for development of Pakistan,” the statement added.
The Supreme Court disqualified Sharif from office in July, forcing him to step down over corruption allegations and undisclosed assets.
The allegations against Sharif stemmed from the Panama Papers leak last year, which sparked a media frenzy over the luxurious lifestyles and high-end London property portfolios owned by his family.
Sharif has denied any wrongdoing. He and some of his party leaders have claimed there were “hidden hands” behind his dismissal and a spate of corruption cases.
Pakistani rangers stand guard on a street ahead of the arrival of sacked Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif to appear before an accountability court to face corruption charges in Islamabad on October 2, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Indictment presents challenge to ruling party
The indictment presents a fresh challenge to Sharif’s beleaguered, ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party ahead of next year’s general elections. The former premier has already been barred from contesting the upcoming elections.
There was no immediate confirmation that he would return to Pakistan to fight the charges.
Commenting on the latest development, political analyst Hasan Askari told AFP that the Sharifs were left with few immediate options except to fight back against the charges by marshaling their political power and delaying any court sentence.
“Their policy will be either to prolong the case by agitation, which is not likely, and the other is to change the law to avoid the conviction,” Askari said.
He said the PML-N would “definitely lose seats” in the upcoming election, adding “this situation has definitely increased chances for Imran Khan.”
The analyst explained that Sharif’s political fortunes would depend on his ability to convince voters that he was a victim of an unjust campaign by the powerful military to undermine him.
In August, Sharif led legions of supporters from the capital, Islamabad, to his hometown, Lahore, in a procession that brought thousands into the streets in a show of force.
During the trip, Sharif repeatedly blasted the court’s actions, claiming that the decision was an “insult” to Pakistanis.