Ousted Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been sentenced to 10 years in jail, his daughter Maryam for seven years and his son-in-law Captain Safdar for one year in a case of corruption and buying unexplained high-end properties in London.
The verdict, delivered less than 20 days before Pakistan is to elect a new federal government and provincial governments, deals a serious blow to the country’s most powerful political dynasty.
Nawaz Sharif's brother Shahbaz Sharif now heads the Pakistan Muslim League (N), after the Supreme Court had earlier ousted Nawaz for not being "Sadiq" and "Amin", roughly translated as ethical and good.
The Sharifs (not Shahbaz) are currently in London where Nawaz Sharif's wife Kulsoom is undergoing treatment for cancer. Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz earlier held a press conference in London where they had appealed to the court to reserve the judgement on the reference filed by Pakistan's National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
At the press conference in London, televised live by Pakistani TV channels, Sharif had said he wanted "to hear that decision in person standing in the courtroom.”
Even when caught in the doldrums, Sharif's PML(N) remains a significant force in the electoral arena where Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI, or Pakistan Justice Movement) has emerged as the key challenger. Imran Khan is soft on Pakistan's deep establishment and is largely seen as having the blessings of the all-important army.
Recent pre-poll surveys in Pakistan put the support base of Khan at around 25 to 30 per cent. The PML(N) was close.
Widely known as the Avenfield properties corruption case, the sentence was largely expected to go against the Sharifs who had often complained how they were being treated unfairly by the NAB. Sharif and his daughter appeared around a 100 times before the accountability court.
The jail sentences also come with punitive fines.
Nawaz will have to pay 8 million pounds, while Maryam will have to shell out 2m pounds.
The corruption case was the direct result of Pakistan Supreme Court's directives in the landmark Panamagate verdict last year which deseated Nawaz as the prime minister.
Sharif's two sons, Hassan and Hussain, are now no more citizens of Pakistan. The two were also among the accused in three SC-ordered corruption references, including the one decided on Friday.
The Sharifs seemed prepared for the verdict as Maryam tweeted: "This is a very small punishment for firmly standing in front of unseen forces. The morale to fight against oppression has increased today."
The verdict will cast a shadow on the July 25 elections in the country that has seen increasingly partisan and bitter politics which sees new lows everyday. Major opposition leaders castigate the Sharif brothers routinely for putting their mother Kulsoom on "political ventilator" in London and "selling her poor health" to the gullible voters.
The Sharif matriarch has been in London for a year now.
Earlier, an investigation had found that four London flats actually belonged to the Sharifs since 1993 and that either one or both brothers had lied to hide facts.
It is not clear if the latest development will be the end of the family’s political legacy, but one thing certain is that the baton of leadership will now be passed on to Shahbaz Sharif, thus maintaining the dynastic hold over power at least for now.
As to the question about when will Nawaz Sharif return to Pakistan, one could term it a million dollar query but any talk about anything being a million dollar worth would be the pun of the day in this Islamic country. And puns should be avoided.
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